Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Thing 7 Twittering

I remain unconvinced about Twitter. I have tried quite hard to like it. I went on the course put on at the UL by Sarah and Emma and enjoyed it. I have a respectable number of followers and follow quite a few people and organisations. I was surrounded by people using twitter at the UC&R conference in Exeter this week and that was fine.

I understand that it is useful for gathering information, that it provides a layer of communication that is quite simple and quite effective, that it can be used for marketing, and that it is great for networking and peer support. I even suggested that someone I mentor for chartership considered using twitter for reflection and evaluation and with use of appropriate hash tags could gather all his reflective comments together for his portfolio at the end.

I can see that librarians have embedded it in their websites, blogs, facebook sites etc although I understand that this is with varying levels of success. However all this presupposes that one’s users want information in this way. It certainly presupposes that users regularly use library websites, blogs or facebook etc. Recent conversations with academics where I work has brought up two issues; 1) they don’t want twitter links on their website (full stop) 2) following the recent load of exam marking they are tearing their hair out about the inability of students to critically compare and contrast, of not understanding what serious sustained study and reading is all about . Twitter is ALL about bite-sized bits of info – yes – it can often be useful but are we not losing the ability to focus and concentrate on anything for very long? You might wonder whether this matters? Students are there already and you could argue that we just need to accept that this is the way things are and we should just jump in and join them.........I don’t think that I know the answer. All I know is that my work life is fragmented enough, that I could actually do with more concentrated work time rather than constantly dotting in and out of things, that to achieve more and to, I assume make sure that I am demonstrating categorically that the library is making an impact and is indispensable, I need more ‘uncluttered’ time. And so I try really hard NOT to have my twitter account open at work, I try really hard to monitor who I do follow so that I feel that it is useful rather than dross.

Actually having just read the CILIP Gazette I think that possibly tweeting at conferences is probably a ‘good’ thing though it certainly is distracting for the speaker to see lots of heads looking down at their phones tweeting rather than looking up and showing whether they are engaged or not. Smacks of running training sessions for students with computers and finding that they are all checking their email rather than searching diligently as you supposed......

Well that’s about it for this Thing.


  1. Heard an excellent essay by David Hendy on Radio 3 last Friday, exploring the idea that we are collectively losing the ability to concentrate for long periods. If we are, and if there is any link between that and Twitter, then perhaps we can see Twitter as a symptom not a cause.

    It's possible to use and enjoy Twitter in a disciplined way; even to play it off against other distractions (a game which need not itself be a further distraction, if priorities are clear).

    I suppose there is a risk that people might feign tweeting from a conference as a pretext for looking at other things, but that sort of thing might happen without Twitter being involved.

  2. Yes, yes. I agree with you both, I sympathise with your academics' comments and have heard similar from other Cam23 Thingers.

    It's an interesting situation. Those of us in the upper age bracket were educated to think sequentially and hierarchically. Those educated in the computer age (for example, using them for reading off the PC or cutting and pasting essays) are more comfortable with a kind of multi-tasking, jigsaw-fitting experience. But I'm not sure I was always thinking in depth when I scratched away with my beloved Shaeffer pen and lined paper.

    Does posting updates in Twitter and Facebook encourage a kind of "Say it in one sentence or it's boring" mentality which makes it impossible for us to switch over to deeper analysis and the construction of more extensive argument? Maybe, as Aidan suggests, we just need to ration ourselves. Are we so entrapped in a world of instant gratification of need that we can't pause and reflect? (We've been saying this since the Industrial Revolution, surely?!)

    From what you say, it looks like your academics see evidence of this and are disturbed by it; but maybe we are observing an unanticipated and inevitable change in academic processes?

    Lastly re Twittering at conferences - I'm actually quite uncomfortable about this. I think its discourteous not to (at least pretend to) give a speaker your full attention and it's commercially naughty to be instantly messaging outsiders information which you or your organisation has paid to receive. And a lot of the Tweets from conferences that I have read don't make much sense, being of the "user BTG up by 20% says Dave" type. Why not just Tweet summaries afterwards, possibly when the Tweeter has had the chance to reflect on what has been said.