Blog Post

Lovesong for Twitter: A(n ex-) Skeptic Finally Chimes In

Since my first post for HASTAC is so late to make its appearance, I thought I should write about another way in which I've been late to the party: I just joined Twitter this past week. Since I consider it important to maintain a healthy amount of skepticism about, well, just about everything - my Significant Other calls it my "eternal pessimism" - I was a proud  Twitter holdout before I joined this past Wednesday. The more popular Twitter became, the more everyone talked about it, the more Ochocinco tweeted from the sidelines, the more anti-Twitter I became. I took Twitter at their word: the name, after all, means chirping or chattering inconsequentially like a bird. I had just accepted Facebook into my life; I couldn't understand how exposing myself to (what I saw as) even more incessant chirping and chattering could possibly be to my benefit. Even last year as I helped work on Transliteracies' Research-oriented Social Network (RoSE), I still remained quite skeptical about the academic virtues of social media. However, after some cajoling by a few colleagues this fall convinced me I at least needed to see wfhat this whole Twitter thing was all about, I reluctantly signed up. Within a few hours, I was hooked. Why didn't anyone ever tell me how wrong I was about Twitter? In my short time on Twitter I've found a rich and exciting community of folks interested in digital media and the digital humanities. I've followed interesting discussions on archiving social media, kept up with the happenings of the Nebraska Digital Workshop (good work, Rama!), and learned all about THATcamps. I already feel connected to lots of smart people who have interesting things to say about what matters to me.

Of course, all of you already know about all that. I realize that blogging about the virtues of Twitter on HASTAC is a bit like wandering over to an observatory and extolling the virtues of telescopes, so please excuse the wide-eyed stare of a new convert. As I said, I'm often late to catch on. Twitter may not be built to save the world (then again, it isn't built to not save the world, either), but so far it has succeeded remarkably for me where other social media have failed: I actually feel connected to a social and a scholarly world.

I am excited to be a HASTAC scholar this year, and many thanks to Rita Raley and Alan Liu for nominating me. I look forward to much decidedly not inconsequential chatter.

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5 comments

Lindsay, as another "eternal pessimist" I too am a Twitter holdout--I'll admit that I simply never quite understood the point. I guess the question I have is, how do you feel the enforced brevity of twitter posts contribute or detract from its usefulness?

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Lindsay, I love your post.   This is perfect:  "Twitter may not be built to save the world (then again, it isn't built to not save the world, either), but so far it has succeeded remarkably for me where other social media have failed: I actually feel connected to a social and a scholarly world."   Richard, what I like so much about Twitter is exactly it's brevity.  I spend probably no more than ten maybe fifteen minutes a day there, I click, I look, and then I go back to my work.   However, if someone I trust (and I have my A list of trusted sources) says something is exciting or urgent and it is on a topic I care about, then I click on the link and a whole world of information is there.  

 

Twitter, thanks to people I admire who really do devote themselves to Twitter, is a filter on the many complex worlds I love but don't have time to inhabit.   It's the menu in a great, huge, complex restaurant.   You don't have to take much time with it (I know some people devour menus; I am a menu skimmer).   The real flavor comes when you make your selection and then savor that one dish out of so many presented to you, with approximately that relationship between the item on the menu and the food, later, melting in your mouth.  If you tried to eat it all, you'd be ill.  Twitter is a guide to the treats you want to taste at the banquet. 

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Twitter is terrific for what I think of as "link harvesting."  I've found countless articles of interest via Twitter -- and occasionally feel guilty that I offer much less to my tweeps than I get from them.  Still I've really benefited from it, though I don't use it with nearly the frequency that seems to be the norm amongst digital humanists.  I've had success crowdsourcing questions there -- with total strangers chiming in to help.  And I've tried to answer questions from strangers when they bear on things I know.  I wonder at the upper limits of its usefulness -- how many tweeps is too many?  How much do I lose by not sticking my foot in the stream more often than I do?  Would I get more out of the interface if I separated my tweeps into groups?  But I'm in many ways more at ease there than on facebook, which I use more regularly.  I think it's the asymmetry (you don't need to follow the folks who follow you, and vice versa) combined with asynchrony that makes Twitter feel openended and exciting.  And the fact that it seems less easily turned to commercial uses, which facebook alas doesn't let you forget.

Meanwhile, if you're overwhelmed with the banquet, I'd recommend using Read It Later to store up all those links that would distract you from your work when you need to turn off the social media.  Then, when you're stuck on the train platform (or the subway, without an internet connection), you can catch up on your pleasure reading.  A virtual doggie bag, if we're to stick with Cathy's metaphor.  

 

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Thanks so much for this really helpful insight, Meredith.

And another highly efficient way to see what's happening (partial, not complete) at HASTAC and how it is being sent around Twitter world is by looking at our @HASTAC twitter digest on the news page:  http://www.hastac.org/news_opportunities    There's a live feed (below the fold, so to speak, on the News page) of tweets and retweets from HASTAC.  You can scroll down, for example, and see that a lot of people are retweeting Lindsay's original post.   There's real pedagogy here:  a newbie has lots to teach all of us.  And pros like Meredith do as well.   Thanks all for a great forum that I suspect will have impact well beyond the usual HASTAC cognoscenti. 

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I agree - I love the brevity of Twitter. I don't have to spend a lot of time with it to get a lot out of it. I, too, am developing my "A list of trusted sources," and I find they often lead me to extremely interesting and relevant topics. I also enjoy, as Meredith said, the asymmetry of Twitter, especially since right now I too am gathering much more from my tweeps than I am offering them (as a newbie, I hope to continue getting away with this for some time). Meredith, thanks for another great tip: I just checked out Read It Later and I think it will be enormously useful to me.

Richard, I know how you feel, but Twitter has surprised and delighted even me. From one eternal pessimist to another, it's worth checking out.

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