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Is Twitter Making Kids Smarter?

In the Globe and Mail, Clive Thomas argues that all the time kids spend on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs may be making them better writers and thinkers.  Thomas cites the work of Andrea Lunsford, an English professor at Stanford, who recently compared freshman composition papers from 1917, 1930, 1986, and 2006 and found that, while the average rate of errors hasn’t changed much since 1917, students today write longer, more intellectually complex papers:

In 1917, a freshman paper was on average only 162 words long and the majority were simple “personal narratives.” By 1986, the length of papers more than doubled, averaging 422 words. By 2006, they were more than six times longer, clocking in at 1,038 words – and they were substantially more complex, with the majority consisting of a “researched argument or report,” with the student taking a point of view and marshalling evidence to support it.

“Student writers today are tackling the kinds of issues that require inquiry and investigation as well as reflection,” Prof. Lunsford concluded.

Our 500,000th Twitter Follower

Yesterday we passed 500,000 in Twitter followers. Thank you! The person who put us over the top was Dan Kreitz (@dankreitz). We’ll send some Freakonomics swag to Dan, along with five randomly selected followers who have been with us for much longer. (And no, we didn’t make the same mistake as last time.)

We once made a podcast about Twitter in which we discussed that we didn’t (and still don’t) follow anyone. Maybe we’d be at 1 million followers by now if we did — who knows?

We don’t really Tweet in the classic sense; we mainly post links to things we’ve written, radio pieces we’ve made, etc. So let me ask you this: is there anything you’d like to see more of in our Twitter feed?

What Would Tyler Say?

Economist Tyler Cowen‘s Twitter feed was recently hacked — for the purposes of selling a weight-loss product.  In response, and following in the heels of his successful and hilarious #FedValentines economics meme, our own Justin Wolfers proposed a new project — #tylertweets.  Some of our favorites:

  • The best Whoppers are to be found at BKs attached to gas stations, but avoid if they advertise clean restrooms. –Art Carden @artcarden
  • cannibalism is wrong, but not for the reasons its critics say. We ignore the wisdom of cannibals at our peril. -@ModeledBehavior
  • My #tylertweets involve the Gold Standard, two albino goldfish, a braised goat and Paul Krugman in a small town in Mexico. –Justin Wolfers @justinwolfers

The Twitter I.P.A.

Almost a year ago, we posted here about patent trolling – when individuals and firms use patents as a tool to extract settlements out of defendants who wish to avoid expensive patent litigation, even when the target thinks it can ultimately win.

Because they can be so valuable, patents are a big source of litigation, especially in the tech industry. Apple and Samsung have been at each other’s throats over smartphone patents, as have Apple and Motorola. Microsoft has been battling with Motorola over whether its Xbox violates Motorola’s patents, and Microsoft has also threatened smartphone maker HTC.  Oracle sued Google, claiming Google’s Android cellphone operating system infringed on Oracle patents.  Microsoft sued Barnes & Noble, claiming that its Nook e-reader violates Microsoft patents. Apple and Google are now eyeing each other warily over “slide to unlock” technology that Apple has patented and accuses Google of copying in its Android smartphone operating system. Google, as a defensive move, paid $12.5 billion to buy Motorola’s portfolio of nearly 25,000 patents. 

What Does Your Fed Valentine Say?

One of the most wonderful things about Twitter is the spontaneous conversations that start around almost anything. And so, inspired by the hilarious #HealthPolicyValentines, I began a new hashtag on Twitter this morning: #FedValentines.  Folks are tweeting all sorts of Fed-themed valentine’s wishes. As I write, it’s the second-top trending hashtag in the U.S.  

Given that it’s Friday, I figured it worth sharing the fun.  Here’s what I came up with:

A Twitter Experiment

I’m a long-time Twitter skeptic. It’s difficult for an economist to see a 140 char lmt as a ftr. My journalist friends tell me I’m dead wrong. And a recent long and boozy evening with co-founders Evan Williams and Jason Goldman convinced me to give it a try. Is Twitter worth the hype? Let’s find out.
Today I’m beginning my Twitter Experiment. I’m now tweeting @justinwolfers. I’m going to keep this up for a couple of weeks as a “burn in” period—basically so that I can learn the ecosystem before my experiment begins. Then on the morning of August 1, I’m going to wake up, and flip a coin. Heads, I’ll open Twitter; tails I won’t. And I’ll do the same on August 2, and then every day for three months. If the coin comes up heads, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll tweet, just that it will be a Twitter-aware day; I’ll consume the stream, and tweet away if I feel the need. Tails, and I’ll simply tweet “Tails, goodbye,” close the stream (unless I need it for research) and then resist the urge to tweet for the rest of the day.

No Comment

We once made a podcast about the etiquette of following (and being followed) on Twitter. But it didn’t address this possibility:

Why Politicians Tweet

Two economists from the University of Toronto have taken a closer look at who uses Twitter in the U.S. Congress. While generating followers is an obvious motivation for politicians to tweet, Feng Chi and Nathan Yang found that geography and party lines play a part too.

Super Sad Super Crunching

Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, Super Sad True Love Story (more here), paints a compelling but amazingly bleak picture of a future ravaged by the twin evils of predictive analytics and texting. Following the truly prescient Snow Crash, his characters are obsessively plugged into their “äppäräts,” souped-up versions of today’s app phones. (One of the funnier lines occurs when one character makes a disparaging reference to another character’s outmoded hand device, saying: “What is this, an iPhone?” (Kindle 1244).) Here is a world where credit scores, eHarmony-compatibility predictions and rankings are ubiquitously at hand. Characters routinely choose the reality of the shadows on their screen over the real world.

Looking to Twitter for a Market Edge?

If you’re looking for a hot stock tip, consider Twitter. A new paper by Timm O. Sprenger and Isabell M. Welpe looks at the effects of microblogging on stock prices.

The Dangers of a Live Twitter Feed

It seems to make all the sense in the world. You are WPMI-TV, the NBC affiliate that covers southern Alabama and some of the Florida Panhandle, and you rent a big electronic billboard to promote your nightly news and weather team.

Do Earmarks Matter?

Making fun of earmarked Congressional spending is easy, feel-good entertainment. But is it a distraction from the bigger problem?

Don't Hate the Tweet

Tyler Cowen shuns the doubters and blogs about what Tweeting means to him: instant feedback on lectures, an essential tool for researching blog posts, and an efficient alternative to a Google search.

Tweeting Teachers

The Chronicle of Higher Education raises an interesting question: should professors be tweeting with their students? Or is it a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction?


| We tweet! There are a lot of ways to enjoy Freakonomics: while looking for a job (someone please hire this man), with hot chocolate on a rainy day, and as a tool for learning how to talk about incentives. Hello to everyone who follows us; hope it doesn’t creep you out if we follow you too. … [%comments]