With each passing year, technology percolates further into academic life. The year 2013 might look, in hindsight, like the year academic social media use went mainstream.
Numbers of tweets and Facebook likes are no longer the sole obsession of Conversation authors. They now get tallied by university administrators, funding bodies and journal publishers as “AltMetrics”, and soon academics may be judged on their social media performance as much as they are on their teaching evaluations and grant success.
Academics have embraced social media for a variety of uses: networking, teaching, collaborating, open research, activism and more. Opportunities for fruitful conversation and new approaches to our work abound; and yet, the halls of the ivory tower (which, for ethical and budgetary reasons, is now made of melamine) reverberate with grumbling disaffection about the place of social media in academia.
If you’re an academic who uses social media, you’ve almost certainly heard the complaints and questions; if you’re an academic who doesn’t, then you’ve probably uttered them yourself.
There are plenty of helpful people on Twitter willing to let you know what they think. Twitter
We asked our followers on Twitter what they thought, and here we tackle the most common of these objections head on.
How else? We’ll tweet the answers.
‘It’s only for students and early-career types. I don’t need it or it doesn’t need me’
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: I wouldn’t force SM on anyone but to say that we don’t need you b/c you’re not a grad student is just wrong. We need more voices, not fewer.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: “Only for young people” is a typical crusty academic objection. They said the same thing about the Rolling Stones. And the internet. Who looks silly now?[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: But then again, we don’t need folks that don’t want to be there. That being said, don’t grumble when you’re left in the dust …[/colored_box]
‘You can’t speak in full sentences or say anything useful in 140 characters’ via @BioInFocus
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Tweeting is a form of conversation. Monologues always stifle conversation – a point to note for verbal interaction. 1 tweet=1 thought.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: Short tweets also allow others to chime in with their own ideas. More contributors can mean more flow in a discussion.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: It’s useful to practice concision (ahem #3), and appropriate simplification is not the same as dumbing down.[/colored_box]
Twitter founder Evan Williams explains how the idea of twitter started at a TED. jurvetson
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: All media have strengths & limits. Blogs provide unlimited space, you can go for hours on YouTube. Choose the right medium for your message.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: 3hr videos & 7K word blog posts are often ignored. Simplifying & clarifying a msg is a highly useful skill that requires deep understanding.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: Now if only scientists could hone that skill for use in their research contributions. Think about how much easier papers would be to read![/colored_box]
‘There’s too much noise and not enough signal’
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: Noise is common in today’s world. Learning how to sift through it is another valuable skill.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: True, in a random sample of @Twitter. Don’t be random: follow good people, unfollow blatherers & curate lists of people worth following.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: SM can be a firehose. Don’t be afraid to miss important things, because if they’re important, you’ll see them again (retweets, shares, etc).[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: SM allows you to move in and out of connections and conversations at your own pace. It’s not like exercise where it’s something you have to do.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: Also: garbage in, garbage out. If you want more signal from social media, create it by interacting with people that you find interesting.[/colored_box]
‘It’s too hard to get into. I don’t know what to do’ via @phylorich
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: Technology is only going to get more complicated no matter how much Apple tries to simplify things. Technological literacy is important.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: Social media requires some effort to find interesting people. Start slowly; use search to find people you know / admire on that platform.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Like all conversations, listen in for a while. Find good people to follow. Don’t try to read it all. Expect trial & error.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: And really, what’s simpler than just writing down a thought. It just means that it may lead to a conversation and discussion. Isn’t that good?[/colored_box]
‘It’s a waste of time / reduces productivity / creates opportunity cost for writing papers and grants!’ via @cmbuddle, @nhcooper123 and more
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: I’ve heard the same said about writing for @ConversationEDU which is among the most rewarding things I have done as an academic.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: Productivity can only be judged in hindsight. I’ve read some great articles through Twitter links that gave me some new research directions.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: SM can also lead to new collaborations, invited talks, job & grant proposals, etc. that help your career. All of these have happened to me.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Social media are tools. Use them well and they can enhance your work. Use them poorly and you can waste a lot of time.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: No one is productive for a straight 8 hours. Everyone needs breaks. Twitter simply provides snapshots of what going on in digestible bits.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: It can and should be said that SM isn’t for everyone. It also requires a lot of effort for these benefits, which don’t appear magically.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: The net reaches a lot of people who could be subjects for a survey, or who might know the answer to an arcane question. And some make an art-form of helping.[/colored_box]
@ResearchGosling is always happy to help social and psychological researchers, and to offer affirmation and support. Twitter
‘It’s narcissistic / it’s just self-promotion’ via @CoopSciScoop and others
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: Postdocs and grad students like me could stand to learn a little self-promotion. It’s a hard scientific economy out there.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Media stories focus on top tweeting celebutantes and entertainers. Their narcissism is outweighed by humble people tweeting genuine news & high concepts.[/colored_box]
Some really good examples of people to follow:
@ClairLemon mentions and analyses interesting stories about sex, gender and evolution faster than anyone I know.
PhD student @Tomhouslay covers evolutionary topics in my areas of specialty. I often find new papers through him.
