Is Twitter killing your conference?

A guest post from Moira Dunworth where she reflects on a recent conference

Conference attendees on their devices
Picture from the conference

At a Conference where social media was given a high profile and the streaming of the main session was being lauded as a real breakthrough, I had a ‘forbidden’ thought about tweeting. I was sitting at the back because my main role there (and the basis of my free registration) was to tweet and blog about the conference and I wanted to be inconspicuous. I needn’t have worried. It looked as if a third of the audience was tweeting, blogging or checking email/Facebook. From the huge number of tweets (50 new tweets in the final hour of the debate), it is safe to assume that most were following the conference hashtag on twitter.

When Twitter is a good thing

Twitter is great. It allows us all to keep up-to-date professionally or with areas of interest; one of mine is cycling. It enables a wonderful set of connections in a conference such as this one. People are greeting ‘twitter friends’ with joy as they meet face-to-face; people are tweeting enthusiastically and sharing responses, views and information.

Too much of a good thing?

But here’s the thing: at the panel debate there was quite a bit of difficult communication going on. More than once it was suggested that something had been misheard or was being misquoted. It struck me that this was happening because we tweeters were tuning into sound-bites or ‘tweet-bites’ and not listening properly to what anyone was saying. I realised that there was quite enough tweeting going on and closed my (several) devices to listen. My hands itched to open them up and check the twitter stream and it was really hard to resist.

Tweet less, listen more

That morning’s keynote speech had complex and rich ideas, presented rapidly by the Irish-born presenter and with bigger words by the other. Call me old and worn out but I could not hear their content while doing anything else, far less tweeting their numerous wonderful tweet-bites. I listened instead and took pictures of others multi-tasking on their phones, laptops and the rest.

To cap my morning of wondering-about-twitter, I attended a participatory workshop about ethics in community based participatory research. The workshop presenters started with groundrules and a member of the audience quickly added ‘no pictures or tweets’.

Food for thought?

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