Twitter and academic professionalism – for Pre-Fix at #CSAA2012

(I’ve been asked to speak about social media and academic careers to the Pre-Fix event at the CSAA conference. In the post that follows I’ve chosen to speak almost exclusively about Twitter, for various reasons, not least I think because my presence on Twitter is the reason the organisers asked me. But in comments and questions at the event I am happy to discuss the many other platforms I spend too much time on.)

People close to me – people whom I love and respect – have assured me that I come across as a massive jerk on Twitter. And when I read back over my feed I realise that they are absolutely correct. I obsessively tweet about mundane topics – for example national politics – in a way that adds little value or insight. I unattractively flaunt my membership in various online cliques and in-groups. My linking behaviour reveals middlebrow reading habits, conventional opinions and a pedestrian sensibility. In discussion, I make superficial and tendentious arguments. Only rarely do I talk about my scholarly work in a way that’s informative, as opposed to self-promotional. And on Twitter, as now, I am constantly talking about myself.

I could protest that my on-Twitter persona is different to the “real me”. But you’re all too sophisticated to believe that there is a “real me” apart from the succession of performances I mount in various contexts. I might say instead that my Twitter feed is a particularly unattractive performance of my self. But maybe it’s just the only one of its kind that’s conveniently archived and open to evaluation. We come to social media in various, transitory frames of mind – various chat applications ask us to foreground our “current mood”, and Facebook and Twitter are hardly less explicit in offering that imperative – but I feel like my Twitter performance is generally improvisatory rather than studied. So it’s possible that I’m a jerk across a range of contexts and it’s just that I don’t currently have the resources to understand that. Either way I’ve managed to create an unpleasant impression of myself in the minds of some people who matter to me. And yet I have attracted 3,684 followers, most of whom I don’t know, whether IRL or in more mediated ways. It’s an above average follower count, although there are Australian academics with more. But I suspect it’s partly that number, and partly that I’ve been on Twitter for five years, and various online forums for years before that, and maybe because I’ve published research on how others use Twitter that I have been asked to talk with postgrads and ECRs about it today.