In 2012 I was finally persuaded – by myself rather than anyone else – to join the world of social media beyond Facebook in the form of tweeting and blogging, mainly to explore its uses for academics, in particular postgraduate students (see @Nadine_Muller and The New Academic). It seems appropriate, therefore, to spend a few lines reflecting on where my social media journey has taken me and, more importantly, how I feel about it. Though I use Twitter and my blog for what can perhaps be considered “professional” purposes, I’m not going to adopt the artificial distinction between the personal and the professional here, since my blog and the conversations I have on Twitter are about postgraduate support, a realm in which professional networks among peers are so often also personal ones, be they online or offline communities. Besides, as with everyone else, the person I am “privately” very much determines the professional I am, and it is in part some of my personal issues and anxieties – two of which I’ve already briefly discussed previously (in An Anxious Mind and Organising Academic Conferences) – that define, at least to a certain extent, my relationship with social media. Nevertheless, I shall split up my experiences and the impact that social media has had on me in the past year into a two categories (by now, some of you may have clocked onto the fact that I’m obsessed with structure – my brain works in lists, for better or worse). So here it goes.
SOCIAL MEDIAL FOR THE SOCIALLY AWKWARD
I certainly enjoy being on my own much more than being in company, particularly for long periods of time and when the company consists of more than one other person (though there are, of course, exceptions to this, albeit not many). Social media, within this context, provides the opportunity to communicate and “socialise” virtually without having to be in physical proximity to people, but it’s certainly no like-for-like replacement for networking in person (at conferences, etc.). Despite the seeming superficiality and brevity of the exchanges one has on Twitter, I do appreciate this kind of communication rather a lot, simply because it saves me the awkwardness and strain I feel when meeting new people face-to-face. As an introvert person, it costs me a lot of energy to be sociable for long periods of time, especially at conferences, and although I enjoy it once I’m in the flow, I pretty much collapse with exhaustion afterwards and need at least a day or two of as little verbal communication as possible (“How do you teach?!”, I hear you ask; well teaching is an entirely different story for me, thankfully). Social media allows me to avoid that strain as well as the awkwardness I often feel (though hopefully not express) when meeting new people, not least because I now often meet people online before meeting them offline at academic events, and this makes it much easier to introduce oneself and begin a conversation. Social media may have its downfalls, here, you may say, as people can hide behind the mask of “virtual reality” (a term which has by now of course been much debated; after all, what is “virtual reality” if not a part of and hence the equivalent to “reality”). But I must confess that, personally, I have made just as many bad judgments of people’s characters (reliability, enthusiasm, etc.) offline as online, so short of determining whether a person actually exists and whether they are who they claim to be, I fail to see any shortcomings in finding collaborators and like-minded academics via conferences or via social media, but clearly this very much depends on your personality type and your social preferences. Some of you will recognise what I’m writing here, while others may think I’m just a little bit odd, so we’ll swiftly move on to a different aspect of my experiences with social media.
As someone who finds it very difficult to tackle the blank page or screen and simply start writing (without making repetitive structural notes and lists beforehand), blogging has been a real revelation for me in some respects. At first it took a while to hit the “publish” button, but I now see my blog as a space which doesn’t need to be governed by unattainable notions of perfection. Rather, it’s somewhere I can think through things and reflect on them, and it’s perfectly ok for those reflections to be flawed or incomplete at times. It has also taught me to make good use of my rather short attention span and my extreme fits of motivation and energy. Before I started blogging, I never thought I would be able to write and publish my thoughts on a discussion as quickly as within two hours after a meeting (as was the case with E-Musings, for example), and it was extremely useful to me to get rid of at least a small proportion of the thoughts that run through my head at lightening speed after such discussions. They often resolve themselves by turning into bad moods and an overactive (yet unproductive) brain eventually, so putting the virtual pen to paper (or keyboard to screen) feels like a good alternative with a much better outcome. I haven’t yet started blogging about my research as such, though I can imagine – and know from others – that, here, too blogging can function as a good way of sketching out the beginnings of an idea or argument. Perhaps the most important thing that blogging has taught me is how quickly I can produce 1,000 words if I actually feel like I have something to say, and I do hope this will help with my various bits of other writing too, be it for lectures or for publications. Perhaps interestingly, I always thought blogging and tweeting rather peculiar, mostly because I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be interested in what I’d have to say, or that I’d have anything of interest to say at all. It’s because of this that my entry into social media has been motivated by the one topic on which I would like to be heard by those who choose to pay attention: postgraduate and early-career training and experiences. It’s the one topic where I feel that, perhaps, sharing my experiences might make a difference to others.
Twitter has similar if necessarily different functions to blogging when it comes to thinking and writing. It’s a great way of canvassing other people’s thoughts on a particular question or topic, though here – far more so than with blogging – I tend to avoid getting into the fine details, simply because I feel Twitter doesn’t lend itself to and isn’t designed for long, in-depth conversations, and I’m afraid I can’t see the point in people pushing an argument or conversation via an endless number of tweets. Twitter is a brilliant way of gaining an overview of various aspects of a debate, but, for me at least, it’s not where I get to the bottom of things, and neither is my blog.
Also, while I’ve mainly managed to keep my Twitter account busy (and sometimes your timelines, no doubt), regular blogging hasn’t quite worked out as well. As some of you may have noticed, the last two The New Academic posts (on Organising Academic Conferences and Academic Committees & Boards) went online quite a bit later than I had planned. Having said that, generally speaking I’m quite happy that apart from a couple of slips I stuck to the schedule and produced all the posts I had promised, which wasn’t always easy, considering I was teaching four days a week, and considering the rest of my task list.
Finally, then, the verdict on my experiences of social media are certainly very positive. I’ve reached and met people I would ordinarily never have had the opportunity (or courage) to speak to, and I can’t say I’ve found social media a problem when I had other things to do; rather, it can make for a productive break when you’re immersed in other projects.
So thank you, readers and tweeters, for making my first social media year so enjoyable and truly inspiring! Many of you have been very generous with your comments, here and on Twitter, and I’m not sure I always deserved them, but I’m certainly glad you found my ramblings of some use.