Thursday, 28 July 2011
To tweet or not to tweet, there is no question
I'm writing this blog during a couple of talks at the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne (see my previous blog). I'm also participating in a group tweet from these sessions, and now and then checking my email. Is that good?
Well last week the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature caught up with the Anglican and Catholic Churches and did away with having to use Latin for the description of new plants (as we rush to say, the names will still be in the Latin but the - usually - short diagnoses that accompany each new name can be in English or Latin). That was progressive, although as my brother Colin said, a lot of good it did these denominations.
So if scientists who name plants can change their language of dialogue, albeit slowly, why can't scientists more generally change their language of dialogue during meetings. Generally of course there is no language, only furtive whispers and asides if you happen to be sitting next to your buddy. With Twitter you can chat to your friends and colleagues in the room, as well as those scattered around the world and unable to attend the meeting. The remote followers get sense of immediacy and a little of the rough and tumble of the meeting. Sure it's not as good as being there but the virtual conference can be fun and informative, particularly when linked to websites and references along the way.
During this particular talk I'm taking notes in OneNote (yes I know, it could be any piece of software, but I like to give credit where credit's due - it's a delight to use for meeting notes). Every now and then - perhaps when a summary slide appears, a humorous remark is made or I particularly like (or dislike) something said - I'll copy a sentence across to Twitter. Or sometimes just type in a new tweet, depending on my mood and dexterity. I'll also check emails occasionally in case something interesting is arriving that way.
Of course I miss things - in Twitter and in the talk. But three things spring to mind as I type this in OneNote, ready to paste to my blog, while I track the tweets in case I miss things while being more diverted than usual...
I stay awake
Yes you miss things by tweeting, taking notes and emailing but you also stay alert. As I mature (age) I find it harder and harder to concentrate for long periods of time at a meeting, and no matter how exciting a speaker I can easily tire physically or mentally. Taking notes is a great way to force me to concentrate and to keep my mind engaged. Tweeting is added benefit because I have to summarise and communicate, in short bursts, checking that I actually understand what is going on (sometimes…).
A lecture becomes a conversation
Yes some of the conversation is amusing or diverting, but that's what life is about. It's not a linear thing, nor should it be. The lecture becomes a setting off point for scientific debate, philosophical dialogue or simply chatter, that endearing human pastime. Why shouldn't we chatter, in quiet, during a lecture?
You learn new things
By channelling the brains of people who know more about the subject than you, new things emerge from the talk. Unexpected interpretations or missed points. A whole new layer is added to the experience. That's a good thing.
Apologies for any errors - I wanted to type and post this during the two plenary talks this morning. To follow the twitter traffic at the Congress, try #ibc18. To follow me, @TimEntwisle.
Image: from Treehugger site, a link tweeted during the talk by Jonathan Wendel, who liked the way that in this picture cotton bales look like cotton flowers/fruits.