On Pretentiousness and Twitter

I dislike pretentiousness. Which is a difficult dislike to have when you’re a graduate student, because let’s face it: the academic world is rife with it. Or…it has a reputation for being rife with it. To be honest, I’m not quite sure which of those statements is fact anymore. Are there pretentious people in academia? Heck yeah. But are they the norm, or the exception?

I feel like my uncertainty about this has a lot to do with the increased presence of professors on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  Thanks to Twitter, I now know that Clay Spinuzzi takes the bus to campus, Bill Hart-Davidson is a cyclist, and Quinn Warnick catalogs his Clif bars. Somehow, knowing these small extra details about academics makes them seem a little less Ivory-Tower-y. Somehow, this digital space that we each can only access from one side of a screen tears down walls. Does that even make sense?

Now, I’m not saying that these media spaces are the only things doing this. Just this past weekend, we had an Undergraduate Research Writing Symposium here at Tech, and Dr. Carter-Tod (who organized it) stated that she brought in the three guest speakers because they are “accessible” and generous with their scholarship and time. Only one of the three has an active Twitter presence, so I don’t think that’s what did it for them. They are simply hospitable scholars – and many, many of them exist in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing. (Hooray!) But not everyone is good at showing the rest of the world that they are ready and willing to lend an ear – even if they truly are. And unfortunately, legends of snobby scholars and “I had a bad experience” stories from students often keep students from feeling like they have the “right” to approach other scholars – unless specifically granted permission to speak.

So I guess what I’m trying to say in my rambly-roundabout way is that social media applications have aided in tearing down walls – whether they be real or just perceived. And though I’m still undecided on how I feel about keeping up with all of this digital stuff, I do know for sure that I at least appreciate Twitter for helping to virtually knock down some walls.
p.s. This post sounded much better when I wrote it in my head while walking to the bus today. Isn’t there some sort of technology that can help me with that?

Twitter, Professionalism, and Performance

business suitsThis semester, I’m taking a class called “The Digital Self,” which is focused on the idea of networking online, online identities, and things of that nature. Part of the focus of the class is creating our professional presence online, mostly in order to prepare us for the job market. I have to (create and) maintain a Twitter presence and blog with this professional goal in mind. (At least, this is how I interpreted the assignment.) I already had a Twitter account, so I’m aware of the basics. However, said Twitter account (a) was created during a time when I was convinced I was going to write the most amazing book on motherhood ever (working title: The Marvelous Magnificence of Malcolm) and people would follow me to read my sage advice and my child’s witty sayings, and (b) has evolved since then include all of my interests – geeky stuff, theology, politics, etc. So, I had to consider “re-branding” my Twitter account. I left the handle (@Marvelous_M – which stands for “Marvelous Malcolm” – my son’s name) but changed the name on the account from “A Geek and Her Son” to my name. My bio now describes my scholarly pursuits with a little bit of personal info mixed in. The goal of all of this? To establish myself online as a scholar, and to build a professional network. But I continually grapple with the lines between what personal information to share, and how “professional” to make my presence.

This struggle between maintaining a “professional” presence online versus a “personal” presence – well, I find it vexing. How much of my “personal” life should I reveal? If I only post professional things, am I covering up a part of myself? Denying it, somehow? The very nature of online networking thrusts all of these problems to the forefront, as more and more information about us is posted – either by us (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.) or by others (news outlets, friends, etc.) – in an easily searchable space. The lines between private and public are suddenly extremely blurry. When this is the case, is the creation of an online professional presence some kind of performance art?

This idea of professionalism as performance struck me as I watch people on the job market. You want to see a well-dressed academic? Go to a “job talk” (the talk academics give about their research when doing a campus visit in the hopes of getting hired). No matter how people dress for their daily teaching assignments, you can bet they’ll be wearing a suit for the job talk. I can’t help but wonder – will they teach in those suits?  I mean, really? Are they just performing the identity they hope will get them hired?

Is that what I’m doing now?