Quantity is Quality… Or at Least it Can Be

Last week on the social media panel, the question of quantity versus quality came up. The question asked which was better, quantity or quality. This is my attempt to respond.

Where I failed in the discussion was to define what exactly quality is. So, what is this quality that quantity seems to threaten? One example might be a certain book published just before the turn of the twentieth century. This book required pain-staking research over the course of a decade. A vast amount of statistics were compiled and top authorities in the field were recruited for input. The author even disclosed his inability to be bias on the issue because of his birthplace. All-in-all, something we would deem quality.

The name of this publication was “Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro” by Frederick L. Hoffman. Here is an excerpt from this well-funded and highly-published work: “It is not in the conditions of life, but in the race traits and tendencies that we find the causes of excessive mortality. So long as these tendencies are persisted in, so long as immorality and vice are a habit of life of the vast majority of the colored population, the effect will be to increase the mortality by hereditary transmission of weak constitutions, and to lower still further the rate of natural increase, until the births fall below the deaths, and gradual extinction results” (p. 95). So, while the method of writing and publication of this work could be regarded as quality (aside from his use of passive voice, right?), its message is that immorality is hereditary among African Americans and will lead to the extinction of this group.

I think we may need to redefine quality.

Quality may have more to do with effort and participation than a well-polished outcome. Not everyone is Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s use the example of a boy named Calvin. Say Calvin sits in the back of a classroom, does not listen, and does not speak. He shows up almost on time and tries to sneak out before the bell rings. Is this quality participation? Without going into much detail, we will assume not. Now, let’s say Calvin starts paying attention one day. Another day, he starts processing what he hears. Another day, he raises his hand and shares a few words. Maybe the day after that, he speaks the equivalent of a whole paragraph. In comparison to his initial state, this would be major progress in Calvin’s quality of participation.

Likewise, I believe part of the quality aspect of social media is getting people to participate. Someone on the panel raised the idea that social media may serve as a platform for shy folks (like myself) to share ideas. I would say that is right on. As an introvert, one of my dark secrets is that I love having a microphone. This is because I don’t have to try and talk over anybody; I just do. Social media allows that, if I get your attention. Participation where there was none before is one point for quality.

The second point for quality, in my humble opinion, is effort. Teachers (which includes all people who share something, not just professionals) should put their best efforts into what they teach. This includes research. Students (again, not just those in the classroom) should put forth their best efforts in learning. This also includes research, as well as application. When people post through Facebook and other media, they should seek to post the best they can. Failure to do so helps push the society at-large in a downward direction.

Now, maybe I am stuck up, but I have a lot of problems approaching Twitter in the preferred method. A limit of 140 characters makes writing without abbreviations and LOL’s, IDK’s, and IMHO’s very difficult. But I still have a hard time getting myself to give up a properly written (although at times misspelled) word. Yet, those who do concede and instead use this new form of short-hand are not necessarily reducing the quality of communication. Any drop in quality is more likely a result of poorly thought-out or proof-read posts or an inability to control one’s self in front of a camera lens.

As we can see from Hoffman, quality is not just the package something arrives in. Rather, everyone participating and participating with their best effort is how we can accommodate an increase in quality with a simultaneous increase in quantity. If we use social media, let us use it to think critically and share that which we believe will build up each other and our world. Let’s get Calvin engaged, spare him the unnecessarily harsh criticisms (i.e.: choose your battles), and help him learn to more fully develop and share his thoughts. Quantity is not the enemy of quality; fear of participation is.

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