Why Twitter? What value does Twitter offer to an academic? And, are you missing out if you are not on Twitter?
Yesterday someone I follow (@bacigalupe) posted a link to a Digital Sociology post titled “Can academics manage without Twitter?” My answer was: of course they can. Academics do not need to be on Twitter, and yet there are some very real benefits to Twitter. What are they, you ask? In the order I posted them (and with the original 140 character limitations of syntax preserved), here are five academic benefits I’ve experienced through using Twitter:
#1: learning about new research, publications, conferences, conversations
#2: community-building, following/connecting with colleagues around the world in your own + cognate fields
#3: the drop-in or hang-out-all-day options; you can tweet & read as you like, greatly enabled by list feature
#4: I think of my Twitter feed as personally-curated updates of news, info, stories on topics I care about
#5: knowing things well before they hit email or FB (aka W Benjamin’s value of info is in the current moment)
Now, some extended thoughts on these benefits: Twitter is initially an empty space each user individually transforms into a public, dynamic space. You follow other users without obligation or permission based on your interests. Posts (“tweets”) from users you follow then comprise your Twitter feed and are constantly updated as users put up new posts. You can check in several times a day, once a day, once a week or month or even more sporadically—whatever suits your needs. In addition to following users, you may also search via topic (e.g., #ethnography), subscribe to lists (e.g., @kerim’s list of 350 anthropologists on Twitter), or follow tweets from a conference (e.g., #aaa2012). There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter.
Who will you connect with? Whose posts will you read? These depend on your passions and concerns. My feed is heavy with posts about anthropology, academia, publishing, Tibet, Nepal, India, China, and issues of social justice. I’ve connected with other scholars, writers, and activists around the world; linked up with others for conference panels; discovered articles, research, pedagogies, and funding possibilities I might not have otherwise learned about; connected with prospective graduate students; joined with others to form the Open Anthropology Cooperative; discovered some great new music; and in general, have shared and learned in ways that feel productive, valuable, and communal in the best sense of the word.
Twitter moves fast and covers wide ground which suits my multitasking mind. I am often writing on two different topics, reading about a third for a class I am teaching, and thinking about still more on any given day: this is the life of an academic. Twitter collates and curates my worlds in a stress-free way, providing a platform for learning, engaging, and connecting which rests simply on one’s own interests and availability but—to me at least—never feels like a burden. It is instead a resource and a community that I most frequently draw on when I am immersed in the solitary activity of writing. Sometimes I need quiet spaces in which to think, and sometimes I find crowded, noisy spaces useful. Twitter is the latter.
In the end, the value of Twitter for academics is what you make of it. So, can academics manage without Twitter? Of course they can. But the better question might be “What can academics manage with Twitter?” I find thinking about that question to be much more exciting.
[For those readers interested in checking Twitter out for the first time, there are numerous online guides such as LSE's Twitter guide for academics. A simple web search for “twitter for academics” turns up all sorts of pages ranging from the Chronicle of Higher Education's "10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics" on through to individual bloggers' posts such as "A Gentle Introduction to Twitter for the Apprehensive Academic." If you do join Twitter, you can find me at @cmcgranahan and this blog at @savageminds]