Discussing, presenting and tweeting – all at the same time?

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(Screenshot from my Twitter feed)

What happened?

… or not exactly at the same time, but almost. So, what happened? I went to a little seminar of the UK Representation of the European Commission in London today, the topic being e-petitions as well as digital democracy. Why did I go? These themes do revolve around my PhD topic, and it was a magnificent excuse to finally pay a visit to the Representation in London.

At first, I “only” meant to simply attend, take a few notes, and then leave after the seminar was over. Well, this changed rapidly after I noticed that this event had its own dedicated Twitter hashtag.

One small note beforehand: I won’t explain what Twitter is and how it works, with a few selected exceptions. If someone is not familiar with Twitter, I can recommend the Wikipedia site to clear things up.

What do I think about this?

… and with said Twitter hashtag, I decided to tweet from this seminar, as it was encouraged by the hosts. I am by no means new to Twitter, I believe I have been on it since 2009. But this is my personal account, and I have never tweeted from a seminar or a conference before. What changed my opinion on doing this? I attended some seminars on developing one’s own web presence as well as how to get oneself out there, and they all claimed one had to be on Twitter in a professional role, interacting with colleagues and writing about one’s own research. I have always been reluctant to do this – what if I have nothing to say, what if noone wants to talk to me? – and so Twitter simply became a medium for me to goof around with my friends.

But then I decided to join anyway early this week. I do write my thesis on the internet and its possibilities, but I am not on Twitter? Yes, that definitely is some kind of a contradiction. So I set up my “professional” account, and things weren’t as bad as I thought. I knew some people whom I followed and who followed me back, and from time to time I would write something about my academic life. So far, so good.

But what about seminars and conferences? And here is where today’s event comes in. After I saw said hashtag, I decided to give it a go, tweeting about how excited I was to be there and then I started commenting on what the speakers said. Really easy peasy. Also, I tried to follow what other people had said. I have to note here that that would’ve been easier with a Twitter Wall on a screen (showing all tweets concerning that given hashtag), but even though there was one, it kept crashing. So I followed it on my phone as best as I could.

Guess how excited I was when I got my first retweet (i.e. when someone copies my tweet and sends it to his own followers)! People were noticing me! But after I while, I got direct questions, and a few conversations started in this hashtag. One question debated was, how do you think a politician’s website should look like. Very interesting, very interesting. Also that people started asking whether one was actually in the room or somewhere else. Kind of a creepy feeling, tweeting where you sit in the room and people potentially looking out for you.

So, as one might gather from these short descriptions, I had a blast on Twitter. I followed new people, and new people started following me. I tweeted what the speakers said, I asked and answered questions. I socialized online.

But when I take a look at my “hard copy” notes now, there is not much on there. I might have discussed some of the stuff with other people, but I feel that this “Twitter business” distracted me a lot. Continually checking my phone, typing, fighting with autocorrect (as well as a crashing Twitter app), all of that took my attention away from the speakers. I still got much out of this session, but I also feel I missed quite a bit of information. Also, on another level, I don’t know how much speakers do appreciate it when lots of people have their eyes glued to their phones all the time. It might be the fad of the times and so on, but if I were the speaker, it would distract me that people are so distracted.


So for me, this Twitter pilot testing was a great experience. I even met three of the people I tweeted with afterwards (in “real life”), which was especially nice, and I clearly see the value of having a profile picture of oneself now. However, I will probably lay of the tweeting during the talks the next time, and tweet in the breaks. Because in other cases, I would want to concentrate on taking notes – notes that actually still make sense after a few hours, as opposed to my Twitter feed which is made up of mostly conversations with other people than about what is actually going on in front of me. Which is not a bad thing in itself, but comes in the way when one actually needs those notes…

Anyway, I think that Twitter is a great way to engage with people one would’ve probably never spoken to otherwise, whether at seminars or elsewhere. So, I will continue to tweet my way in the world, just not… always.


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