Paul Bernal

Dr Paul Bernal is a lecturer in IT, IP and Media Law at the UEA Law School. He tweets as @paulbernalUK, and blogs at http://paulbernal.wordpress.com

 


 

Why I tweet

It’s hard to explain exactly why I tweet: there are so many reasons. I tweet to learn. I tweet for work. I tweet to connect with the world – and to engage with it. Most of all, though, I tweet for fun – and because I enjoy interacting with the excellent people I have met since I started tweeting. All these ‘reasons’ aren’t separate: they’re all inextricably intertwined. For me, that may be the best thing of all about Twitter: how everything is mixed together, messily connected and a bit confused. That’s what makes it work for me – I can’t easily separate what I do for fun, what I do for work, what I do to learn, and what I do to ‘connect’ with the world. On Twitter, it’s the same.

I tweet to learn

I first started tweeting with any regularity soon after I submitted my PhD – a little over a year ago. I knew what Twitter was – I was (and still am) an academic researching into internet privacy, so I had to – but I was a little wary that it might be what the naysayers suggested, somewhere to learn about Stephen Fry’s bowel movements and how wonderful Justin Bieber is, so I had never really done more than minor experimentation. When I finished my PhD I thought I would see what it was really like: I had a bit more time, and felt as though I ‘ought’ to understand it properly for my research. I had a few friends and colleagues who were already doing a lot more than me, and they helped me at first, but the thing I found the most enjoyable about Twitter was the way that I very quickly found people on Twitter who made me feel very welcome.

I was new to my job, and to my field, and felt (and still feel) a bit of an imposter. I was a lecturer in a law department despite having no legal qualifications – my PhD was to be my first. My experience was in a niche subject, internet privacy – and I knew that I had to learn more about the law in general if I was to do my job properly. Twitter really helped – far more than I might have imagined. I have met excellent people from every part of the legal system: police officers, solicitors, barristers, clerks, other legal academics in all kinds of fields, people working for NGOs, advocacy groups etc. They’ve given me a crash course in how the legal system really works – and provided insights that you could never get from text books or lectures. What’s more, they’re all really nice about it – answering all the most basic and stupid questions I might have. I know that if I need to find something out, I can almost always find someone who can and will help, and quickly too. They’re often experts too, at the top of their field – and yet not just willing but even keen to share their views and experiences.

I tweet for work

Another thing that has really surprised me is how useful Twitter is for work. I’ve been able to get people to read my stuff – my blogs, my academic papers, even my PhD thesis. I’ve been able to find material for my research – and make crucial academic contacts all over the world. The results have been great – I’ve ended up with conference invitations, publishing opportunities, research information and much more. For an academic it’s an unparalleled tool. My use of Twitter goes hand in hand with my blogging – another thing I started doing seriously at the same time as I started with Twitter – and the two seem to work really well together. I get ideas for blogs from Twitter, and then tweet my blogs. There are some things that need more than a few tweets – but without Twitter I can’t imagine than nearly so many people would ever have read my blog. What’s more, my work ends up being read by a much wider variety of people than those in the ivory towers of academia – which is something else I really appreciate.

I’m lucky enough to have an enlightened employer – the University of East Anglia – that understands the value of my blogging and tweeting, and gives me the space and time to do it. More than that, they encourage me to blog and tweet – it is even part of my ‘personal development plan’. I suspect more academic employers will move that way – and they should!

 

I tweet because right now, it’s the best way to engage with what’s happening in the world.

 I realise this sounds more than a little pretentious, but I really believe it. I’m the kind of person who’s interests are broad and eclectic. I’m an academic in a new and advancing field, but I’m also a football fan (Wolves, for my sins), someone who’s fascinated and passionate about politics, a film buff, a lover of punk and folk music, a husband and father, a computer geek, a history buff etc. I’ve travelled a lot, and I’m specially interested in some particular places – Romania, where my wife comes from, Burma, which I visited in the early 90s, Ireland where I have family. What I can do on Twitter is to link all of those things. I can do my work, follow my team, involve myself in politics, share stuff about films and music, and keep in touch with what’s going on all around the world. I can and do interact with real politicians – I’m followed by three or four MPs, and have conversations with many more. In the past, that kind of direct contact with politicians was all but impossible. And all of this in real time – which is the other thing I love about Twitter. You can feel right in touch, feel a part of the events as they unfold. Following the story of Osborne in the First Class carriage as it happened, for example, was quite unlike reading it in the paper or even watching it on the news.

Most of all, I tweet for fun

None of this would matter if I didn’t enjoy Twitter – and I do. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I love Twitter. I enjoy the interaction, I enjoy playing with words, I enjoy the teasing, the playing, the silliness. I even play hashtag games. I like taking a break from other things just to ‘tune in’ to the world through Twitter. Most of all, though, I like the people that I interact with – I’ve met some wonderful people in real life as a result of interaction on Twitter, people that I would never have met in other ways.  That’s worth repeating – in the end it’s the people who make Twitter special for me. At its best, you barely notice that there’s a ‘Twitter’ in the way – all you’re doing is having one big conversation with some wonderful and interesting people. There’s a humanity about Twitter that makes it very special. As someone who’s a bit of a geek, who uses computers a lot – probably too much – that humanity is something to be treasured.

 

This is the 23rd post in the criminal justice/legal Why I tweet series. Read the others here.

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