Twitter Numbers Can Be Misleading: NY Times Story Too

by francine Hardaway on August 27, 2009

Picture 13Who writes ridiculous stories predicting the growth or demise of Twitter based on its lack of uptake by teens? Why not check whether your statistics mean anything before you do?

I’ve already commented on Read,Write Web that the demographic breakdown 12-24 is useless. There is such a huge deveopmental difference between 12 and 24 that it makes the statistic meaningless. As a mom,foster mom and now grandma, I can break this down for you:
1)12-13 Your mother still tries to tell you what to do on the internets and you probably don’t have a PC in your room. Maybe you are sneaking on to MySpace
2)14-16 You might try Twitter because she tells you NOT to. You might also have your own cell phone by now. You are an adolescent in full rebellion. If you are in school, you have now heard of Twitter. If you have already run away or dropped out, you are pretty tech illiterate. You are texting up a storm if you have a device. You think Twitter is pretty useless if you text.
3)17-21 You are in college, and doing whatever your college friends do. It’s still probably Facebook. But if you have something to say to the adult world, you are trying out Twitter.

Now, these are only data points from my experience with family members (large extended family) and very advanced teens like Mark Bao and Daniel Bru, but they convince me that breaking the demographic down in statistics like this renders the entire premise of that NYT story meaningless. So here’s what some expert studies say about the population between 12-24:
Picture 12

The quality of your experiences actually develops your brain; your environment will determine your abilities.

But it’s not simply an expansion of capacity; information and experience you judge as not important is “strained out” and only data meaningful to you is kept.

Associations are crucial; new experiences, in order to be used, must be connected to previous ones. You must think about what comes your way.

Early experiences impact on later abilities; intelligence is not “fixed” by age 2.

At puberty, your physical and emotional development create “windows” or prime times for learning. Typically, these are the middle school and high school years.

All along, your emotions strongly impact on learning skills. Motivation and positive feelings help you learn; stress and negative feelings will hinder your learning.

You have many “intelligences,” far more than simply an IQ. Examples:
­Linguistic or verbal, used by speakers, writers, readers, listeners.
­Logical-mathematical, used by scientists, reasoners, lawyers, researchers.
­Spatial, needed by engineers, surgeons, sculptors, painters, craftspersons.
­Musical, found in musicians, composers, dancers, actors.
­Kinesthetic, crucial for athletes, performers, craftspersons, builders.
­Interpersonal, key for sellers, leaders, teachers, service workers.
­Intra-personal, used for understanding self and others, feeling empathy.

No one has the same pattern of these varying abilities; look around you!
And no test measures them all; school exams and college admissions tests measure just the first two.

Dr. Giedd concludes, “Teens have the power to determine (the direction of) their own brain development ­ whether they do art or music or sports or videogames or books, those brain structures are adapted accordingly.” (And by inference, those structures not stimulated may be pruned away for allow for the growth areas.)

Frontline has a great picture of the teen-age brain, which is clearly shown as a “work in progress.” During the period from 12-24, the onset of puberty and the rapid growth of the frontal cortex means that teen-agers are constantly taking in and weeding out information, selecting what’s most important to them. A lot of this information comes from their peers, but some of it also comes from school and a minor amount from family. It would be nice if the Times reporter had looked at this program before generalizing.

So you could draw the opposite conclusion from the Times story: If people in their 20s and 30s are on Twitter in big numbers, the service will certainly grow because…some of them become parents and teachers, and inject that Twitter bug in their kids even before adolescence.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: