If you’d asked me about my digital presence a month ago, I probably would have stared at you with a rather vacant expression on my face, eventually shrugged, and squirmed out of the uncomfortable moment with something like: “I mean, I’m on Twitter…”
The truth is, no one had ever talked to me about online presence and public scholarship in any detail, so I had absolutely no idea what I was lacking. I’m a notorious lurker on Facebook — when I even bother to log in at all — and my personal Twitter account is completely private and (I’ll admit) mostly existing for the unholy combination of droll memes, unceasing displays of Tolkien fandom, and the occasional “Life Update”–usually a short, snarky anecdote about my general clumsiness and incompetence when it comes to mundane, day-to-day activities.
Now, exactly a month later, I have a website (you’re on it!), an academic Twitter account, and I’m writing a series of posts for Tor.com about characters in the world(s) of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humanities Commons tweeted about my site, I’m accumulating Twitter followers by the day, and my first blog post has, last I checked, almost 300 shares on Facebook. How did it happen, you ask?
Part of the answer is, quite honestly, I don’t know.
For the most part I went into this process completely blind. I had no clue what I was getting myself into, and at that time, I didn’t really know who I could ask for help. It was trial and error along the way, full of desperate measures and hair-brained schemes (like pitching an entire blog series to a publishing company that didn’t even know I existed. What?!). From that experience, I’ve learned that cultivating a digital presence takes intention, effort, and just a little bit of cluelessness. After all, what’s to keep you from doing ridiculously ambitious things if you aren’t aware they’re ambitious in the first place? (This is, apparently, one of my life philosophies. The majority of the crazy-cool things I’ve done have happened because I only found out afterwards that it should’ve been scary.)
But now, a month later, I’m a trifle wiser and I’ve found the guidance I needed. I’m taking a course on interfaces with a fantastic Digital Humanities professor, and I even ended up in a 6-week course for “Online Presence and Public Scholarship Fellows” here at my current institution, Michigan State University. I’m pretty sure I’m the youngest in the course, but I don’t mind: I’ve learned a lot!
What’s the takeaway? If you’re concerned about digital presence and public scholarship (and in this day and age, you should be), start cultivating that presence now. Sooner is always better than later, even if it already feels like you’re behind. Expect to put in plenty of time and effort, but expect to see good results, too! Find mentors and guides who will help you out with the aspects you just can’t wrap your head around. Take classes. Be ready to admit that mostly, you have no idea what you’re doing.
And embrace that clueless enthusiasm. Sometimes, that’s just the missing ingredient.