Dot disappears into the social media rabbit hole:
I posted this on Facebook back on 5 July (I’ve edited it slightly).
Wondering again whether I should join Twitter. On the downside: I would never have a train of thought more than twenty seconds long ever again; I would embarrass myself by saying unconsidered things in an extremely public forum; I would worry that nobody wanted to follow me; the one person who definitely would follow me is mad. On the upside: I could pretend to be friends with Tracey Thorn.
You see, I read Bedsit Disco Queen recently and I think Tracey Thorn is very cool.
Anyway, this initiated quite an interesting conversation, and I hope my Facebook friends don’t mind me summarising it in anonymised fashion. The following positions emerged:
1) The barge pole approach. As in, not touching it with one. It can only lead to pain and lasting sorrow.
2) The lurker approach. Several of my friends have twitter accounts but don’t tweet. That way you can follow people but not get sucked in. Or you can just ignore the whole thing for years at a time.
3) The professional approach. This seems to be favoured by my fellow academics: tweets are confined to matters relevant to one’s professional concerns, and for this it can be good for making connections, but nothing too personal goes on there.
4) The extremely enthusiastic approach. One friend said she very much preferred Twitter, not just because it was quicker and easier to fit into her life than Facebook, but because she thought someone’s personality emerged over the course of many tweets in a way it wouldn’t in carefully-crafted Facebook updates.
I subsequently joined Twitter and am essentially pursuing strategy (2) with the intention of moving to (3). So far I have sent a grand total of four tweets, one to say hello to the enthusiastic friend of approach (4), one to be my official first tweet (in which I said I wasn’t sure what kind of bird I was going to be in this aviary), one to return a greeting from someone I’d just followed, and the last a retweet about the Middle English Dictionary. I think the personality that may be emerging in my tweets is cumbrously humorous but extremely guarded.
The distinction between the carefully crafted Facebook post and the spontaneous and truthful Twitter feed is worth examining. It’s certainly true that I think about the image I project through Facebook. Particularly since I started having some Facebook friends who are professional contacts, I have tended to edit out certain aspects of my life, in particular suppressing my gloomiest moods and also how cheesed off and demotivated I sometimes feel about work. I select things to say that strike me as interesting or amusing, or I post things I want to publicise, and when I don’t have anything to say that at least someone in my friends list might respond to I don’t update my status.
But this is even more true for Twitter, where I can’t know who my audience might be (of course it needn’t just be my followers – anybody can look up your Twitter feed). I also feel very acutely that my public face on Twitter reflects, far more than my Facebook persona, on my role as an academic and on the educational institution that I work for. I do not, for example, think that Twitter is the place to air my thoughts on Gotye (though I am following him). I feel I have to at least pretend to be a smart, enthused, authoritative specialist, instead of someone who at the moment is struggling a bit with her book project and consoling herself with music.
It seems to me that, on the one hand, there are people who seem happy to live their lives whole, and have their job, their politics, their geekery and whatever all mixed up together and served up on Twitter where the world can take them as it finds them, and on the other hand there are people like me who find it necessary to divide themselves up into separate boxes. Partly this is because I am naturally rather introverted. Partly it is the nature of academia itself: it’s a whole-identity job. You’re not supposed to treat medieval literature as a nine-to-five: it’s supposed to be your obsession and your life and the main thing about you. Moreover, if someone follows you because you’re an Ashgate author, for example, they’re probably not looking for your opinion on Tash Parker’s album (it’s great, by the way).
Is this dividedness a way of being false? I don’t think so. Rather, it’s a kind of discipline, and an acknowledgement that I do have several different roles with different demands, and that Twitter is a very public forum. Of course, there is always Twitter strategy (5), which no-one mentioned: invent a ludicrous Twitter alias and romp around saying silly things to people to your heart’s content. But actually I do live my life slightly too whole for that.