…that is the question–along with some thoughts about being a blogger and not a writer.
I’ve been asking other science bloggers if I should start using Twitter. The answers have ranged from the formation of a blood pact sworn to never (EVAH!) use Twitter to a belief that Twitter ‘communities’ are the equivalent of a meta-hive mind and The New Frontier of Consciousness (the moderate view is that it serves as a combination notepad and blog aggregator which seems pretty useful actually). The downside is that I don’t need another time sink. Which brings me to a couple of thoughts about being a blogger, not a professional writer.
I can see Twittering (tweeting? twiting?) being useful to writers. If you’re a writer, you write (just as James Earl Jones once said that you can be unemployed or an actor, you can’t be an unemployed actor). Twittering is just another form of communicating. More than that, if your job is to write about things people are discussing, thinking about, or writing about*, I can see Twitter helping a professional writer/blogger/journalist (or what I think of as a ‘media mini-conglomerate’). It could help a writer sound out ideas, or even develop new ideas by being exposed to The Big Cacaphonious Conversation that could be Twitter (of course, that’s what people said about Facebook, and I hate Facebook).
But that’s not what I do. I like blogging about all sorts of things, some of which are occasionally related to science. But I’m not a professional science communicator. I’ve always viewed this blog as the various and sundry thoughts of a slightly off-kilter biologist. And the subject matter often is not biology because I figure I can babble about things I know little about just as well as David Broder or Maureen Dowd. Why should journalism and English majors get to have all the fun? (and is there anything economists won’t talk about?). But blogging is not my job (Our Benevolent Seed Overlords, depending on various things, pay me..well, I can get a decent dinner out of it every month). Scientific research, and to a lesser extent (now, much lesser), public policy are my jobs. Granted, the blog has helped in those areas: for instance, I just had a very nice conversation with some people at Pew Charitable Trusts a couple days ago, in part, because of my blogging.
For someone like me, Twitter could obviously be a distraction. I have a hard enough time clearing out the Turkish viagra spam (?!?) from the comments and responding to emails at the blog address. Do I need to tweet? Because I’m not trying to be Chris Mooney (and I have no idea if he uses Twitter) or Carl Zimmer: this is a good thing, since I don’t write nearly as well as they do. I’m, first and foremost, a working scientist. Not only do I have to detach from the hive mind and do stuff, but I would like to think that perspective is different from a science communicator.
So, I turn this over to the readers: should I join Twitter or not?
*And if your job is to write about things people are writing about things people are writing about….[Gears...freeze...up]