Tweeting Behind the Curtain

This past Tuesday was our department’s 5th Annual Day Lecture. Events like this tend to call for heavy Twitter usage among the self-declared cool kids. Using #Day2018, a bunch of us started sharing our thoughts on the lecture and having our own discussion behind our screens while Prof. Siegler explored a handful of Coen Brothers films through the lenses of myth, meaning, and morality. I had intended to create a Storify of some of our conversations and write this post as a supplement and deep dive into those conversations. Well, it turns out I’m not as with the times as I had thought. Storify is shutting down this May. So with my dreams dashed, I offer you something (hopefully) more entertaining.

About halfway through the lecture, I noticed something:

For quite some time now, I’ve known that both Mike (@MichaelJAltman) and Russell (@McCutcheonSays) tweet from the department’s account. But because @StudyReligion is a Twitter account for an entity rather than an individual, I had never seriously questioned who was behind the tweets. Since coming back to UA to finish my master’s, however, I’ve gotten to know both Mike and Russell better and am more familiar with their speaking/writing patterns and personalities. So while scrolling through the #Day2018 tweets, when I saw these two tweets within seconds of each other, I knew something was up.

These were two observations that required attention to different sounds and sights going on in the room. They also suggested that while one person was in a mindset of reporting the lecture, another was observing the audience. It seemed reasonable to conclude that two different people had made the observations and sent them out. But maybe this tweet from Russell should have clued me in before that:

(For those of you missing the point, that’s Russell tweeting a photo of Mike tweeting from the department account.)

Most of the time, it doesn’t really matter too much who is actually writing the tweets given that they’re meant to represent the department rather than the individual. But given that the department is made up of individuals, the tweets are necessarily formed by the thoughts and writing patterns of the person behind the screen. So yes, there is a distinction between Mike’s and Russell’s tweets from the department’s account. I would posit, though, that who can spot those distinctions may be directly related to two things. First, that person’s exposure to theories on discourse. Second, that person’s experience with the person/people behind the curtain. For it was only now, almost at the end of my master’s program — i.e., after roughly 4-5 years of social theory — and after getting to know Mike and Russell while both an undergraduate and a graduate student, that I was able to even consider the individual behind the entity.

Of course, their responses to my observation were classic and (dare I say) unsurprising:

And finally, as has happened so many times before, Russell gave me the phrase that inspired the topic for exploration in a blog, along with a blog title:


Featured image: Flickr user Seniju(CC BY 2.0)