The pains and pleasures of tweeting science and technology innovation, 140 characters at a time.
Five days, 539 words and 3,447 characters later, the Twitter experiment is over. Did I succeed in communicating on emerging science and technology in 700 characters a day? I’m not sure. The whole exercise was harder than I expected. Trying to come up with something interesting and relevant five times a day was a challenge. Thursday was a particularly tough day—and the entries show it!
But at the end of the exercise, I must admit it was fun. And even though tweeting will never supplant full-on blogging for communicating stuff in depth, it clearly has a place.
I’m not sure I would do a five-day stint like this again, but the medium is clearly open to innovative use. And with some thought, could be used to convey more complex information than trivial thoughts and web links. Personally, I think my writing-style took a dive with the constraints imposed by the character-limit and serial-posts. But I was surprised at how much could be crammed into 140 characters, with some thought. And while the experiment had many flaws, I think there is scope to use Twitter and similar formats in ways that lead to engagement on issues with some depth.
As a result of the “experiment,” I will be playing around more with my “tweets” over the coming weeks. You may have noticed the new “microblog” on the sidebar to 2020science, that will allow my progress to be monitored closely!
At the end of the day though, the real test is whether you, the readers, are convinced that science and technology can be conveyed in bite-sized chunks.
If you missed all the excitement, you can re-live it at the end of this email—all 25 tweets neatly laid out and ready to be mercilessly dissected! Did I embarrass myself? Did I miss the point of tweeting entirely, Was this an exercise destined to failure. Or was there a hint that Twitter—and other microblogs—can be used in innovative ways to convey information? Comments please!
In the meantime, some reflections of my own:
What I liked:
- The discipline and challenge of conveying useful information in a few brief characters.
- Watching my thoughts and ideas develop on the fly.
- The immediacy of the medium.
- The possibility of plugging into and engaging with people in a wide social network.
What I didn’t like:
- Not being able to add links to posts (this was a self-imposed restriction, that I broke once, but links just suck up too many of the precious 140 characters—even small ones).
- Not being able to scrub the whole chain of tweets and start again.
- Running out of characters when I couldn’t quite fit an idea into the space.
- Having to continue feeding the beast when all hell was breaking loose elsewhere… (another self-imposed rule).
- Having to decide between maintaining a flow of ideas over several tweets, and replying to other tweeters—which would have disrupted the flow.
The tweets in full:
Why invest in science and technology? “Innovation” you are supposed to reply. But is scitech innovation all it’s cracked up to be?
Scitech innovation is clearly crucial to tackling issues that conventional tech falls short on – climate, energy, healthcare, clean water
And I’m pretty sure scitech innovation is a critical economic driver – new knowledge and know-how can add tremendous value to raw materials
OK so scitech innovation is important – just thought I would get that out of the way up-front. Next question – how do you get it right?
Answer: Keep the scitech pipeline flowing, enable tech transfer, and ensure “safe” use – sounds like something for the new stimulus package!
And the important scitec? Making stuff at the nanoscale (bio and non-bio), info gen/flow/use, and mashing it all up together (convergence)
Nanotech: making stuff that does stuff at the nanoscale; is already extending the reach of conventional tech. And you aint seen nothing yet
Small changes at the nanoscale can have profound impacts – think computers, data storage, super-strong lightweight materials, targeted drugs
Question is, how do we ensure we get the biggest bang for the buck from nanotechnology – without creating more problems than we solve?
Three steps which I suspect are key to realizing nanotech’s potential: relevant research, effective tech transfer, and responsive oversight.
Hot off the press: according to the National Academies the feds are still struggling with getting safe nano right: http://tinyurl.com/5mnxk9
But that’s an aside, because today I wanted to focus on playing with biology at the nanoscale, and specifically on synthetic biology.
Drew Endy: “Biology is nanotechnology that works.” If we can engineer bio like we do non-bio, is this a shortcut to some advanced nanotech?
Imagine being able to program living things through their DNA to do specific things – generate energy, synthesize fuels, construct materials
That’s where we are heading with synbio – a powerful mix of engineering and biology. Transformative stuff, but ethically complex I suspect!
Strip away the soft squidgy stuff and synbio is all about manipulating, transmitting and utilizing information; information tech writ small
Information provides meaning to things. Which means that innovation in info generation, interpretation, use etc commands a high premium.
Information storage – could you live without your computer, TiVo, iPod, iPhone, digital camera, on-line repository of digital bric-a-brac?
Information use – humans and machines are becoming nodes in a rapidly evolving and growing global “digital brain” – and innovation is rife!
Information technology is an incredible powerhouse of innovation that is evolving at breakneck speed; adding value, while challenging norms.
Separately, info nano and biotech have tremendous potential. But when they interact and overlap, innovation explodes. This is convergence.
Innovation most readily flourishes at the interface between disciplines/technologies/ideas – you know that. This is where the sparks fly.
But innovation at scitech interfaces isn’t easy. The sparks of new ideas are delicate, and easily doused by old ways of thinking and working
On the other hand, when convergent innovation gets going, it can burn like wildfire (internet, ICE?). Then the name of the game is control.
So back to the original Q’s: why invest in scitech, and what is needed for success? In 32 characters: Necessity, imagination & wisdom. OK?