This post is inspired in large part by Suzanne Scott’s post Distanced Learning: SCMS as MOOC (massively open online conference)?, which (amidst a larger argument) described how the Twitter feed (and livestreaming, but really, there was much more Twitter happening) helped her experience #SCMS13 remotely, and Amanda Ann Klein’s post Turning Twitter into Work: Digital Reporting at SCMS 2013, about how tweeting from an “official” account led her to think differently about how she tweeted and view it more as work.
But it’s also inspired by having attended some professionalization workshops at SCMS and reminding myself of my reasons for having a digital media presence in the first place.
In reflecting on her experience as an official Twitter reporter for the @CJatSCMS account (affiliated with SCMS publication Cinema Journal), Klein asked for a reconsideration of academic labor: “what do we count as labor in the world of digital and social media, what is the ‘value’ of that labor, and how do we document it?”
Klein and Scott identified conference tweeting as particular kind of work, with Klein noting that “the pseudo anonymity of the @CJatSCMS account made me less concerned with my personal Twitter brand (i.e., snark) and more concerned with the transmission of information” and Scott expressing a similar sentiment from the other direction, wherein people’s attention to things other than transmission of information made her remote conferencing challenging: “I only experience [sessions’] limited digital residues, often filtered through disciplinary lenses or with an intertextual frame I don’t have direct access to.”
This was interesting to me, because I have always seen Twitter, and my blog/website, as work, but I see it as a quite different sort of work than Klein and Scott. I freely, and routinely, admit that I have trouble catching the substance of talks (in fact, I’m so bad at aural processing that I wonder how I ever made it through K-12 and undergrad). Instead, I usually tweet the quippy bits—I can do color commentary, but for the play-by-play you need someone else.
In this sense, I am the problem for someone like Scott, though I did my best to swing into reporter mode for a panel in which she was interested when asked. I probably did not entirely succeed, but I tried.
I am also the problem for an older generation of scholars unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the idea that what they say in one room, in one physical place, might be transmitted globally, as I discovered last spring when my PhD program had a reunion and the keynote speaker found my tweeting distressing (even though I had been tasked by the department chair to livetweet). Klein notes that “in the weeks leading up to the conference, everyone involved with the @CJatSCMS account agreed on a loose set of Best Practices (including requesting permission before tweeting panel/workshop content),” and perhaps I should have followed something similar in that case.
So, if I don’t see my job tweeting at conferences as the work of reporting, what kind of work is it for me? It’s promotional labor for the Mel Stanfill brand, “Bringing Foucault to Fandom since 2006.” I tweet so that people following the conference hashtag might see it and think I have said something of merit—and maybe retweet, and maybe just remember my name if they come across it again. (This can backfire if I say something that upsets the person who sees it, of course.)
This, for me, is the point of social media. It may be a shocking confession since it’s so unusual these days, but I don’t have Facebook. (Though, as response to the formation of a Facebook group as the way to organize the Fan Studies SIG for SCMS showed, I’m part of a committed minority of nonusers. They later added a Google group.)
When people are startled to hear about this abstention, I point out to them that I study digital media and know way too much about Facebook to be on it. That’s partially true, because I’m enough of an anti-capitalist that I’m not in a big hurry to have my personal data and social ties generating any more revenue than I can possibly avoid (with full acknowledgement there’s lots I can’t avoid).
But more than that, my problem with Facebook is its norms of use—one is normatively expected to add everyone one has ever met, bringing high school into contact with family into contact with career in a way that, to me, sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I do, however, use Twitter. I’m not against social media itself, just how Facebook tends to work. I like the way that Twitter has the norm of nonreciprocal following; unlike “friending,” I am not responsible for who I am followed by, only who I follow, such that there can be identity management between spheres.
(Which should not be taken as a critique or a distancing from anyone who happens to follow me that I don’t follow. I haven’t actively done this and I’m also behind on post-SCMS following back. But it’s very comforting to know I could distance myself if I needed to.)
Because of its different relationship to, well, relationships, Twitter can serve as a platform for creating and maintaining my professional identity and visibility, integrated with my website, in a way that Facebook can’t. And I know that LinkedIn exists, but that’s really for a different kind of professionals—let’s be honest.
So that’s what I was doing when tweeting SCMS. I was entirely thrilled to have my Klout score hit the 81st percentile after the conference (it’s declining again now, of course, because I’m not interacting in the same way, but I know that’s how it goes). I was thrilled to get 5x more hits on my blog than my usual good day (and 25x my average day) for my posting of my SCMS presentation, even though that also is not being sustained. These, for me, are the metrics by which my digital media work has been successful.
I have had people express some skepticism that I find time to blog, like it’s a hobby or I’m somehow shirking my “real” work to do it; it is certainly a hobby for some people, but for me it is part of my real work. It’s time I commit to the big picture of my career, to making sure there are lots of (hopefully smart) ideas floating around out there with my name on them. It’s advertising for my intellectual capacity.
It’s also work that helps make sure all the Google results for my name are me. (With quotation marks, they all are. Without, two aren’t. At least when searching from my own computer.)
My Twitter is time I commit daily to keeping track of what scholars I know and respect are doing and maintaining myself as someone they are aware of. Of course, the professionalization workshop reminded me that I have moved away from professionalism on Twitter to some degree and should probably mosey on back, so I’ll be cutting back on observations about the weirdness of life.
All of this is work for me, even if it’s not for everyone. It’s unmeasurable and unpaid. As Klein noted, it’s not counted yet in official ways, like for promotion and tenure. And it’s deeply neoliberal as an act of self-management in the interest of getting ahead. But right now, at this point in my career, I don’t make the rules. I’m left playing this game the best way I know how.