How I stopped worrying about privacy and learned to love Twitter

This is an old post that I wrote before I had a blog. It is about my transformation from hating social media to loving it, and about who and what made me change my mind.

It’s been more than six years since I joined Twitter. Today I have two accounts, four lists, 6 025 followers and more than 54 000 tweets. I follow 1 727 people, most of whom are philosophers. I manage a list of academic philosophers on Twitter, following over 2000 accounts and growing every week.

I was never a big fan of social media. Until 2010 I had never even owned a mobile phone and was officially against the whole idea of being socially available 24/7 to everyone else but one’s present company. Today I’m worse than anyone I know. If my husband wants to find out about my day, opinions or plans, he’d better check my Twitter updates, even when we are in the same room. How did I end up here?

It all started when I read a thought-provoking article in Times Higher Education (@timeshighered) magazine by Zoe Corbyn (@zoe) about the increasing power of journals over academics. In the article it is argued that in the Internet age with databases, blogs and social media, there is no good reasons for keeping the journal system as it works today.

I was just at the end of my postdoctoral fellowship and I knew I would soon once again be facing the tough job market for academic philosophers. But I didn’t have many publications yet, which means that my ideas were not getting out there.

Around the same time as I read this article, I also heard a radio interview with my colleague at Nottingham, Carrie Jenkins (@carriejenkins), talking about the advantages of using Twitter for academic networking and discussions, and in particular for philosophy. She mentioned a list of academic philosophers created by John Basl (@johnbasl) and I took note of it. The decisive argument for me to join Twitter was however when Carrie mentioned how she used Twitter when she was writing papers. For instance, if uninspired, she’d ask what the best arguments would be against her position. I thought this was simply brilliant and today I always ask my twitter philosophers for PDFs of papers and references for my work. 

Twitter has made such a big difference for me as a philosopher. With the notoriously slow process of getting a paper published if ever accepted, getting one’s ideas out to the philosophical community can take years. On Twitter people share their thoughts, ideas and papers long before they are even finished and get immediate response. When Stephen Mumford (@sdmumford) and I wrote our book Getting Causes from Powers, we tweeted about every chapter and thus got invaluable feedback and reading tips. Once the book came out the first print sold out within 8 weeks, and I am convinced that our Twitter presence had a lot to do with it.

Stephen also tweeted a couple of books he read and got his interpretations challenged by students. This is what I love about Twitter: it’s totally egalitarian. Professors discuss with undergrad students and it doesn’t matter who you are or how long or short your list of publications is. Many people tweet anonymously and all you know about them is what they choose to share on Twitter.

My experience is that people are utterly friendly and supportive on Twitter, perhaps even more so than one’s next door colleagues. First of all, if you are not friendly, people will just unfollow you. Secondly, it is easier to be supportive when one is not competing. When I was applying for philosophy jobs I found great support in my Twitter community who would cheer me along project applications, trial lectures and unsuccessful job interviews. I cannot even describe how much it helped on my self-confidence to receive this photo from @Overdenken the day before a trial lecture with the message “Dazzle them, Rani!”.

When my Causation in Science (@CauSci) proposal finally went through the second time round I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it. And by everyone I first of all mean my Twitter followers. They had witnessed my grant application being developed, turned down and revised, and they knew that I was waiting every day to hear if I was awarded funding. Today I try to be equally supportive of others who are working hard to become professional philosophers.

Being an academic can be a lonely struggle and it means a lot to know that someone out there cares about your ups and downs. On Twitter people share their hopes and worries, good news and bad news, successes and failures. But they also share their academic writings and readings, book recommendations and calls for papers. Jobs and grants are advertised via Twitter and conference programs are announced. All in 140 characters or less.

With one click on the retweet button you can spread whatever information you think your followers could be interested in. And news travel fast on Twitter, faster than any other media. Whether there is an earthquake in Christchurch, a riot in London, demonstrations in Egypt or shootings at Utøya. Twitter is where you first hear about it and where you can follow the event real-time with a keyword or hashtag search. No other medium can keep up with such a speed. Such a powerful medium should be used for good, and what greater good is there than spreading the joy of philosophy!

So how can I keep up if I follow over a thousand people? Well, I simply can’t. But the point of Twitter is not that one has to read every single tweet or link. Rather, Twitter is a community of people, and my Twitter community consists of over thousand philosophy colleagues that I carry with me in my pocket. This means that a philosophical discussion or friendly chat is never more than a tweet away. And this is why #TwitterTotallyRocks is one of my most frequently used hashtags.

– Happy Twitter member since September 2009
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