A few weeks ago, the conversation heated up during an ITP core course on the history, theory and practice of interactive media. We were ping-ponging the usual social and political concerns of technology and the academy, when suddenly, the topic became quite personal: “To be a digital humanist, do I have to tweet?”
There were three basic responses. The tension was palpable.
A) Pro: Twitter is a useful tool for sharing work, staying updated and engaging in dialogue w/r/t scholarly interests.
B) Con: Twitter is one more potential obligation to distract one from their work.
C) Orwellian: Twitter is both A and B, but in today’s digital climate — regardless of one’s personal feeling — if one wants to be heard, one must participate in social media.
Since my social media wipe out several years ago I’ve fallen mostly into category B and worried about category C, though not without respecting the grand and mighty truth of category A. It has been intensely difficult to divorce myself from the feeling that social media is personal marketing in the yuckiest and banalest of ways. I’ve just “preferred not to.”
And yet, I make rampant use of others’ so-called indulgence. I have become the most dependent of lurkers. I find coffee shops through Yelp, read articles through Facebook, find out what building fell down where by what hurricane through Twitter, watch stupidcute puppy baby bear YouTube videos when in need, and practice precarious home remedies documented by the poor suffering folk of web 1.0 homeopathic forums.
My contribution to those sites, however, is little to none. I do this mostly out of some basic instinct of keeping my personal (not professional) digital presence invisible or perhaps pure. (There is work to be done on medieval romance and online avatars!) Or to avoid the challenge of having to invent yet another voice with another set of responsibilities and aesthetics. And the fear of having my bad jokes and worse comments last forever in a searchable, archivable world wide way.
But I guess not terrible enough. Today I decided to make the leap and see if it’s possible that I might personally find Twitter a valuable scholarly tool. I tweeted my first tweet in a very long time. I’m guessing one isn’t enough and am making plans for another by the end of the calendar year. I only hope my earnest experiment doesn’t throw me into the thralls of yet another digital addiction: Will I be constantly obsessing over my tweets? Will my thoughts suddenly be constricted to 140 characters? Will the flesh of my hand begin to grow around my phone? Will my pale waxy complexion grow ever paler and waxier?! Digital times are sticky, messy times. One must never claim immunity to the object of their critique. Let Maureen Dowd be one such warning, who joined Twitter only three months after calling Twitter “annoying” in an interview with its founders. (You can find Twitter user’s joining dates and “Godfathers” through TWBirthday, BTW. Sounds like a potential DH map project!)
In the meantime, I’m curious about other scholars’ use or disuse of Twitter and other forms of social media. Ernesto Priego wrote a piece about academic tweeting, but as he says himself, there are very few resources that focus strictly on the use and effects of Twitter in academics.
So, we’ll just have to rely on our own wits. People, I need sources! Let’s hear anecdotes of all things Twitter and academic! Anxieties! Defenses! And a list of your favorite academic tweeters! Leave them here, or tweet me (?) at @erinroseglass.