What is academic twitter, anyway?

On Wednesday, @savasavasava threw out the following question on Twitter:

It’s a pretty big, and pretty important, question. When I’m asked, I usually say something along the lines of it being academics on Twitter, but that’s not quite right. It’s more than that, but it’s hard to explain until you experience it.

I’ve brought together some of the responses to @savsavasava’s question here, so that those not on Twitter can hopefully get a glimpse of why some of us like it so much.

The modern water cooler

I like to say that Twitter is the modern agora. It is a (privately owned) public space where people come together to chat, exchange knowledge, do business, complain, share cat pictures, and generally try to make sense of what’s going on in the world.

A broad community

Twitter–any social media, in my opinion–should be about the people who use it. Social media is simply being social through a medium. This allows broad communities and networks to form, which in turn fosters creativity, connection, knowledge exchange, and public engagement. Academic Twitter breaks down the barriers of status–tenured faculty, contract, independent scholars, alt-academics, para-academics– and becomes about the ideas people have, not the rank a person holds in an institution or organization.

A “time-shifted” conference

A never-ending conference may not sound like fun to some, but in some ways, that’s what Twitter is. But don’t worry: It’s the fun networking in the bar after the panel presentations part of conferences, and you can dip in and out of it as you wish. Also, no expensive hotel fees or air fare.

A way to do academics publicly

Twitter is public and provides a platform for us to do our discipline publicly. But it’s not just about sharing facts on ancient Greece, say. @OmanReagan hits the nail on the head: Twitter allows us to humanize our work. When we allow our personality and personal interests to come through on Twitter, the public can see scholars as relatable. Our enthusiasm comes across. We are interesting people doing interesting things, no more or less human than anyone else. Engagement is about connection, and we best connect with people when we allow ourselves to be seen as people.

 A disability resource

The importance of Twitter and social media to the disabled community is often under-appreciated, but it is a vital tool. Live-tweeting may make a presentation easier for someone to follow. Networking on social media doesn’t require the same energy investment that travel and meetings do. In addition, Twitter is a way to find other marginalized people who share the same challenges and can provide support during difficult times.

 A network that breaks down institutional hierarchies and silos

Twitter allows us to engage with other people as people first, and gives us access to people who we might not otherwise meet. It’s pretty awesome to be able to tweet to someone you respect, and even cooler when they reply or RT. I know I’ll never forget getting a RT from an academic hero!

Twitter gives space for the voices that are often marginalized and unheard in traditional spaces. By listening to –and amplifying–people from marginalized groups, we learn to be better people and better academics. Twitter is a classroom where, if we choose to listen, we can learn from each other.

A venue for trans-disciplinary collaboration

Twitter, if used well, breaks down barriers of disciplines, departments, faculties, and hierarchical rank to encourage cross collaboration. It’s way to work out ideas and get input from other perspectives.

Academic Twitter is complex. But however we describe it, it is a community: a community we create as individuals coming together to listen and learn and share with each other.

How do you define academic twitter?

how twitter can make me a better human being

My experience with Twitter is changing me as a human being.

Twitter challenges me to pay attention to how I use gendered language. How do I talk about groups of people? Do I choose words that are inclusive of all genders, or do I fall into the familiar trap of thinking and speaking in the old male/female dichotomy? Am I willing to accept and to try to understand people whose presentation does not fit with traditional ideas of ‘man’ or ‘woman’? Do I listen to their experiences and allow their voices to be heard or do I participate in silencing them?

Twitter makes me pay attention to how people are shamed and stigmatized in my ‘real’ world. Do I participate unwittingly in shaming those who are different from me? Do I make judgements about people based on their size or clothing choices? Do I think less of people who struggle in a system that seems set on keeping them in poverty? Do my words and actions make people feel valued and beautiful and strong? Or do I distance myself from them by my words and actions and attitudes?

Twitter lets me listen to people’s lived experiences. Will I listen only to the stereotyped stories on the evening news or will I listen to the experiences of those whose lives are so different from mine? Am I buying into the systemic racism (which benefits me) or am I willing to challenge it? Will I give less weight to a woman’s word when she speaks out against a famous man? Whose version of events do I choose to believe–the versions told by perpetrators of injustice or the stories of the victims of injustice?