Last month I wrote an article for Leading Notes about Twitter and its connective and professional development capabilities for music education. It turned into sort of a primer on Twitter: how to get started, ways to organize it, some followers to check out, etc. In the next few weeks I want to expand upon some things I wrote in that article.
One of the pieces of advice – or Twitter-quette – that I mentioned - and take to heart - was suggested by @ericasipes and @mitchthetenor: “Don’t be too serious.” Paraphrased, they said that it’s necessary to remember that, on Twitter, people are people. We don’t always tweet things related to professional development; we often tweet seemingly mundane things, but in actuality give more insight into the person behind the computer or smartphone, allowing followers to get a better idea of who you are – especially if you haven’t met IRL (in real life).
A recent article by Arianna Huffington made me think of that sentiment, in a roundabout manner. She wrote about how the Internet is growing up, leaving its “messy adolescence.” In many respects, that’s what has happened with my personal Twitter account (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).
When I think back to when I first joined Twitter, I was ignorant to a lot of its capabilities. I was unaware that people use it as a public chat forum. I didn’t know that I would be able to meet people of diverse areas and have conversations with them, regardless of actually knowing them IRL or not. What I did know was that celebrities used it, and – I’m partly ashamed to admit – so did Perez Hilton. So I followed them. Maybe not with the same vigor that other celebrity-watchers do, but I enjoyed the celebrity gossip.
Until I realized I never really cared about it that much. About the only thing I gained from following Perez Hilton and Ryan Seacrest, to name a few, was that I learned Ricky Martin came out before the mainstream media caught the news. Whoop whoop.
But as I was shifting away from that type of Twitter account – where I followed but didn’t contribute much, other than repeating what I was posting on Facebook – I started to find new tweeps with similar interests to mine, starting finding new and interesting Internet resources that I didn’t know were available, and starting turning my account into a form of two-way communication. I became more conscious of my use of Twitter. I became a participant rather than solely a consumer. (You can read some brief accounts in my Leading Notes article.)
We're now more thoughtful and deliberate about choosing our friends and how we spend our online time. Adulthood is a time when our lives become about curating, selecting, saying "no" more often than we say "yes," being forced to decide what we really value, realizing what's really important to us. Increasingly, that's exactly how people are using the Internet as well.
I’m not sure if everyone goes through this growth with their Twitter account, but I would be surprised if I were the only one. And, to be completely honest, I’m still not out of my adolescent phase with Twitter. While I gave up following a lot of celebrities long ago, I still follow famous people who interest me: mainly, composers, opera singers, pianists and musical theatre performers. (Yes, I also get excited when they tweet me.)
I still post mundane things and somewhat immature things. I complain about things. And, since it’s summer break, my Twitter account has gotten less educational, too (a little vacation is good for all of us). I try not to take my Twitter account too seriously, just like my real life. (As one of my old Twitter bios said, my tweets are only part of who I am.)
To be sure, the adolescent Internet will always be with us. But now there's a choice - not just for individuals, but for companies as well. One way forward is to continue down the path where noise and half-truths trump facts, where confusion and data overload overwhelm any possibility of balance and wisdom. The other way is to stake out a place in this new world of community, connections and collaboration.
As the Internet grows up, I think Twitter and its users, and my use of Twitter, will too. Twitter began in 2006, and that it’s still around five years later in this age of quick Internet start-ups and failures is testament to its power and versatility. As I wrote in my Leading Notes article, Twitter can be many things to many people: it is “a microblog. It’s a place to share your thoughts, a place to promote your interests, and has the potential to be a “total game-changer” in the field of arts and education (as one of my tweeps put it).”
It’s tricky to write about the future of something, because that future usually doesn’t come true. (Pick up any jazz book from the 1950s and see if what the authors predicted actually happened.) But, as with Arianna’s article, writing about the future can also delineate one’s hopes. We can use Twitter to "stake out" our place in the growing musical and educational community. It is my hope that educators and musicians can use Twitter and harness its many powers to continue developing and growing.
The Internet of the future, the mature, grown-up Internet, has the potential to take what's best about the human experience -- our passion, our knowledge, our desire to connect -- and channel it into an online experience that truly resonates with how people live.