Thing 4 - Twitter
I must confess, I already use Twitter. Two years ago, walking down Green Street, I encountered a familiar figure. It wasn't until he had passed me that my brain registered it was the King of Twitter himself, who had been a boyhood idol of mine. A day in which no member of my family shouted 'Baaaah!' was a sad day indeed. Anyway, being a creepy kind of guy, I turned around and stalked him as far as Tatties, where he went inside for a drink. Foolish, having got so close to the man, not to approach him, you might justifiably say, but something in me (probably a desire not to make an idiot of myself) decided me against it. He must be assailed by many strangers every day, I reasoned. But when I got home I signed up to Twitter and said hello to him there. What a bizarrely 21st-century way of communicating.
In 1996 there was a rather good radio comedy series by the writer Gary Parker called Seymour the Fractal Cat, which is sometimes repeated in various obscure corners of BBC Radio. I remember vividly its description of the popular perception of internet users as 'socially challenged individuals e-mailing each other Mr Spock's inside leg measurement'.
|"I've already measured it, Captain. 22 inches."|
Nowadays, of course, the internet is not solely the province of such people, nor is Twitter merely a haven for acolytes of Stephen Fry and people who want to tell you what they've had for breakfast. Just this week the Pope began to tweet (no news of his breakfast yet, but I'd hazard a guess at bread and wine). I usually use Twitter for sharing news stories and videos and music and jokes with friends, and occasionally I meet new people along the way.
I thought I'd better create a separate Twitter feed to use for Cam23 so as to keep professional and personal life separate, and here it is. I've also put a gadget on this blog showing my recent tweets, though I may take it down again if using this Twitter account doesn't turn into a habit.
It was easy finding people to follow. First of all, Annie's list of Cam23 tweeters gave some guidance (though I made a tentative policy decision not to request to follow people with private accounts, so as to spare them the embarrassment of rejecting me in case they should want to remain private - social media can be a bit of a minefield in this respect), and there are lots of Cambridge librarians on Twitter already, some I know and many I don't. It seems an excellent way of finding out how other libraries and librarians operate and keeping in touch with library news in Cambridge and further afield. Before long, people had started to follow me back, and were sending me messages to make me feel at home. I have even followed Annie's example and set up an RSS feed for the term #cam23 on Twitter.
It's interesting to look at the variety of different types of Twitter feed that librarians have, whether they tweet as individuals or as corporate bodies, what level of formality or informality they pitch; and to consider the pitfalls of having a single library twitter feed. Who takes the responsibility for updating it? Do all tweets have to be vetted before posting? and so on.
I sympathise with those who see Twitter as frivolous. 140 characters are not enough to express anything of any great profundity. But I think a lot of objections to Twitter arise from a misunderstanding of its purpose. It it ideal as a tool for distributing pieces of information, and the added extras - hashtags and the like - enable further intercommunication. If you want to write at length, use your blog and then let people know about it on Twitter. I don't know at present what my own feed is going to turn into, but I'm sure Cam23 will give me lots of things to do with it.