Two major changes have occurred in my life recently. First, I started my first post-doc position in February, and second, I could finally afford to embrace the world of the smart phone. You may not think these events have much in common, other than my new job resulting in the funds to buy the phone, however, together they present a new situation: I am overwhelmed by my new level of engagement with social media.
As a fledgling researcher, with a fixed-term contract, I feel a tremendous pressure to create a coherent online presence. Now that I am emerging from under the wing of my PhD supervisor, it seems important to allow the world to find me, and for me to tell people who I am. As Lifehacker states, if I don’t create a stable online identity for myself, it will be created for me, for better or for worse. Furthermore, as highlighted by this article in The Guardian, an online presence is particularly important for early career researchers; providing a basis for networking and establishing a brand. Therefore, along with purchasing a domain name, I have resumed tweeting, created a LinkedIn profile, blown the dust of my Google+ account, and am debating with myself whether to make my Facebook profile publicly searchable.
However, the first problem arising from my new venture is how to find the time to keep all of these accounts up-to-date and active. Will I really find the time to engage with each of these platforms and make use of them to promote myself, my ideas, and my research? Do I have something interesting to say in 140 characters or less that anyone will care about? Although (especially since reading this post by ThermalToy) I am convinced that persevering with Twitter will be worthwhile, building up a list of followers seems like a daunting task. Currently, the amount of effort needed to engage with any of these platforms vastly outweighs the rewards. However, having spent a little time to fill in my information and seek out a few people I would like to connect with, I have some hope that if I get into the habit of using and updating these sites regularly, they will become an asset rather than a chore.
Of course, any social media account is pointless without linking to other users, which brings me to my second problem. Not only am I conscious of needing to send out interesting little tit-bits of information to my (few) followers in order to keep them engaged and aware of my progress/interests, but I am now the receiver of a huge flow of information in the other direction too. Every site I update is a site filled with updates from my connections compelling me to read ‘this article’ and follow ‘that blog’. As well as reading for my own interests and reading for work, I am now increasingly distracted by the information other people think will interest me, which can easily take me on a never-ending tour of websites, blogs, and journal articles. It is difficult to see how to keep this flow of information contained.
When I unpacked my smart phone I thought it was the answer to information-containment and time management, but now I am not so sure. Each of these platforms has an inviting little app for your phone, which lovingly pings you every time something new is happening, just begging you to come and play. Turning off the notifications is easy and flight mode is a saviour for being distraction-free, but that doesn’t stop the bombardment of information that happens to me when I log back on. While I am logged out the tweeps are still tweeting, the bloggers still blogging, the journals still publishing, and the counter on my RSS reader ticking over with enticing new sources of information and potential means of procrastination. Unplugging completely isn’t really a viable option; living abroad means social media is my link to family, friends, and colleagues around the world. So, I am left with a puzzle; how to stay actively engaged online without it taking over my life?