Yesterday, I saw someone had tweeted “I love academic twitter!” This got me thinking about the various twitter communities we belong to, and the way we can reinvent ourselves in them—or play different roles in them—as much as they play different roles for us.
I have two twitter accounts. One is my @professornever account which I’ve used to connect with other academics, postacs, and writers. The other is my @smallhousedeb account. I’ve hardly used it in the last year (so I’m sure my followers are dropping like flies), but the account follows twitter liberals from the UniteBlue movement, leftist news organizations, and people interested in locavorianism (I guess that’s a word now), yoga, meditation, cycling, and other stuff I think is cool.
My @smallhousedeb (SHD) account is a very different animal than my @professornever (PN) account. The former is full of people networking and socializing around politics and personal interests. There is a lot of reciprocity, humor and snark. The latter is full of people who are connected by profession. There is a palpable self-consciousness on academic twitter. You can feel the weight of administrators, colleagues, and students listening in. How ironic since tenure is supposed to set you free!
As a result of this professional stiffness, there are a lot of conventions on SHD that don’t appear to exist on PN, primarily around the idea of reciprocity: #FF (Follow Friday), where people recommend other accounts to follow on Fridays. Tweets that say: TYFF (Thank you for follow), TY for RT (thank you for retweet), TY for fave. There is also an imperative that you RT what you fave. Oftentimes, these niceties generate more conversation around a given topic—and in their small way cultivate a sense of community and belonging.
The biggest difference between my PN and my SHD accounts, however, is the FollowBack (FB). In my SHD world, the objective is to network, share ideas with like minds and build up your account. If someone follows you, you FB. If you don’t, they unfollow you—and they use tracking software like JustUnfollow to find you! Those exempt from the expected FB include institutions, journalists, and celebrities.
The FB happens much less often in my PN world.
My first day on PN, I searched for humanities academics and followed about 30 that appeared to have similar interests to mine. I have to admit, I was excited just reading their profiles: people studying American literature, childhood, cultural studies—all things that had been dear to my academic self. The one thing that’s still hard about postac life is losing that community of like-minded intellectuals. Maybe I could connect with these people and talk about books! Then I went off to tutor for the day. When I got back, I logged onto PN, eager to see the activity on my account.
Two people had followed me back.
So I learned quickly that it is much harder to get FBs on PN. I’m sure there are a number of reasons, but I imagine at least one must be competitive spillover from academic culture in general. My experience in academe was that everybody wants to be a thought-leader, not a follower. In my heady academic days, that included me. And what easier place to see a manifestation of your thought-leaderness than by watching your follower-count sky-rocket on twitter—especially if your following-count is low. But if all academics on twitter want to be followed without following back, then…you get the picture.
Of course, I could be wrong about all that and the problem was just that no one wanted to follow me!
And to be clear, lots of friendly interesting affiliated and unaffiliated academics have ended up following me. And I appreciate that! But I don’t know that I’d call the community I’m in “academic twitter.”
But it is definitely something different from SHD. In writing this, I realize how much more buttoned up I am on PN than I ever was on SHD. No snark. Not a lot of politics. No convivial TY for RT messages. And a lot less humor. That sounds god-awful boring.
But it’s not. It’s as if I have two rooms I can walk into, depending on my mood and what I feel like talking about. And while the PN account sounds like less fun than SHD, it’s the one I’ve spent most of my time on in the past year or so.
What I ended up finding through PN, which I never anticipated, was a community of adjuncts and scholars still fighting the good fight over adjunct labor—with many making the decision to leave. I started PN (the blog and the twitter account) expecting to talk about literature while throwing a few plugs in about my memoir, but I’ve ended up talking about my status as a long-time post-ac—a term I didn’t even know existed before I started the PN blog.
This has been a huge value to me even though the fact I left academe so long ago makes me somewhat of an outsider for this crowd too. But I have been grateful to be privy to the experiences of others who have decided to leave their academic lives because I never had that shared experience when I left. Without social media, I lost touch with my old grad school friends—I only know of two who got jobs. Our isolation from one another bred shame and silence. Watching the events of #NAWD over twitter yesterday showed how social media can generate the opposite of that. Which was pretty darn cool to see.
So I guess I’d qualify that tweet I saw the other day (can’t remember who said it!**). I don’t know that I can say I love “academic twitter” so much as I love twitter in general—for its power to bring people together, and for its versatility.
I just wish it wasn’t so addicting!
(If you want to read about my initial twitter addiction, here’s a silly post from several years ago called twitter haze about how twitter took over my life when I first joined. I’m (usually) much more under control about it now!
**It was Jennifer Polk from @fromPhDtoLife. And of course she loves it – she is always so positive about everything – and she’s great with a FB too!