Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Returning (somewhat reluctantly) to Twitter

Posted 26 Aug 2015 / 0
Still #00002

I used to have a Twitter account, but a few years back I decided to get rid of it… or — put more precisely — to neglect it.

My reasons for avoiding Twitter and most definitely Facebook are pretty simple: I love the free internet. I hate that the approach of companies like Twitter and Facebook (and heck, AOL twenty-five years ago) is to take the free and open internet and set up not-so-little gated communities within that internet. The goal is pretty clear: to control. And what makes the internet so exciting is that it is, for the most part, beyond control. As long as the folks at ICANN maintain their egalitarian ethic and the country where you live does not decide to erect any kind of Great Firewall, what we do on the internet cannot be controlled. And I like it that way.

I also find the “communities” created by Twitter and Facebook to be coercive. Well, actually, I mostly find that Twitter and Facebook use their communities coercively. I get what they do well — creating tools that allow people to communicate ideas to and maintain connections with each other — but then they leverage that benefit to make it so that in order to connect to other people, everyone has to join their gated community. I cannot tell you how many times in working to organize with students we have faced the Facebook problem: some people rely so heavily on Facebook to organize their lives, that the rest of us have to meet them there. Social media outlets are very effective at getting their existing members to coerce us into joining. I realize that Twitter and Facebook are pretty different models of social media, but they both want to consolidate power by having all-seeing access to — and to some degree control over — our data. Not that cool in my eyes!

Some might say I am a hypocrite for avoiding Twitter and Facebook because I have used LinkedIn for many years. But LinkedIn to me seems to be more clearly a service related to employment; I am mostly on it so that I can help my students by writing them recommendations. I have not run into too many “if you are not on LinkedIn, you missed it” situations. In contrast, Facebook and Twitter are kind of built to create exclusive episodes, again designed to coerce you to join.

I also use a lot of Google services, including a personal Gmail address and an Android phone. I recognize that Google is probably the most controlling data hog on the planet, and I do feel conflicted about that. But at least with Google what I am trading is my data for a service, which is a lot different than allowing some big corporation to determine my social platform. Google+, which I have not yet managed to master (or find use for?), starts to get into that coercive gated community zone.

Others may say “why worry too much about it?”, which I suppose is also the approach that I have now adopted. It all started when I began the process of researching how to get the book I am working on published. Most of the good sources of advice that I found talked a lot about an author’s “platform”. Although I suppose that I was vaguely aware of this concept, this was the first time that I came to really realize the importance of getting the word out about your work. And that made me realize that I needed to be on Twitter again.

One thing that makes this re-entry a bit easier is the way that JetPack for WordPress now provides social media tools. In my eyes, this site is my platform, but the problem is that this site does not generate a lot of attention by itself. This site needs a good publicist, and we will see if Twitter is up to the challenge. For now I will mostly focus on an outward flow to Twitter: things that I post here will also go on my Twitter account (thank you Publicize feature of JetPack!). I will try to resist the temptation to litter my Twitter with things that don’t have anything to do with my professional work!

Does this mean that I am also ready to make the big concession and establish a Facebook account? Perhaps, but that will take some more research. I want to use Facebook for strictly professional purposes, but I am not sure how to do that. More digging to do…

A Major Post, Breeders, Propagators, & Creators, Public Outreach, Publication

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