August bank holiday marked an important milestone for me. It was a year ago that my friends David and Jamie persuaded me that I needed to join Twitter. Of course, I knew about Twitter but was at the time rather dismissive of it. I thought only people like Stephen Fry and Sarah Brown tweeted. When my mother asked me ‘Why aren’t you on Twitter?’ I replied with smug confidence that ‘Twitter isn’t really used by people of my generation; it’s more for people like you’. Even being shown by a Swansea colleague of its potential in advertising my JVC online post on the neo-Victorian legacies of the ‘big society’ left me unconvinced. Why, then, did I join the land of Twitter? It must have been the sun, or maybe the wine, or perhaps it was because I no longer wanted to feel left out.
I was rather a slow tweeter at first. In the beginning, I tended to retweet others, or tweet Guardian articles. I was rarely tweeting my own thoughts. Things, however, changed in February when I moved jobs and was now working more at home. Twitter became a friend providing conversations for lonely coffee breaks. Anybody who has worked with me knows that I am a sociable being and that I will talk to anyone in the staff kitchen or idly walking through the department’s corridors. Without this daily interaction I started to use Twitter as a way of keeping in touch with the world. I think this might explain why I now have 450+ followers. I’ve been able to engrain myself into a vibrant scholarly community that has made me more aware of what’s happening in academia and, particularly, in Victorian studies.
There are still things that I don’t really feel comfortable doing. I rarely join in on conversations, especially if they have already been started. I would like to reply to people’s individual tweets but am often unsure if people would like it. I also don’t know how to fit ‘the personal’ into my tweets. My profile might state that ‘I enjoy baking, post-war fiction & period dramas’. But I have never discussed my reading habits, my baking tweets have been confined to the ‘JVC bake off’ and I haven’t mentioned my period drama watching. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that I don’t have a personal tone in my tweets. My cats (George and Bella) often feature in photo form. This always provokes responses. Meanwhile, a friend recently told me that they liked the tone of my tweets.
Having said all of the above, Twitter has been great at introducing me to a new group of academics and I wonder if it has been an important source of making me feel less isolated in the world of academia. For instance, I no longer seem to dread attending conferences as I’m no longer filled with the worry that I won’t know anybody or what I should say to them. Twitter has provided the introductions. Academics might, as the popular saying goes, live in ‘ivory castles’, but these ‘castles’ are no longer the lonely places they might once have been. All you need now is a mobile phone or a computer for a small blue bird to deliver you little gems of information.
Dr Lucinda Matthews-Jones is a History Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Her publications include ‘Lessons in Seeing: Art, Religion and Class in the East End of London, 1881–1898′, Journal of Victorian Culture (2011) and ‘St Francis and the Making of Settlement Masculinity, 1883-1914′ in Sean Brady and John Arnold’s edited collection, What is Masculinity(London, 2011). She tweets on @luciejones83 and her academia page can be found here.