I am in the information business. Almost a year ago I took the plunge and joined the Twitterati. I set up an account and committed myself to both listening and talking in the Twitterverse. This seems like a good time to pause, reflect and assess before the next academic year winds up. My underlying questions are straightforward … is Twitter ‘worth’ my time still? Should I change anything about how I’m participating?
Most of my tweets have been informational (broadcast style in media-speak) on a range of topics including: libraries, news, journalism as practice, privacy, social media, data, open access, higher education, political machinations, and a few funny-to-me pithy sayings. I have used hashtags infrequently though I tweeted actively from a couple of academic conferences. I have asked occasional questions but have never received any replies or answers. More important than what I did or did not say or otherwise express through my participation, is what I learned about myself as social media beast and about the Twitterverse through my eyes.
I love Twitter as an information tool. It suits my librarian’s information scanning behaviours extremely well. It’s a cheap, effective clipping service. It beats subscribing to many news sources and being overwhelmed with journals waiting to be read. Its currency has drug-like properties. I promote Twitter as an information source to whomever will listen.
Oddly even to me, I feel as if I have come to ‘know’ a few people a little bit by following them on Twitter. These are people either I’ve met only in passing or more likely have never met, but they are people whose work / ideas / writings I am aware of. They are people in my professional world; the majority are widely known ‘vedettes de l’académie’ who shine in professional domains I identify with in some way. A few probably don’t see themselves as influential but they are people who’s work I admire, who’s perspectives add to mine. Stars to me. Only a handful of these strangers qualify even as the weakest of weak ties — the promise (though not my promise) of social media and the networked individual (see Wellman & Rainie, 2012). If I met them in person, I would not likely ‘fess up to being among their throng.
People who know me well would agree, I think, that I am a very good listener. By no accident, I prefer to do research that involves listening and observing. I’m the type of person you might eventually notice, watching you a bit too intensely, or smiling when you and your friends share a funny store over your lattes at the local coffee shop.
Although listening online has been associated with more invasive, and intrusive qualities (Crawford, 2009), it’s an online behaviour that’s starting to come out of these darkest corners. The rewards of social media have generally been associated with voice, discourse, chiming in, speaking out, giving opinions. IMHO, more than many social media, Twitter is a great ‘place’ for listening and observing some particular slices of humanity. During my first year, I have learned a little more about genres of listening on Twitter.
And so, when anyone asks me why I bother with “that Twitter thing”, I first give them my practical, librarian-like justification. If they persist with more scepticism I explain how it feeds my persistent listening-in-on-a-world appetite. My Twitter feed combines many of the features I enjoy most in my neighbourhood coffee shop – a little news, a little chatter, improvisational interactions with strangers, usually some laughter and learning – a not-entirely-random version of a community.