I was recently in an email conversation with the woman who designs my book covers, posters for my book tour, and helps out with the design on my website. She also happens to do a lot in marketing and PR. We were reminiscing about how in “the old days”, we could look up movies in the newspaper, had to stay in one place when we talked to someone on the phone at home (because the phone was attached to the wall), and how reading maps and giving and following directions was an art. We compared our zeal for research in the bowels of universities, finding journals and scanning microfiche for the articles that would support our theses. In this Age of Information, where technology has lodged itself so firmly in our lives, we wondered, were we better off twenty years ago?
When I’m with someone and they’re talking nonstop or texting back and forth with someone else in an effort to “find each other” at an event, I remember never having an issue locating friends and family at the lake, park, concert, or sporting event without the use of a GPS and incessant communication. Then, when we found each other, there was actual face-to-face conversation (a dying art, I believe). Now, even when different factions of the party locate each other, their faces reflect off the screens of their phones, not in the eyes of the person with whom they expended so much energy in finding!
Do I rely on technology? Without a doubt. I also strive to live without hypocrisy, staying away from “do as I say, not as I do”, or talking one way, while behaving another. Emails, when they first became the “newest” way to communicate, simplified things and made our lives move faster. We could send messages and receive answers fairly quickly, rather than waiting for a phone call back or even the USPS to put something besides a bill or advertisement in our mailbox. Emails became a way to share funny or sad or tragic or happy stories and information most of us knew nothing about, like 101 uses for Bounce dryer sheets. Many of these emails became debunked with the compilation of “truths” known as Snopes. Once the door was open to the Internet, it was immediately, and continually, flooded with information. And like all information, some is accurate, some isn’t, so distinguishing fact from opinion is still a useful skill, as is discerning what is meaningful to your purpose for logging on to the Internet to begin with.
In the past 10 or so years, websites have exploded on the Internet as “the premier way to socialize”. I don’t recollect the order in which they all came across my computer screen, I only remember the sense of overwhelm as I attempted to, at first, sit by and not engage, then to dip my toe in the rushing river of “trends, friends, tweets, groups, and circles”, to not knowing where to start or which one(s) would be worthwhile, to the place I now reside which questions the sense of it all. Once I decided to embrace the writing life, I jumped in with blogging. It’s supposed to make the blogger money, spread their influence, expand their brand recognition, give tons of great information, and offer a ready group of readers once their book was published in 18-24 months time. Then there was Facebook and Twitter, followed by Squidoo, Tumblr, and Google+. Not to be forgotten, are the visual media sites of Flickr and YouTube. I know the ones I’ve mentioned here barely scratch the surface of all that is currently available, can currently control our waking moments, altering how our brains function, and I believe, to some extent, though the purpose is to connect people, pushes us humans further away from each other.
I can read a map and know which side of the street houses and businesses reside based on the numbers. If I get lost, I can also call (on my cell phone since pay phones rarely exist any more) for verbal directions. Yes, it does amaze me how many people cannot give directions or even know “how” to get to where they work or live. They just do. I still send cards with personal notes through the mail. And when I’m at a concert, I DON’T video the whole thing! Instead, I dance, sing along, yell and cheer and clap, and reside completely in the moment. I find the memory lasts longer that way. Obviously I continue to blog, but haven’t made any money at it. I use Facebook, and have connected with people I knew from a long time ago, but have never met in person, even though we live in the same town. We share jokes or comment on each other’s status, but don’t meet for coffee or lunch or attend the same events. I gave up on Twitter before the use of the #, which will forever mean to me “pound sign” or “number sign”. I’m not advocating a return to pre-technology days, though a possible Armageddon may make that choice for us, but I am questioning whether or not all this technology and social media really does bring people together or isolates them further, keeps them from being present to their lives “now”, and takes over for skills we had all once developed (like spelling).
Because of the Internet and shared information on the social media sites, more people are aware of the plights of others in Third World countries, endangered animals, global environmental issues, and government/military concerns when it comes to human rights. I firmly feel that this expansion of world knowledge increases empathy and compassion. Short of first-hand knowledge (think: a drug counselor who battled with their own addiction understands a current addict’s struggles), seeing via video or widely reading about the conditions outside of our (disappearing) middle class American lives, can move people to act on behalf of those that cannot protect or advocate for themselves. And that is a HUGE plus on the side of social media. However, when I see adolescents unable to carry on a conversation, make friends, have no opinion about issues involving their own community, no critical thinking or problem solving abilities, and their general sense of self increasing while their empathy for others decreases, I can lay that at the feet of social media (which also affects parents and society as a whole). I think it comes down to the connections that some of us now make are more superficial. We’re exposed to more information, some of it we would do better without knowing (pornography and gruesome/horrendous acts that are so easily accessible to young people). And because of the shift in how much technology we have become accustomed to having in our lives, other skills are fading, or are lost altogether.
When it comes to writers, all artists really, and having a platform, traditional publishers continue to pursue only those authors that have a magical number of followers and friends and circles and groups. A “built-in” readership. Understandable, even knowing that not everyone who is an author’s “friend” is also a reader of their books. We’ve read time and again about authors who have hit the best seller’s lists with no platform. Many famous authors refuse to partake in social media. One of their arguments, which is my own, is, “If I spend all this time on social media, when do I create my stories?” Then there are many published authors who have created a large following because they spend the time on social media. I’m not sure if any of these readers get to see and talk with the author at events. Do we really “connect”, person to person on social media? I never proclaim to have the answers. I’m just on a quest to discover what works for me and how to nurture true connections with people, develop new friendships, and continue to have my compassion and empathy be a partner in how I conduct myself in social situations, i.e., out in public with others face-to-face.
Where do you stand on social media? Has it added to, or subtracted from, how you interact with others? Leave a comment! You can read my other blogs (my use of technology) here or from my website, which also contains links to my Facebook posts and my old and outdated Twitter tweets: www.myjoyenterprises.com