Alone / Together

You’re sat there again. Writing.

All alone.

The internet’s there. It always is. The distraction factory: a cacophony of noise telling you that everyone else is having much more fun than you. The world’s happening in some other place.

And you’re still sat there.

But what if it wasn’t just you? What if you were able to share the writing process with others? What if you weren’t alone?

That’s the premise behind Shut Up and Write Tuesdays, “a virtual writing workshop for academic folk”. It’s an extension of the Shut Up and Write premise that originated amongst the Californian creative writing community and grown in popularity here after being adopted by the student academic community.

Using the Pomodoro Technique that I’ve talked about before, it takes place across Twitter every Tuesday.

In practical terms it’s a Twitter exchange that comes to life through a hashtag (#suwtues / #suwtuk / #suwtna – depending on whether you’re following from the US and Canada, the UK and Western Europe, or the Asia-Pacific region).

There’s a countdown, people chatter and get ready to start – there might be the odd exchange about what you’re currently writing – then…

YOU’RE OFF! 25 minutes of writing. In Twitter silence.

When time’s up, you’ve a 5 minute break to visit the toilet, make that cup of tea, tell the world what you’re dog just did… Procrastinate as much as you want before… YOU’RE OFF AGAIN! 25 minutes more writing…

That’s the idea and it seems to work – at least judging by the enthusiastic global chatter every Tuesday morning. I like it too.

But what’s actually happening?

Erikson and Kellogg might say that participants are benefiting from something they call “social translucence”. Through the social networking platform we’re able to experience the activities of other visible participants that “support coherent behaviour by making participants and their activities visible to one another” (Erickson et al., 2002).

It’s translucent, rather than transparent, because information is selective (whether intentionally or not) and we can hide a lot behind those 140 characters!

Yes, of course participants may be manipulating and making visible activities that are not actually taking place through this “social proxy” on Twitter, but the common language and shared group aesthetic (tea, cake, casual and informal), as well as the low ‘risk’ nature of the activity (personally completing some writing), creates a reassuring environment where ‘trust’ isn’t a necessary factor for success. There’s no leverage to be gained by seeking to manipulate impressions – you’d only be kidding yourself!

We have a ‘sense’ that we’re sharing an activity with other similar people. And while, like the example I’ve given before about collaborating (while not collaborating), we’re not working together to achieve the same goal, we are working ‘together’ through sharing the same virtual space and experience.

The ‘alienating power of technology’ used to to unite.

Erickson, T., Halverson, C., Kellogg, W., Laff, M. and Wolf, T. (2002) Social translucence: designing social infrastructures that make collective activity visible. Communications of the ACM [online]. 45(4), pp. 40-44. [Also available online]

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