Twitter is one of the most powerful learning tools in human history, but few understand this. Use Twitter correctly and it’ll teach you more than any college degree.
Twitter Is The New Public Square
Twitter is the public square of the internet. No other place centralizes so many great thinkers and pioneers. On Twitter, you can find people pushing the boundaries of any field imaginable, from AI to zoology, from fitness to farming. It’s like going to college, except all the professors are the best in the business.
But like any public square, you’ve got your village idiots and criminals. You’ve got trolls, and people posting cartoon memes. You’ve got fake intellectuals acting like they’re leading the field. You’ve got pundits who are consistently wrong.
Cut Out The Noise
Twitter is a real-time environment, where you’re getting the latest posts from everyone. The platform biases itself towards short-termism, and in-the-moment reactions. It’s easy to start following people just to get thoughts on whatever the latest trend is, but wisdom isn’t to be found there.
Things are not getting any better these days. At the time of writing, news providers are offering all manner of updates, “breaking news” that can be delivered electronically in a wireless manner. The ratio of undistilled information to distilled is rising, saturating markets. The elder’s messages need not be delivered to you as imminent news.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled By Randomness
Getting the latest breaking news and reactions is an enticing prospect, but it won’t help you learn. Resist the temptation to follow friends, news accounts and idiot journalists. Even if they’re a small percentage of who you follow, they will be a high percentage of the tweets you see by sheer volume.
Choose Your Professors
So who to follow? Other than myself, of course. Use these criteria:
- Choose people whose opinions you respect, from their books or other writings
- Choose people who are leaders in fields you care about
- Choose people whose thoughts and decisions will affect your life (CEOs in your industry, the President, etc)
Do not follow anybody else. The more diluted your stream is by your friends’ Instagram posts and news like “man bites dog”, the less wisdom you’ll find. Keep the stream clean and focused, and every time you’re opening the Twitter app will be like entering the finest university on the planet.
When you follow people using the criteria above, they will bring the opinions of people they respect into your feed through retweets and comments. That will open you to new opinions, and you can make a determination whether you find those people interesting enough to follow as well.
One exception: remember that ideology is a straitjacket. If you make your Twitter into an echo chamber, you’ll be blind to outside information, and will only harm your own thinking. You need to challenge yourself and your opinions. So:
- Choose people who are respected and distinguished in fields you care about, but you don’t agree with
At the very least, you’ll know the counterarguments to the positions you hold. Perhaps you’ll change your opinion on some things.
Don’t Just Read; Study
So you’ve got your list of wise follows, and every time you open Twitter you’re immersed in high quality thinking. To learn, you need to do more than read. Sure, reading the tweet stream will give you some value, as you’re reading the thoughts and opinions of leaders and people you respect. To get lasting value, you need to study, and engage.
It’s easy to read a tweet, learn something, and then forget it as it gets lost in the history of the stream. Make sure you remember the best insights you see. Here’s how:
- Get Evernote
- Use IFTTT to save every tweet you like as a note in Evernote
- Favorite/like the tweets you see with the most value
Then, every once in a while, go through your notes in Evernote and annotate/expand the saved tweets as appropriate. This is you reviewing the best insights, as further study. Over time, you’ll build your own book of knowledge from the people you respect the most, and all of it for free!
Why not just use Twitter’s favorite function alone? Because Twitter’s favorites function is broken; it’s hard to see a list of everything you’ve ever favorited, and it’s even harder to search them. Evernote lets you search all your notes by any keyword, and it lists every note in the notebook automatically without fetching anything from a server.
You’re allowed to tweet too! In fact, I encourage it. Respond to tweets you find especially interesting – many Twitter users are more conversational than you think, even if they’re “VIPs”. Examples of how you can interact:
- Ask an additional question related to the tweet – like asking a question in class
- Thank them for sharing something – increases the chance they’ll share more like it
- Ask for additional info – do they have sources they didn’t link, other writing they’ve done on the topic, or people they recommend following for more depth?
- Challenge the tweet – is there some aspect you think they didn’t consider?
Remember to be respectful. The public square works best for learning when everyone can interact in good faith. Every high-profile account will have masses of trolls attacking them, so you want to distinguish yourself and not waste everybody’s time.
Welcome To Twitter U
I went to (one of) the ‘best’ universities in the world, and have learned a hundred times more on Twitter than I ever did at that place. Set your Twitter account up right, and it’s a free pass to incredible learning in a place superior to any college or institution in human history. Only on Twitter can you get coding advice from the guy who invented the language. Only on Twitter can you engage directly with the President of the United States. Only on Twitter can you find scientists and venture capitalists having conversations in real time. Only on Twitter will the thinkers you respect most give you updates on what they’re reading and where to find it.
And as you earn your stripes on Twitter and put what you learn into effect, soon you’ll be able to use your knowledge to help others too, and build your own following. If you want to.
Welcome! And if you’ve any comments to make, you know where to find me. I’m always in the library.