Monday, September 19, 2011

Twitterpated


I wouldn't say I'm a Luddite but lately I have been feeling a little behind the times. Alright, actually I have been feeling quite a bit behind the times for quite a while. Years, really.

Back when we first launched Hook and Eye we also set up a Twitter account for the blog. The idea was to generate as much presence as possible, naturally. I also set up a personal account. I did this primarily because I needed one to access our Hook and Eye account and tweet from time to time. I tweeted precisely once between September 2010 and spring 2011. Quite frankly, I forgot I had an account...until one day I receive a message notifying me that I had a new follower.

Curious, and somewhat sheepish, I reintroduced myself to the site. I scrolled through the most popular tweets and searched for people I knew. As it turns out a great majority of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues tweet all the time. Many of you are prolific tweeters! So tell me, what am I missing? In an age where I am (happily, mostly) connected to my smartphone and my laptop for the greater part of the day, an age where I check my various email accounts (personal, professional) regularly and try to keep my various digital presences current and au courant, do I need to consider tweeting as well?

I know, social media has revolutionary potential. But does it have academic revolutionary potential? In 2007 Clive Thompson posited that Twitter creates social proprioception. I love that hypothesis. I also love the way that constant live updates from colleagues in the profession might change the structure and scope of what we do for the better... I fear digital exhaustion, but I would hate to be missing out on the professional and pedagogical possibilities that new media continues to create.

Tell me readers, do you use Twitter for professional purposes? Have you used it in a classroom? Is it a truly useful mode of networking, collaborating, and generally forging community? Or is it just another way to procrastinate?

You can answer me here or--deep breath--@erinwunker

10 comments:

  1. Thank you for raising this! I began a Twitter account at the request of NiCHE [Network in Canadian History & Environment], itself experimenting with twittervalue to broadcast a meeting in April. I spent the entire meeting feeling rude and distracted, because I was typing when someone was talking. I should have jettisoned it and just focused on participating in the discussion. (They also projected the tweets as they appeared, so then /everyone/ was distracted.) 140 characters hardly captures the nuance of a speaker or complex, fast-evolving academic discussion. The other thing the NiCHE experiment showed was that there is a core group of virulent tweeters, and then -- there's the majority. So we were (p)reaching the (tweet)converted. We always hear that we have to lemming into new media like this, but I don't think that's the case. As you say, the digital overload is such that at some point we just have to get work done.

    There are exceptions; one of the most powerful things I've read (not on Twitter, by the way, but reprinted in a Globe article) was a tweet during the Iranian Green revolution that read: "140 characters is a novel when you're being shot at." But no, I don't think you're missing out on a whole lot if you don't follow Twitter - if you're not living in a cave, you'll get the info in other ways.

    So, those are all the reasons I don't really consider it key to my academic life. Since April Twitter has become my work-Facebook, where I'll post updates or links of interest that typically (but not exclusively) have to do with my field (environmental history or Canadian Studies). But I also follow Fashionable People, Questionable Things and Royal Universe, so, you know, whatever.

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  2. What are you missing on Twitter (I'm @readywriting, but I think we're already following each other):

    International higher ed news
    Academic debates about such interesting subjects like Digital Humanities, the use (and misuses) of tech in the classroom, to cancel classes or not
    Updates on the labor movement in higher education
    UVenus news :-)

    And just generally good people having good conversatiosn about a lot of things, large and small. For me, it's a way to connect to colleagues that I otherwise would have little contact with because I am geographically isolated.

    It's also a great place to share good news with people who will be thrilled and tell you. It's nice for that.

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  3. I have found Twitter very useful, in the conversational way that Lee (who I definitely follow!) suggests, for making connections, for having quick but often very productive exchanges with a range of other academics, readers, and writers, and just for getting a sense of who else is out there and what they are doing. It's also a great conduit to other articles, essays, and discussions. It's true that some kinds of information can be found elsewhere, as Claire says, but for me, information is not exactly what I feel I'd be missing out on. Twitter is like a virtual water cooler, where serendipitous exchanges can be informative, or encouraging, or supportive, or surprising, or challenging--sometimes, all at once. Of course, as in all social media, what it does for you depends on how you set it up (in this case, who you choose to follow and RT and reply to) and what you want to get from it: there's no one way.

    A good recent piece about Twitter and research by Ernesto Priego is here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/12/twitter-revolutionise-academia-research

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  4. I'm totally with Rohan on this one. I do love Twitter for information, but I love it more for connections and conversations. I had a great, serendipitous, and fairly extensive Twitter conversation the other day with a professor who is a major figure in my field but lives on the other side of the country (and who I've never met IRL), and it's unlikely we would have had it another way. I would feel strange walking up to him at a conference, but I don't Tweeting at him, and now I *can* walk up to him at a conference and introduce myself and he'll already know my name. As well, I've only met Lee once, but I keep up with her great writing and teaching through Twitter in a way that I couldn't otherwise. Same with Rohan--I haven't been a student at Dal since 2007, but I know much more about her work than I do about that of some professors in my own department, largely because of Twitter (and her blog, of course.)

