Twitter Is Just A Giant Office, So Know How To Navigate It

Twitter has the constant buzz of an infinite workplace. When you say something stupid, it gets around. And around.

"What Twitter has done," New Yorker writer David Grann told the Awl not long ago, "is create an extended office culture where you see another side of colleagues. I like that because being a writer is pretty isolating, especially when I'm working on a book."

Grann's observation doesn't only apply to lonely writers: The sometimes quizzically awesome intimacy of being a longtime Twitter follower can bear quizzically awesome fruits--be it dunking in the dark, spouting off on tea kettles, or launching stuff into space.

Since we know that the most connected people tend to be the most successful, the extended office of the Twitter stream is rightfully prized--though as science blogger Bethany Brookshire notes, staying sane in the virtual office is like staying sane in a regular one.

Being online is like being in person

If you're working face-to-face with people, keeping yourself reasonably non-foolish should come naturally: Be polite, be nice to people, and if you might want to snark off to someone, keep your thoughts "behind your teeth until you get home and tell them to your dog," Brookshire says. It goes the same way online, though some people aren't aware of it, she says:

  • "... the internet? It's like a really, REALLY big workplace. And that means that we can hear you. It doesn't matter if it's on Facebook, and supposedly restricted to your friends. If you make someone mad, they can take that post, and share it around. And we will be able to hear you. Even if you've only got 200 followers on twitter, if you say something, and it gets tweeted around (either because people like it, or because it reveals you to be a total jerk), we can hear you."

That hearing has consequences: An NYU professor recently tweeted to prospective PhD applicants that if you don't "have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation," though he's now claiming it was a social psychology experiment. As Berkshire notes, this is the kind of thing you need to be aware of before you extend your office to the Internet.

She offers three helpful questions before you make a tweet-blunder:

  1. Do you really want to say that?
  2. Would you shout it in a crowded room?
  3. State it at a seminar in front of an audience?

Mixing metaphors

Why ask these questions? Because, Berkshire says, Twitter is like a continuous party--echoing what the company's CEO Dick Costolo recently said. And just as you can learn new things and make connections at a party or at your office lunch, you can do the same on Twitter--though you need to take equal responsibility for the way you come off to people.

"But it's also possible to be THAT person at the cocktail party," she writes.
"You know, the one with the sexist jokes. You wouldn't be that person at a cocktail party, why would you be that person on Twitter?"

Bottom Line: Think before you tweet.

Science Communication Tips: We Can Hear You

[Image: Flickr user André P. Meyer-Vitali]

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