The Great Twitter Experiment or...

...the Trouble With On-line Identity

or

...Climbing the Ladder 140 Characters at a Time

---

So, as I mentioned previously, I'd been quietly encouraged to think about starting a Twitter account. It's seen, in the current university climate I'm in, as a way of promoting one's self to the broader world. And I, suffering from a whole range of insecurities with this new job (though not just related to the new job), could think of no truly compelling reason why I shouldn't. If having an account might help a bit, so be it.

Except that I forgot about the delicate dance that is juggling dual (or dueling) identities. I mean, if keeping my voice distinct here while not ponying up revealing details was problematic, what would it mean to welcome into the now budding constellation of voices one that has only 140 characters to convey itself? I like to think there's a flavor to how I communicate - or at least some consistency to each medium. I mean, there are things that I've adopted as rules for e-mailing students; there are things I do and don't allow on Facebook. There's the whole host of hoops involved in posting here.

Throw into the mix the fact that, this week, an ex who I think may be well and truly crazy now - the kind of crazy you imagine when you're splitting up with someone to make you feel better about it, the kind you make jokes about while locking the doors and thinking about firearms - actually found not just the Twitter feed I'd created but, worse, my private, non-work-related e-mail address. I am, I think it is safe to say, a private person. The possibilities raised by this - ignoring the visions of said ex doing her Glenn Close impression, manically turning off and on a light while thinking about boiling my bunny - are more than a little distressing.

So, Twitter? How do you help one of those voices? And how do you help someone who is fundamentally private market themselves.

The answers, respectively: you don't, and you're not sure yet.

But there are other benefits, even with my meager following and my slightly less meager feeds followed. For one thing, I'm able to keep a little bit of track of what the public intellectuals I have so admired and wished to be like are thinking about. And thus far, what I've seen suggests one of the following possibilities:
  1. Public intellectuals are assholes, and Twitter exposes this
  2. Twitter makes assholes of even public intellectuals
  3. I only like public intellectuals who are assholes
Twitter, for the public figure, seems to demand focus on the thing that made you public. And that, sooner or later, comes across badly. If you're not careful, Twitter helps you to believe your own press in the same way that getting interviewed by a network might. I should note that this experience hasn't made me like these people less intellectually. It has just made certain that I am no longer in any hurry to communicate with them. I mean, if you're going to show what a twit you are, at least take your time doing it, I say (hence, the blog).

At the same time, I've found some people and sites that don't do exactly what I do, but that have information and interests that intersect. Twitter has become a useful scratchpad for me that way - rather than trying to talk about what I'm doing, I'm starting to use it as a means of archiving things that seem interesting to me, in hopes that I can come back and draw some meaning from particular postings or groupings of them. And that it might help someone who's reading is great. Even better if it might get them to send a little something back my way.

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Sisyphus said...

Heh. I like all three of your theories. I admit that I still don't really get Twitter, the point of it. Youtube videos of cats falling off beds? Totally! But following famous people twitting? Meh.

Don't tell me who your twittering public intellectuals are ---- I'm afraid I like them too and don't want to have to think about them being smarmy careerist assholes.

September 27, 2009 at 8:52 PM
dance said...

I have two twitter accounts, pronetolaughter and an almost-my-real-name one, and I rather like the medium. It's good training, to communicate in 140 characters. And I think unleavened professionalism is not expected on twitter.

It's not set up for archiving, though---things vanish quickly, except for favorites.

September 27, 2009 at 9:44 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

My assumption has been that I'll always have access to things I tweet, so I've been solving the archive problem - and the question of what to tweet about - by re-tweeting things that I think will be relevant to me down the line.

At some point, I'll have to inject some personality into it, though. But not yet.

September 29, 2009 at 3:30 PM