Friday, August 16, 2013

30th Year Reflections/54: Twitter

“I tweet, therefore my entire life has shrunk to 140 character chunks of instant event & predigested gnomic wisdom. & swearing.” — @NeilGaiman

I resisted Twitter since it came into existence in 2006. I’m not sure what was behind this reluctance, but I’m sure it had something to do with the nature of the “tweets.” I did not want to know what someone had for breakfast or where they were at any particular point in time. Twitter, in my mind, was the equivalent of breaking wind. I had no desire to add my own online stink to the webosphere.

And yet, Twitter (and its users) persisted, odiferous though it might be. I started to see some benefit while attending conferences. Grabbing access to a hashtag-associated event from my laptop allowed me to follow conversations occurring during presentations. But I was not yet convinced. Much of what I saw in these conference tweets was equivalent to passing notes in class, with little substance related to content presented and rather more on other atmospherics in the room (or where to go for lunch after the presentation was over). I was never one for passing notes. I didn’t want to get caught by the teacher.

Over time, the wind freshened a bit. In those few moments when I did check a Twitter feed, I noticed a marked increase in the quality of some tweets. They were starting to comment on things of interest; they were informative. In a few instances, I added someone’s tweets to my rss feed. The prime example of what I thought a good use for Twitter came from my colleague Pat Coleman at the Minnesota Historical Society. Pat often tweeted about new acquisitions to the MHS library. I found his tweets illuminating. Here was an example I might follow, tweeting my new acquisitions for the world to see. But I was not yet convinced. There was still a lingering stench in my nostrils.

New breezes blew a couple of years ago when travel monies started to tighten and fewer conferences were therefore possible. For those conferences I could not attend, Twitter became something of a surrogate. I could follow presentations from afar. Most helpful tweets came with imbedded links to articles, reports, or other materials referenced during a talk. Twitter became more important as a way to reach out from home base, to virtually participate in an event. But I was not yet convinced. I still resisted creating my own account and joining this network.

I have no idea what finally triggered my conversion. Perhaps it was an unrealized need to be part of a larger conversation (or in this case a specific conversation connected with our Sherlock Holmes conference). Many of my colleagues are on Facebook and Twitter; some of them have accounts associated with collections in their care. As a staff, we’ve talked for some time about how to use social media as an outreach tool. Our library communications office uses these tools well. If others could do it, then so could I. My moment had come. It was time to smell the Twitter roses.

I experienced a similar revulsion when agonizing about whether or not to join Facebook. (On that occasion, a desire to share a trip to England with my extended family tilted the balance in Facebook’s favor.) I still view many tweets as extraneous and irrelevant. But, for whatever reason, I found myself at the computer early last Sunday morning creating an account. My first tweet was this: “Finally drank the kool-aid and created a Twitter account. Enjoying our Holmes conference #shmn13 and good friends.” Since then, I’ve tweeted another eleven times, am following 43 others, and have 19 following me. The numbers aren’t huge, but it is a start: my first steps into Twitterdom. My “handle” is @UMBookworm. I’m not certain, but the air smells somewhat sweeter this side of Sunday.

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