Social Networking II: The Twitter

Just about two years ago I deleted my Facebook account with the declaration that, from my perspective, it had failed. I do miss its convenience for contacting people whose phone numbers or emails I do not have readily available and am disappointed by the occasional missed invitation (the “oh right, you’re not on Facebook” by way of apology gets old quickly), but gchat has replaced Facebook chat and my life is improved having rid myself of that attachment.

With Twitter I get all the aspects of Facebook I liked, with none of the annoyances. By using Twitter clients I’ve even mostly managed to avoid the “new layout” angst. In particular, I find the micro-blogging more conducive to mixing work, hobbies, social commentary, and jokes. I also prefer it as a platform for sharing links despite–or perhaps because of–the limited space for commentary.

At its best, Twitter is a place where I can share my love of food, sports, history, and literature with like-minded people, including those I know offline and those who I respect, but who I have not yet met in person. I’ve also had discussions about ancient sources and topics that have proven valuable in my own work. On the other end of the spectrum, Twitter takes on the worst aspects of demagoguery, leading to all manner of harassment both for good and for ill, and sometimes for both simultaneously.

But more than its penchant for channeling outrage, I’ve recently been having a second problem with Twitter: its intensity. As I was with Facebook, I am too capable of simply watching the world flit by on Twitter instead of doing my own work, let alone going out into the world and thus being limited by whatever there is around me. This escapism also prompts me to frequently reopen the Twitter page when it is closed, sometimes for fear of missing out on whatever aphorism, quip, or thought has just been posted, but more often because I am struggling to write or read whatever I am working through at that moment. Unlike Facebook, though, I am much better at closing down Twitter and coming back to it at more regulated intervals and accepting that I am not missing anything important in doing so. Still, this aspect of Twitter is less time-intensive (at least for me) than Facebook was.

What I mean by intensity is that many people I follow have crafted erudite and intelligent professional personae on Twitter and tweet with passion about professional matters from their current writing projects, to the articles or sources they read and recommend, to thoughts about the academy. In isolation, this is a good thing and when my own work is progressing to my satisfaction, I am encouraged to see such a positive and enthusiastic community on social networks–and, in my experience, it is an incredibly positive and supportive group of people on Twitter. The problem is that when it seems that my own progress has stagnated, the same positive and enthusiastic community becomes intimidating. A swarm of Care Bears, puppies, or kittens remains a swarm, particularly if one appears, solipsistically, to be on the outside of the given group.

There appear to be two root causes of this dissatisfaction above and beyond the frustration with my own work. The first is that I do not use Twitter as an exclusively professional medium, but one that brings together a variety of aspects of my life, a fact that make me feel like a dilettante rather than a scholar. The second returns to the idea of a swarm. Everyone has periods where they do not write as much as they would like, if only because most go through periods where the immediate demands of teaching and grading cut into writing time, but, because there are one or two hundred scholars whose social media personae I follow, there is a constant stream of positive information about research in progress. Very often, I find the torrent a source of motivation and encouragement. The problem is that when the current ceases to be uplifting, I find it entirely overwhelming and I am further paralyzed.

I do not foresee myself deleting my Twitter account anytime soon. Rather, I noticed an ebb and flow of my own activity, writing here on my personal blog and production of pages on my dissertation and a correlation with my enthusiasm for and activity on Twitter. Twitter does not cause the ebb, but neither does it always inspire a rebound.

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