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Lunch Hour Lecture 17 March: Great 2 meet u IRL :-) Twitter and digital identity

By Carly Schnabl, on 24 March 2011

Claire Ross, UCL reports on Claire Warwick’s Lunch Hour Lecture to mark the fifth anniversary of Twitter on 21 March. Is Twitter is an ephemeral technology, consisting of mundane, pointless tweets about people’s personal lives, normally revolving around what people had for lunch? Or can a study of its use help us to understand how we express our identities on and offline?

Watch the Lunch Hour Lecture here (36 minutes)

Claire’s approach to the lecture was lighthearted, in line with the way a lot of academics, particularly at UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities, use Twitter. There is a serious point to this though, Twitter conventions are an interesting challenge when taken out of context and put into a physical space, but Claire shows it can be done, raising questions about the fact that there are different languages within digital media and tipping these language conventions on its head by deliberately changing the way you register with a language and a tone of voice. Claire also stated that Tweets are more permanent than speech which is something individuals should be aware of.

Claire then went on to discuss Digital Identity Asking: Who are we online really?

Is the UCLDH website, or the UCL website part of our digital identity? The answer is most definitely yes, Corporate Digital Identity is becoming more and more important. But the purpose of this lecture was to talk about individual digital identity. This is not a new idea, it has grown from the concepts of cyborgs and avatars and talking to the machine to brilliant manifestations of virtual communities to tweets & social media.

But what does that do to our identity? Are we playing a role or being ourselves?

The idea that the avatar an individual chooses actually says a lot about you; some of the options discussed were:

I’m a professional like @profserious and @AnneWelsh

This is what I work on like @ernestopriego and @rkammann

I do have a life, you know like me (@clairey_ross) and @simon_mahony

I’m a bit of a mystery… like @lesleypitman and @juliannenyhan or those with mysterious handles @girlinthe, @sphericalfruit, @ononothimagain

I’m a digital native & proud of it like @melissaterras

But can you actually control your own identity?

When it comes down to it, your identity is how others perceive you. This is an important distinction both in the digital and the real world.

Another issue raised was that of gender tweeting. What’s the difference between @ replies & links? Claire suggests that this is part of gendered tweeting behaviour. Broadcast vs communication. Women are socialised to create connection and community and therefore hold more conversations in the digital space, whereas men want/need to create hierarchy and to be authoritative in doing so, therefore use Twitter as a broadcast medium by using a lot of links.

Should we have separate Twitter accounts for work/private life? What is lost if we do?

The debate about whether or not academics should use Twitter for professional or academic activity has been raging for a while. Quoting loss of authority and quality and trust, nevertheless online activity is becoming more engrained into our daily practices. More and more academics are turning to Twitter. Now we know some followers & expect to meet others, and quite often our digital footprint precedes us – there are instances of grad students who are finding tweeting helps their career and develops writing and academic practice.

So should we try to separate our public and private digital personae?

Do you have to give up complete control in social media? It was suggested that people need to be vulnerable and open to be truly compelling on Twitter.

There are so many questions coming out of using Twitter, so much research potential to explore. With that in mind I am going to end on some provoking questions Claire raised:

Is Twitter public or private self?

Should we, can we, mix the two?

Is it possible to separate them?

Is it unprofessional to talk re non-work things?

There are no rules…

See you on the Twittersphere… @clairey_ross

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