I’ve been to a number of science communication and scientific conferences recently and on several occasions I’ve found myself sitting next to passionate “live tweeters” who tweeted furiously throughout a talk or a panel, not only sharing apparently vital information with a remote audience, but also answering questions and directing specific questions and comments to the speakers on stage.
I am not a live-tweeter.
In fact, I am bit old fashioned in many ways. I bring a notepad to conferences. I turn my laptop off, and mute my mobile (admittedly I take a photo of the speakers and occasionally of slides, either to share later or to act as visual notes for myself when I get back to my desk). I listen as attentively as I can. I take hand-written notes. At the end of the presentation or talk, I ask questions if I have anything relevant to raise. And in the coffee break, I often swap notes verbally with other conference goers. Sometimes, I post content to social media after the event, when I’ve had time to think about it, and occasionally I write articles about specific topics that have particularly interested or engaged me, once I’ve had a time to research the topics more.
Clearly, my approach to conference attendance is rather different to live tweeters. For me, my approach works, and although live-tweeting clearly works for others, I have to say that I found my live-tweeting neighbours intensely distracting, their fingers flying across their smartphones or laptops, the bright light of their screens spilling over to the seats around them, and their occasional chuckles and comments to themselves as they share their brilliance drawing attention away from the real stars of the event.
Aside from the distraction, I can’t help but wonder how live-tweeters are able to actively listen to the panelists and/or speakers in the room in order to capture an accurate and interesting soundbite and share it in 280 characters.
I consider myself a decent multi-tasker, but I know from experience that (1) taking in new information, (2) sharing it/noting it down, and (3) having a side conversation at the same time = not really paying attention. With that in mind, is following a live-Tweeter useful, given that their content is likely to be pithy, in the moment and possibly wrong – especially given that a talk of 20 minutes might posit a set of ideas only to provide research and evidence that refutes those ideas during the talk?
Obviously, there are lots of themes that relate to live Tweeting, ranging from accuracy to ethics, and permission to etiquette, some of which I’ll cover in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m fascinated to know what you think.
So my question to you today is this: does live tweeting = not listening actively? And if so, given the dubious quality of the information communicated, what’s the point?
Suzanne Whitby is an international communication specialist, communication skills trainer, writer, storyteller, and ocean campaigner, and the founder of SciComm Success, a training organisation that equips scientists with the knowledge and skills to share their science.