Friday, November 12, 2010

Social Media - Good, Bad or Indifferent?

A reporter interviewed me recently for a story she's writing on social media. Given the subject, the interview was given electronically. I thought I'd share my thoughts with you, too. What do YOU think? I'm sure she'd love to hear from you.

Alrighty. You asked for it. I'm pretty wordy. Grab a cup o' tea...

I got into blogging accidentally. For one of my high school class reunions, the only way to get information was to be a member of the blogging site. Then I published a book, and since the blog was in place, I decided I'd try to use it for a bit of free marketing. I didn't actually find it very useful quite possibly because I didn't make the most use of it. The blog then evolved into a multi-purpose tool: providing book information; providing local adventure information; keeping our friends, family and followers updated on our multiple travels; and answering questions about homeschool. (I had answered the same questions over and over again via e-mail queries, so opted to post my answers once online, then provide links to those answers when I received the same question, yet again, from new homeschoolers - saved me LOADS of time!)

But why do I bother to blog? I'm an obsessive writer. I've tried to quit, but then find myself writing in margins, in journals, on random sheets of paper. My mind is always going, and I'm a talkative sort, so blogging gives me somewhere to share my thoughts with anyone who cares to listen. I have experiences that may help others (travel and homeschooling, among others). And if no one cares to listen, I suppose that's OK, too, though I think every writer likes to think her words and works are of values to others.

Social media is a strange beast. I think it can create a false sense of friendship, but I suppose no more so than the old method of snailmail pen pals. It's so easy to quickly associate and just as quickly disassociate from strangers and acquaintances. With a click of a button, we've made a friend or lost one. On the other hand it has also provided a tool for linking people with shared interests who may otherwise never have met each other. I've found long lost friends, even long lost relatives, and made new friends around the world - friends who I WILL meet during their travels or ours. I think the time suck of social media is very distracting and counterproductive (bad), but the ability to interact with humans is fantastic.

I edit myself HEAVILY when I write certain entries on my blog. I also choose NOT to blog about certain issues, particularly very personal family issues or health issues for the large part. But it’s AMAZING what people DO share online. We’ve all read entertaining, perhaps offensive, blog entries. When I read them, I first am astonished, perhaps entertained, but I always wonder what their family and close friends think about their work. Then I remind myself that their family and friends probably understand because these are probably issues the blogger is just as willing to talk about in real life with whomever will listen. Bloggers who do so anonymously may have no sense of propriety, or maybe they just need an outlet, or maybe they’re just obsessive writers like I am.

I think social media has degraded human interaction. There’s a lot to be said for the body language that goes with verbal language. We’ve all experienced it: an e-mail or text misunderstood because quick bursts of text on a page or phone doesn’t convey all the nuances personal interaction can. Even talking on the phone is not as effective as talking in person. I also think people have misguided values when it comes to social media. What exactly is a friend? Is it a clicking competition on a website, or is it a person who will be there for you when times get tough in real life? In times of need, I don’t need a click, I need a hug, a hand, a tow, a jump start, a real, live person.

Why do we spend so much time connecting online? The glowing tube is, oh, so attractive. Think about the television – it provides information and entertainment while we sit idly by. But online entertainment is much more interactive, therefore, for many of us, even more compelling. We’re part of the story, part of the game, we’re learning and if nothing else, our brains are suckers for novelty. Plus, there are rewards of sorts to our online adventures, like notes from true friends, answers to questions, discovering old friends, bits of information we find compelling. And once connected, we’re not all that different from the rats in a test maze. The maze itself is interesting, but around SOME corners there are rewards. We keep running hoping to find that rewarding corner. It’s out there. And each time we get our little treat, we carry on. We’re addicts of an electronic sort.

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