Don’t judge me if I’m looking at my phone during an interesting lecture. Nine times out of ten, I’m not responding to a text or flipping through my emails. Usually when I’m on my phone, I’m live tweeting – and I wish more academics (and farmers, and companies for that matter) would tweet more.
This past month I have been immersed in a sea of academic get-togethers. I participated in an oral history workshop and two different conferences, and all had developed a hashtag for tweeters to tweet and follow conversations. These were three truly amazing events, and for me to take the time to tweet them and live tweet some of their take-aways helped me remember the content of the talks a whole lot better. My tweets are now archived on my Twitter page, giving me an opportunity to look back on the important moments I thought were worth tweeting. The entire process provides an extra dimension to my overall note-taking experience.
I only started tweeting when I started this blog, courtesy of a friend’s suggestion. I’m really glad I took the time to start playing around with the website and app, finding not only people to follow from my discipline and the groups of people I conduct research with, but also finding conversations between handfuls of individuals having genuine discussions in 140 characters or less.
If you are already a tweeter, I don’t need to persuade you of the benefits of tweeting in x, y, or z discipline or for x, y, or z reason. But for those of you still hesitant to jump on the bandwagon, I’d like to outline some additional perks to academic tweeting and the possibilities that could come with regular tweeting from intellectual and professional communities.
- Note-taking archive
Everyone processes information in different ways, and I appreciate this fact. Some people can sit in a lecture, listen to the lecturer, and *presto-pesto* the information is transferred into their brain. For me to process the same lecture, I have to take extensive notes. I then have to transcribe these notes, and read them over again to really get at what was relayed to me from the speaker. As I mentioned, Twitter provides an extra dimension of writing notes for me with the added pressure of a public audience. Considering how my brain works (and I assume other brains out there), this process actually allows the information to become instantly more meaningful for me to absorb: writing a note first by hand to make sure it is brief enough, then writing it in my screen (sometimes with emojis), and then publishing it for others to see. It may sound like this takes *more* time, but in the long run actually takes *less* time for me to remember the information. Plus, as I mentioned before, everything is archived. And this happens not only within my own Twitter page, but through the hashtags I use. I can go back over themes in “#dairy” or “#aghist” or “#histsci” using the hashtags – seeing not only what I have written but what others have written under these key terms and topics.
- Practice for precise and succinct writing
“If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.” One of my past instructors, Richard Parmentier, would press this quote on us before assigning his notoriously short assignments. I haven’t forgotten the power of time or the power of brevity. Writing long, complicated ideas in clear, short ways is a skill I think everyone can benefit from mastering. Twitter is one way to practice getting good ideas out there in brief, quick, eye-catching ways but *quickly*. I’m learning to use my words carefully, and to swap out long, jargon-y words for shorter ones in my tweets. The 140 character limit also forces me to be creative with pictorial representations, using the emoji inventory on my phone, images from the actual lecture/event, or even popular animated files from Google’s archive to better illustrate the arguments and stories I hear.
- Getting to know others and their research
Probably one of the greatest benefits of Twitter is the follow function. Many great scholars and professionals are already on Twitter, and are constantly tweeting articles, reviews of books and journals, and even musings about their classroom and conference experiences. I love following conversations when they blossom, particularly as people reply to a tweet that moves them. Twitter is a great space to witness the thinking processes of individuals (if they Tweet frequent enough), as well as the many different interests we can have as an intellectual collective. I also follow all of the major local, national, and international news sources on Twitter, and feel like I can access different kinds of information all in one forum. Some would argue Facebook serves the same function, but the brevity of the Tweet makes this information seem more variable.
- Tweeting one conference theme while following another… in the same weekend!
This was something that happened to me while I was attending the Agricultural History Society Conference. The conference was over the same weekend as the Three Societies meeting (HSS, BSHS, CSHPS), the Society for the History of Technology meeting (SHOT), and the Canadian Association for Food Studies (CAFS) – but I could get a glimpse into the material of each meeting following their respective hashtags. It was actually quite a wonderful forum, and with applications like Hootsuite you can follow multiple hashtags at a time (meaning, I could follow tweets from all four of the meetings at the same time). This only works if fellow attendees tweet what they’re experiencing, which is why I advocate for more academic tweeters to allow for larger information sharing. Conferences also often have more than one panel happening at the same time, but through Twitter I could often catch tweets from a fellow tweeter in a panel I could not attend and still get a sense of the important content relayed at the meeting.
- Live tweet forums
I love live tweet forums, and this is something I don’t see many academics doing just yet. I have to give a hand to the farmers, scholars, and interested consumers who participate in #AgChat every Tuesday night on Twitter, as they introduced me to the wonders of the live tweet forum. Every Tuesday at 8pm, those interested in the topic can follow the #AgChat hashtag and participate by answering a series of questions from the assigned moderator that week. Some really great conversations can come from these spaces. The idea of dozens of individuals talking to one another from cyberspace across the country at one time on a public forum is really amazing to me – and a great space for people to advocate (or “agvocate,” as this forum so boasts) publically for the subjects they are passionate about. I think this space is one where academics can think more about the applicability of their research. The live tweet forum could pose as an opportunity for an academic to invite representatives from the companies, institutions, or public bases their research actively addresses or affects. It occupies a space somewhere in-between cyber-ethnographic venture and town hall meeting, which can be very engaging and helpful for those involved. It takes time and a good rapport to successfully develop these spaces, but they are already happening! We just need to take the time to participate within them.
Are you a big tweeter? Do you have ideas for forums or hashtags that could start new public conversations – bringing in new participants (academic and otherwise)? For example, I’m hoping to try and incorporate tweeting into my classroom discussions with undergraduates. Or, do you use Twitter for different reasons (#GameofThrones won’t be relevant again until next season…)? Comment below!
Some other websites/resources on Twitter in academia: