Where did the past week go? (Or: Twitter ambivalence)

Suddenly Thing 7 is upon us and I haven’t even worked my way through Thing 5 yet.  This is probably because of the usual build up of uncompleted tasks mid-term (I am chairing an exam board this week, was ill last week, and am limping through to the thing we are not allowed to call a ‘reading week’ next week).  But I shall at least to make the beginnings of an effort to catch up.

So, Twitter.  Not sure about it, to be honest. A quick check of my profile informs me that I have been a member since September 2012, have 198 followers, and over the past four years have sent a grand total of 96 tweets.  I reckon the follower count stays quite high, relatively, because I don’t tweet often enough for people to get annoyed and unfollow me. And that comment really reflects my own reaction to Twitter when I joined it back in 2012. I followed a few people (public figures, etc) who were tweeting far too often, and I found what they had to say immensely boring and so left the platform alone.  Twitter also came into my life around the time I was finding that I had far too many things to do and not enough time to do them in.  Getting hooked on a whole new social media platform seemed as if it might not be a great use of my scarcest resource: thinking time.  So, despite my greatest moment of professional glory coming when Mary Beard tweeted approvingly about something I said on the radio (honestly, I should have just retired or died there and then), I haven’t reconciled myself to its use except when I occasionally remember to tweet about an event I’m going to or a talk I am giving.

I can see some benefits, though.  As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been involved this year with the Women’s Classical Committee UK, and many of its members are far more proficient at Twitter than I am.  Witnessing their live-tweeting and storifying of our workshops and other events, and just talking to them about how Twitter can help build scholarly networks and intellectual communities, has opened my eyes to its value.  I’m a historian of scholarship, and from the invention of printing onwards scholars have always been dependent on networks for the exchange of information and debate at a distance.  Despite the 140-character limit Twitter does seem to lend itself well to that.  So maybe it’s worth a second look.

Thing 4 – pulling in information

Well, not only is it a busy week but I have come down with a cold and am feeling terrible. Consequently I haven’t managed to spend as much time on Thing 4 as I would have liked to. I haven’t yet ventured into Zetoc territory, though I have heard of it as a research tool, and part of me wonders whether this isn’t really more useful in the sciences than the humanities.  But I was really looking forward to finding out more about RSS feeds, since I have felt for a while that it might be better to organise the (relatively few) blogs I follow via an RSS feed than by getting email updates. A lot of the blogs I follow are really about keeping up with the world and humanities scholarship in a broad sense, rather than keeping abreast of publications that are directly relevant to my fields of specialism.

So, this evening I have set up my Feedly, though I must say I found the instructions quite hard to work out (could be the cold messing with my head), and I am still puzzled about how to toggle between the ‘Today’ and ‘Explore’ functions.  I’ll keep practising.

I also set up Pocket on both my laptop and my smartphone.  I haven’t added much to it yet, but  I think this will be easier to adapt to, not least because I already use a similar bookmarking button with my university’s online reading-list system (something Talis Aspire, since  you ask).  How much I’ll actually end up using these things, I don’t know.  But I’ll play around with them a bit more once I’m out of my sick bed.

Thing 3

Well, I don’t want to fall behind, so even after a 5am start on what is meant to be a Saturday off (did I mention that it’s the middle of term and I have 30-month-old twins?) I decided to spend the evening checking out my online identity.

Googling myself first… not many surprises here as I have been leaving quite a trail on the internet for the past decade or so. I also happen to have an unusual name (though you wouldn’t think so when you read it), so the first ten pages or so of hits are all about me, my papers and publications, etc.  Although there was one surprise on the first page: I finally have a Google Buddy!  In fact, I’ve been aware of this potential doppelganger for some time, since her appearances in her high school soccer team a few years ago.  She’s now a graduate student at UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and good luck to her!  I suspect we are distantly related.

I started being a fully independent academic (rather than a researcher under someone else’s supervision) around the time all this Web 2.0 stuff was taking off.  I held my first postdoc in 2004-05 and my second in 2005-07, and it was during the second that I first heard about this newfangled facebook thing that had come across the Atlantic to a university near me.  I was wary at first, and it was mainly all about ‘poking’ people in those days, but joining turned out to be a good way of dipping my toe into the water of having a (semi-)public online presence.  It helped to prepare me for later on, when I got my lectureship and  my university expected me to put a photo of my face and details of my education and research interests on a public-facing webpage, I was invited to participate in podcasts, online interviews and filmed events, and even to appear on BBC Radio 4 a couple of times.  All of this felt quite uncomfortable, quite exposing… but I was able to accustom myself to it. Now it’s not only an accepted, but even an expected part of the academic/research/dissemination process. My involvement with the Women’s Classical Committee UK, which has led me to work closely with early-career researchers, has also made me aware of how very useful all this can be for people at an earlier career stage, who aren’t necessarily funded to travel to international events.  Scholarship has always been about forming communities of inquiry and debate, and these have always exceeded the face-to-face.  Online gives new ways of being in touch with people, and that is something even ‘serious academics‘ should value.

But anyway, back to my Google presence.  Mostly work-related, including a LinkedIn account that I have never put very much information into and – less forgivably, given my line of work – an academia.edu account that I fail ever to update (it does link to my profile and publication list on my university’s webpage, which does get updated regularly).  Also public talks and media appearances, which are only to be expected.  Twitter is there, and one of the things I’d like to get out of this course is thinking about how to use it better. So it’s a pretty professional-looking online identity.  There were a couple more personal things, though: first my YouTube playlist (I didn’t know I had one, and it consists largely of children’s songs that I play to my kids when they wake up at 5am and I am feeling desperate), and second my flickr photostream, which doesn’t contain anything embarrassing but does have some holiday snaps, friends’ wedding photos, etc.  I’ve changing the settings on this before but without success, and I’m not really that fussed… I’m a human being, not a paper-writing machine!

I also did the haveibeenpwned check, and interestingly enough it was my work email that as most likely to be compromised.  Passwords duly changed.

I guess this post has been about some of the meanings and feelings associated with my online identity (can you tell I’m in the humanities?).  I’ve read some blog posts of the other course participants who talk about keeping a low-to-zero online presence as an option for privacy.  My work means that’s not a viable choice for me.  But so far I’m fairly comfortable with the outline of myself that shows through the online trace of my professional activity.

23 research things

So I set up this new blog because I thought I would follow the 23 research things programme running right now from the Betty and Gordon Moore Library, Cambridge, and Thing 2 is to set up a blog.  So, here I am.  I’m not entirely new to blogging.  A few years ago I wrote a blog called Good Books and Bad (password long since lost, and I can’t remember which platform I used for it), which was a space to reflect on stuff I was reading.  And I’ve thought for a while about blogging about my research, or about responses to contemporary events from the perspective of my research.  But I am something of a slow thinker, and I never seem to find the time to sit down and write it out before the news cycle has moved on. Maybe the 23 things programme will help me form new habits.

Oh, that reminds me, I was supposed to post my Thing 1 here too.  Well, here goes:

What I hope to get out of 23 research things

Better use of technology, incl Twitter and blogs
Better able to track research/progress
Better time management
So, let’s see if I can keep up.