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: But not everything you say needs to be “high concept” or self-promotion. Not even an opinion![/colored_box]
‘It’s not supported by senior admin’ or ‘senior admin are pushing it’ via @cmbuddle and others
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: I’ll admit that this isn’t one I’ve run into so far. Everything I’ve done with SM has generally been ignored by admin. Lucky?[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Social media is a versatile extension of your professional & personal self. Beware admin attempts to brand, standardise or sanitise it![/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: It’s important to keep social media out of the reach of senior admins, but also important to remember you are responsible for what you say.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Administrators should be happy: social media reduces the financial and time costs of networking.[/colored_box]
Why we use Twitter and what we’ve gained
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: By following @JennyJohnsonHi5 I can have a laugh & folks like @TomEdWhite can keep me abreast of conferences I can’t attend. How versatile![/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]@Brooks_Rob: Travel, for Austral academics, is more onerous than for our boreal colleagues. Social media enables me to build and maintain networks without spending all year on ‘planes.[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”green”]@BehavEcology: I’ve met a lot of people at conferences by organising tweetups (meetings of people tweeting at a conference). It’s a great ice-breaker![/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]@mkasumovic: It allows me to learn about topics I’d like to pursue. Following @LGamesNetwork provides insight into how to educate using games.[/colored_box]
My research group are always looking for subjects for our internet-based studies in which we measure how certain traits enhance or detract from an individual’s attractiveness. And we worry, like other researchers in the field, about whether these measured preferences tell us anything at all about real-life mating decisions. We’re encouraged, today, by a carefully-designed study showing that preferences can tell us quite a lot about the early stages of mate choice.
When asked about the characteristics they most desire in a potential mate, women and more likely than men to emphasise a potential partner’s wealth or ability to acquire resources. And men weight more heavily the importance of a woman’s physical attractiveness.
Findings like this draw criticism for the way they reinforce tired and oppressive stereotypes. But just because a finding is consistent with stereotype does not make it wrong. Stereotypes, after all, come from somewhere. Yes, the relative importance of various attributes varies with time, place, and the ways in which women and men make their livings economically. But the pattern is too strong, and too well replicated, to simply wish away.
At least it was, until evolutionary psychologists started to get their hands on data from modern speed-dating events. In one important 2005 study, both sexes relied almost entirely on physically observable traits: facial attractiveness, body shape, height, age and race. Actual decisions under the frenetic pressure created by speed-dating situations appear not to differ as much as the preferences scientists measure in carefully-controlled laboratory settings.
Some subsequent speed-dating studies found evidence more consistent with documented sex differences in preferences. But others did not. And few of the studies found that the preferences subjects admitted to, or expressed in laboratory tests, predicted much about who those subjects would like or want to see again after a speed-dating event.
Speed-dating events, like weddings, parties, and any invitation-only social event of the type where people used to meet before they had OKCupid, Ashley Maddison and Bang With Friends, are unusual in that only a very limited sub sample of humanity makes the invite list. All sorts of undesirable and invisible types have long since been screened out. So the strongest preferences, the ones by which individuals eliminate not-in-your-wildest-dreams unsuitable candidates never need to be expressed.
In their new paper, Norman P. Li and six collaborators recognise that speed dating events and similar arenas tend to screen out the least desirable candidates. After all, who would want – make that pay – to come to an event that captured an accurate sub-sample of humanity? Where ‘catches’ are outnumbered by the ones you’d be happy to let get away?
In a series of four experiments, they exercised considerable care to present a range of individuals who varied in social status or attractiveness. In one experiment, each subject spent seven minutes chatting on-line with a confederate of the experimenters. The confederate pretended to be either a high-school graduate working in a fast food restaurant, an undergraduate majoring in business, or a law student about to join a top law firm. Subjects were also shown a picture of the person they were ostensibly chatting to. The picture was actually experimentally assigned, with one third of subjects each seeing an unattractive, moderately attractive or highly attractive photograph.
After the chat session, subjects were asked a number of questions, including whether they would be interested in going on a date with their chat partner. Male subjects placed greater emphasis on the attractiveness of the photograph when making this decision. But women were more swayed by social status. More intriguingly, subjects who had in pre-experiment measures shown a strong preference for status or for attractiveness showed much stronger tendency to be influenced by those traits within the experiment.
Li and his coauthors used a similar experimental approach in two ‘modified speed dating’ trials. In one they went to considerable effort to recruit and present people of high and low socioeconomic status. In the other they sought out a mix of ‘unattractive and moderately attractive individuals’. How they screened these individuals is one detail I could not find in the methods.
Again, men responded more strongly to attractiveness than women did. And women responded more strongly to status. In both cases, the result was driven largely by the strength with which low attractiveness or low status individuals were rejected. Unattractive women and low status men seemed to be invisible – not even considered as possible mates.
In addition, the strength of these ‘real-life’ choice decisions was associated with the strength of preferences measured under standardised conditions. It seems that experiments, like the ones my students and researchers in countless other groups around the world do, certainly measure something real about the first filters by which we eliminate unsuitable potential mates.
What they can tell us about fine-scale choices among largely-compatible suitors has yet to be as well established.
Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
St Valentine’s day caught our household by surprise this morning. My daughter, the only family member who shows even a flicker of interest, loves what we call “Balance-time day” because it comes with free license to generate and dispense cards. And nothing is as important as making and giving cards.
Rather than buy in to saccharine cards, over-priced bouquets and chock-full restaurants on a school night, the rest of the family like to bunker down and wait for the red, white and pink tide to subside. Fair to say, we’d rather submit to an hour-long concert by a community recorder ensemble, including improvisations and a piece the ensemble wrote themselves. Not that that is an option this year.
But I’ve been wondering: does the practice of secret admirers sending cards to one another exist anymore, outside the craft-intensive world of grade school? Particularly as I’m currently researching how the internet is changing the ways in which people meet and find one another for romance, sex, marriage or more transactional arrangements.