Today The Guardian has done a stellar job of stirring academic twitter out of any summer doldrums it might be experiencing by publishing the clickbaity “I’m a serious academic, not a professional instagrammer”. The premise of the article is that the anonymous author, a PhD student, is frustrated by supposed pressures to engage in social media for self-promotion and impact and wants to focus on their research. I’m not going to bother debating the finer points of their article, because quite frankly if you are reading this blog you probably think social media is more a force for good than evil in academia. But I thought I might talk briefly about why I do it, and why for me it is valuable.
I started this blog a few years ago, without any real idea of what I wanted to do with it, but wanting a place to deposit “loose ends” – undeveloped academic ideas that it would help me articulate by writing down, and that I thought might be interesting enough to other people to make them available to read rather than shoving them in a file somewhere. The blog has, in its modest way, grown a good deal since then. Nearly 2500 of you subscribe via WordPress, and I know I get a lot of readers via twitter, too. Once or twice a blog post of mine has gone semi-viral, increasing my normal number of hits for a post – usually in the few hundreds – by the power of ten. I am not in the blogging big leagues; I’m not even in the academic blogging big leagues. But in comparison to how many people have bought my book, or read my articles, I have a lot more impact here.
And that to me is exciting. I like that I engage with my professional peers here, and that my blogging has lead to other opportunities – a post I wrote on my pregnancy helped inspire the Swansea symposium I co-organised recently. I also really like that my blogging engages people outside the academic sphere. You don’t need a PhD to read my work, but in all honesty very few of you are going to buy my expensive monograph, and your public library probably won’t either. I wish all my work could be open access, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. In the meantime we can still have conversations. I have been privileged to experience people leaving comments saying my work has moved them, made them think, has even helped them deal with problems in their own lives. I am lucky to have you here, gentle readers!
Twitter is a much faster-paced format than blogging. Even for the internet-phobic academic, blogging is just-about-acceptable as an academic activity: it is long form, it is thoughtful, it can even contain references! Tweeting is seen by some as slapdash and frivolous. Again, I’m not going to justify using twitter, as many of you will come here via a tweeted link and I don’t need to preach to the choir. Twitter is as morally neutral as a road, or a computer. We can use it in intelligent, kind, stupid, pernicious, lazy, irritating, repetitive and even dangerous ways – just as you could use a road or a computer. It’s down to the driver or operator, after all. I use academic twitter as a place to vent, to make friends, to find links to new research, to promote my own work, and to keep tabs on events I’m not physically able to attend.
Some of this can be categorised as “serious”, and some would not be. “Seriousness” is a dangerous sort of quality to chase after in our careers, I think. We are all serious, in that we are all human beings with innate dignity. A preoccupation with appearing “serious” in academia is usually synonymous with appearing “professional”, but as I’ve discussed many times on this blog, what it means to appear “professional” in academia is usually predicated on ableist, sexist, and racist norms. For myself, I enjoy seeing colleagues tweet selfies from a conference, write about their problems finding childcare when school holidays don’t match semester dates, or sharing a humorously-captioned (yet meticulously referenced) image of a manuscript as light relief from a long day in the archive. Because my colleagues are funny, tired, punchy, eccentric, angry, delightful people who love their work and sometimes hate their industry, who have all different kinds of bodily and emotional experiences as academic professionals, and whose online presence reminds me it’s ok to be me. Who queued online for 3.5 hours yesterday in a failed attempt to buy Harry Potter theatre tickets; who has over the first year of parenthood mostly only read romance novels and YA fiction; and who is a serious academic not despite those things, but because of them. Dr Rachel E Moss, at your service.
Great piece. Just crossed posted it to the Guardian post.
Hear, hear. Of course, I’m only on the fringes of academia nowadays, but I think social media are a great way to engage with any academic subject. I feel I’m kept in the loop a little through following blogs and Twitter. I wonder why the author of the original article feels so frustrated – had they thought academia some holy ivory tower of monologues?
I love how you demonstrate on here and on Twitter that our daily lives are inextricably entwined with academic work – you can’t write about your private life too much in an academic book, but the groundwork for academic ideas can often be found in personal experience – such as your pregnancy. And I think that being serious as an academic is when it is such an intrinsic part of you that it permeates your entire life. You are not merely an academic from 9-5 when your computer is on, but also when caring for family, reading fiction, etc.
Thanks for another thoughtful – and spot-on post – and please keep writing them.
Thanks very much, Marthe! And yes, academia has definitely infiltrated all areas of my life!