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  5. Thanks everyone! I love the notion of the 'virtual water cooler' that you mention Rohan, and I find the idea of serendipitous conversations really exciting Melissa. Lee, yes! Thanks for the reminder of updates.

    Question: do you ever feel exhausted by the upkeep?

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  6. I've been weaning myself of Facebook and limiting my time checking emails because I found it easy to get trapped in the need to check if people are checking on you, liking you, looking at your pics, answering your mails, etc. I think what tires me out with this technology is the need to look at a screen for so much of the time, and to type, text the information. I worry that however cheery I make my emails, they are still an impersonal way to communicate. I am trying to make my weekends and weeknights online-free, or online-limited, and it's making a huge difference in my energy levels. I make an effort to connect via phone calls, to read paper books, and if I write, to only write. Being off-line lets me be focused, present, and on task. It's not easy. I still have my email withdrawal moments, but I am trying.

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  7. Erin, I don't feel there is any "upkeep." I use Tweetdeck, so when I'm at my computer, new posts to my Twitter feed just pop up quietly in a corner of my monitor; if I'm intent on my work, I often don't even notice. But in Tweetdeck I have a column for 'mentions' so I can easily see if anyone said anything in my direction that I didn't catch when it went by. I think it's nice to acknowledge when that happens (it's a conversation!), but there's no pressure to. I think everyone understands that people come in and out depending on what else is going on. There's certainly no pressure to tweet yourself--except that if you don't, or only post your own things without RT'ing or linking to others, you don't end up having that conversational experience.

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  8. Again, I agree with Rohan. And you quickly learn to recognize patterns in the people you're interested in. I know that a bunch of Tweeps I follow and want to keep an eye on generally tend to post a few things early in the day and then not the rest, so I check then; Lee (very usefully) often tweets about the same thing multiple times, so I'm sure to catch it whenever I check in. I also follow hashtags that I find useful in Google Reader so that I see what conversations are happening on those topics as I look at my blog feed.

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  9. While I'm definitely worried about the overload, time-sucking potential of Twitter, I've been having great fun with it for a variety of reasons: the genre itself is an interesting writing challenge, distilling to pith; connection with overlapping writing, editing, publishing, & reviewing communities; and easy international connections with a variety of academic and non-academic friends, many of the "haven't-actually-met-yet" variety. Overworked as we are, I think there's an important task for academics and that's connecting to the community beyond, raising our visibility. Bridging that gap, letting people know what my work looks like, how it extends beyond the classroom and how it plays out in the classroom, has become significant to me, perhaps because I heard one too many "Oh, it must be so nice for you to be finished teaching (in April) So you're not back to work until September? That must be lovely!"
    I've been including work-related Tweets, sending them to FB and Twitter from Tweetdeck, interspersed with links to good reviews or to news articles or Tweets about a must-see local production or a good Vancouver restaurant.
    So it's fun and time-wasting and sometimes banal and sometimes productive, but it's part of an overall project I think is worthwhile.
    Switching off completely for a run or a yoga class is worthwhile as well. Balance, right?

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  10. I am one of the few people who absolutely refuses to get a twitter account. It is strange since my chosen profession involves an extreme amount of networking and people connecting in order for their to be any success. I suppose that is partly why so far I am unsuccessful. However I think that this might more be to the fact that I procrastinate, and value sleep and bubble baths more than career success right now.

    However considering that, I barely update my facebook page, or my website with any new or relevant information. (side note: you do not need twitter to find new ways to procrastinate, unfortunately it comes easy to those of us well versed in it's language).

    Honestly I really only go on facebook to feel like I am still friends with approximately 100 people that I probably haven't actually spoken to in the last 2+ years. Twitter would not help to accept the reality that if I went through my friends list I probably only really talk to 10 people consistently in real life.

    Do I find this as another way to connect with people, or stand at the virtual water cooler. No.

    Then again, that's probably because at a real water cooler, I would be the one that went up, grabbed a water, then walked away barely acknowledging other human life.

    My point, I think that people will find a way to socialize to a level that they are comfortable with, and for some people networking through the media can be prolific, and awesome. For others, like myself, it becomes part of my perfectionist manifesto, and then I feel guilty and ashamed when I don't give a crap about who ate a grilled cheese and had a coke zero for lunch, and then tweets about it.

    Social media is always going to have a forefront in our social society. I suggest only getting and maintaining any form of social media profile or account if it relates directly in a negative way if you didn't. If you think that it will have a personal gain, then go for it.

    Personally I can't come up with a legitimate and justifiable reason for me to join twitter. Then again i'd probably only be able to tweet about the grilled cheese and pop I had for lunch.

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