Twitterville is a collection of stories about Twitter written by a twetizen who is enchanted with the Twitter village. It is a business book as much as it is a piece of
anthropology – by reading stories about a place, we infer its values, social norms, and culture.
Most of the stories are wonderful, uplifting, and show the positive side of Twitter. They are not, I think, your everyday Twitter stories – they are the extraordinary events that stand out in a place’s history. I’m glad someone took the time to document and save them. I remember living through most of them, and it felt great to read these accounts of recent Twitter history. Israel is an excellent story teller, and if I didn’t envy his warm, fluid, friendly, yet clear and simple writing style so much, I’d go on and on praising it :).
I loved reading the book, and enjoyed every page of it. I can imagine critics complaining that the book is overly positive – that it portrays Twitterville as a better place than (they think) it is. Israel’s Twitter enchantment doesn’t bother me, primarily because, like a respectable ethnographer, he spells out his biases clearly and repeatedly. He explains his point of view and enables the reader to decide how to interpret the content. As a qualitative researcher, I do not believe in the myth of objectivity. I think the best we can do is explain our biases, so readers can make informed decisions about interpreting our writing. I see very little of this in popular literature, and I hope more authors will adopt this practice.
… and Israel’s enchantment with Twitter doesn’t bother me, because I can relate to it and I share his point of view. I was initially amused by the claim that Twitter can lead to… world peace. But as I read the last chapter, I realized that, as a firm believer in the power of communication to make and break our world, I too, think, that conversation is the best solution – and that it can, indeed, help us make peace.
In a recent column in the National Communication Association’s newsletter, NCA president Dr. Arthur Bochner writes about institutional depression – a systemic sadness, loneliness and hopelessness that affects many academics. He blames institutional depression on the lack of communication and community among academics in the humanities, whose work and rewards systems encourage individual performance. Academics don’t feel a sense of belonging to a group or community, and left to their own devices, like many other mammals, flirt with depression.
You’d think that the ivory tower is alive with sparkling, stimulating conversation. You’d hope. Well it is, but mostly in the classroom.
I then read Jane Tompkins’ riveting memoir, A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned. A personal account of her experiences as a student, scholar, and academic. A courageous, naked disclosure of her psychological journey from insecurity, depression, craving for acceptance to what seems like peace. A peace she couldn’t find in academia, so she retired early from a tenured professorship in English at Duke University.
I read the book in one sitting, and I think it should be mandatory reading for all academics and university administrators.
That’s because although we live a privileged life in academia (hey, we’re paid to sit, talk, read, and write), it can also be a miserable life. No one takes care of our souls. Tompkins claims no one takes care of our students’ souls, either. Within the university, we’re not people. We’re minds.
So what can be done to improve quality of life in academia? Tompkins’ solution was to create opportunities for building community. She tried. She failed.
She realized the main reason why community isn’t happening is because we’re too busy. We run all the time. We work all the time. We need to be accomplishing something all the time. There’s no time for leisurely conversation and relationship building. (Want to know more about how that can kill you? Read my favorite non-fiction book, American Mania.)
As some of you know, for personal family reasons but or maybe for no reason at all, I’ve been doing my own flirting with depression lately. The recent SNCR conference has given my spirits a huge boost, because it was alive and a-twittering with sparkling, stimulating conversation.
So I’ve decided to try for myself and others Tompkins’ idea of building community and have proposed starting a summer book club at Clemson. First reading on the list: Jane Tompkins’ A Life in School.
After a 3-day approval process, my call was forwarded to people in Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities. A few people have responded. If you are in the area, are reading this, and would like to be part of the book club, please contact me.
I hope it will be a safe place for friendly and stimulating conversations, not a battle of egos. The next books on my reading list are:
… but I’m open to suggestions.
If you’re not in the Clemson area, tell me:
How is/was your life in school?
Did school take care of both of your mind and soul? Did you feel treated like a whole person? Should school even do that?
I promised my students I’ll make available a list of books about the “magic” public relations planning formula: GOST (Goals, Objectives, Strategies, and Tactics).
So, here are my favorites: