Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Me on twitter: who'd have thought...

'Dare to know [sapere aude]' 
Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment

I was asked to give a presentation today, on, yes me. Now a few of you will be laughing, or L[Y]AO as we say in the twitterverse...but present I did. My university has been promoting Open Access Week and as part of that one of our librarians asked me to offer a few pointers about twitter and research. Well I wasn't sure about that. My twitter account started as an adjunct to my research but it has turned out to be so much more and nearly all for good. How might I compact all that into ten minutes? 

We thought it best to simply show by example and get my twitter page up and walk people through it. It didn't occur to me to formalise it in anyway until I tweeted about what I was doing. A couple of tweeps, including Belinda (@zimgrrrl) said they'd like to *read* my paper...oops, paper, what paper? 

So here is the post I promised. I'm post-teaching, almost post-marking and I've missed my regular writing so thanks @zimgrrrl, here we go. 

One of my early posts was about how and why I ended up on twitter, by accident and reluctantly. I don't engage with any other social media platforms (Facebook etc) and it took about 18 months between starting up the account in 2010 before I really took to it and began to appreciate its value and potential. Yes, the plan was to use it to gather information and clues for my research in Australian and Japanese politics, follow accounts that related to that and probably remain somewhat passive, a 'lurker' as they might say. After all, it's not as if I would have all that much to say and in just 140 characters...

What I came to appreciate very quickly with twitter was the importance of 'engagement'. Simply sitting on the sidelines seemed to be almost cheating...leaving others to do all the hard work while I was simply reaping the benefits. I eventually got up the courage to make my account public and began to offer a few comments, a few responses. Dare to know? Dare to engage, more like it and doing so has added layers to my academic contributions but also, as many of us on twitter find, I think, just added layers to life in general. 

Connecting via twitter has given me the opportunity to trial and develop research ideas with a wide range of people. It has prompted this blog (something I never imagined I would do!). Writing a blog has returned me to the 'routine' of writing and articulating ideas. That can happen because tweeps begin an exchange with me about something from a Japanese source that I might retweet; it might come from a comment I make about the topic of the day; it might come from a simple 'thought bubble' I put out in the twitterverse to gauge a reaction. It is a concrete way to get ideas down in a print form in a way that might not necessarily happen with a passing comment in the corridor at work...yet so many tweets can be just that, a passing comment but someone might catch it and a dialogue begins. I now use this and one or two other blogging spaces to write up first drafts of articles and next year, a book or two I'm working on. 

I'm endeavouring to use twitter as part of my teaching practice. I use twitter to link articles of interest to students in my politics and Japanese classes. These links in turn, generate conversations and tute discussions and hopefully, access to materials with a sense of immediacy sometimes needed in politics. That element is still a work-in-progress.

There is the inevitable question, as an academic with twitter training wheels: just what is the right balance between academy seriousness and alter-ego? For me, a funny thing happened on my initial excursions in the twitterverse which shifted my perceptions, and my approach quite dramatically: a tweet about a storm on the SunCoast to 612ABC (which I stream at work to keep up with the politics of the day). Something about the tweet caught the eye of the Drive presenter Tim Cox, we had a chat about it--on air--and the rest, as they say, well, you know what they say. 

In other words, my timid beginnings on twitter have expanded beyond 'for research purposes only' to a wider 'media' exposure which, for an academic in my field at my university (which is unable to support my research endeavours in any substantial way), has diversified and exposed my work in ways I can't get through the more orthodox peer-reviewed journal pathway. It is not an either/or situation of course, the journal articles and books must appear too; however, twitter has provided a platform for disseminating my work to a broader audience and an audience that, in many ways, I think is more important to speak to about my line of work. 

The presenters and producers at 612ABC Brisbane (and ABC Gold and Sunshine Coasts) have been extraordinarily generous in this regard. 612ABC has a great twitter following and from that, my twitter engagement is further enhanced by the group we call the #612tweepsters, a number of whom I have met in real life and we offer a great support network on and off twitter. Similarly, I engage with a group of tweepsters throughout Australia and the world on a range of topics. It is like a virtual barbecue gathering, shifting in and out of conversations. 

There are the usual cautions and potential pitfalls on twitter as there are with other forms of social media but I've found a carefully curated following/followers list can skirt some of the more unpleasant aspects. I aim for a diversity of views and opinions because it matters for me as a political scientist that my views don't get caught in echo chambers. 

Once I got started, it was hard to keep my enthusiasms to ten minutes today. I have certainly surprised myself. In sum, yes we can use twitter as an innovative research tool but I think to get the most out of it we must also engage with it. To do that, we have inject a little of our own personality too, and not be afraid to do so. In that respect, the information I put in my twitter-bio is quite important; it's taken a bit of tweaking, but it indicates the range of interests--work and play-- you are likely to encounter on my timeline. 

Having said that, I am conscious of my public profile and the responsibility that comes with being an employee of a public institution. I wouldn't say anything on twitter that I wouldn't be prepared to say to my vice chancellor if I found myself having to explain a 'rogue' tweet. It's a simple observing of common sense really. 

I was asked a question at the end--where do I find the time to engage like this on twitter? Actually, I hadn't really thought about that and I don't know how much time I really spend on twitter. In the end, I said I don't have a TV which seems to give me some extra time that others might not. I don't know, I might have to rethink that. 

I have to thank my Politics and Media class of 2010 and in particular, Todd Winther (@toddocracy), a USC graduate and now Griffith Uni PhD candidate in political science, for getting me here. His guest lecture back then about this 'new' social media platform was instrumental setting me up. He is in no way responsible for the 34,000 tweets that have happened since (well, maybe some, but not all).  (^o^)/*

So that is today's presentation in a nutshell Belinda. Hope it helps, and let me know if you'd like to continue the convo, via twitter of course!