Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Global Village is here

I love the social network sites, truly I do. I have met some truly incredible people there, ones that I had no hope of meeting in "real" life. Some are passing acquaintances, others are becoming fast friends. Between blogs, MySpace, Facebook, forums, and now Twitter, the opportunities are amazing. I've conversed with CEO's, assistant district attorneys, renowned intellectuals, journalists, experts in various fields and all kinds of wonderful "ordinary" folk. Am I going to give this up? No way!

I can also keep track of people I already know so much easier. How else could I watch my niece growing up from 3000 miles away, give or take a few hundred? Or read the out-of-town newsclippings about my various offspring?

But there's a downside to all this connectedness. You've probably all heard about the fellow on Twitter who lost his job before he even started. Or the fact that human resource personnel will often check out your Facebook profiles before even making the offer. On a more personal level, I suspect my kids had mixed feelings when they got my friend requests on Facebook and I was more than a little bemused to find my own mother had got there before me. Not that I mind. But there's no way I can tell her I was busy with X, Y, and Z if she can see my status updates there, now can I? (Just FYI, I don't lie to my mother... She reads my blog too.)


My isolated semi-suburban existence is taking on some of the quality of village life. The support is there: I can launch a prayer request and have friends and churches from Georgia to Australia praying for me. One of my online friends had his house burn down and with a couple of days his cyberfriends organized a blog accepting donations for the rebuilding. So many of us rallied to his cause that it attracted newspaper interest.

On Jessica Faust's blog, it is becoming rather evident that a lot of aspiring authors are having a hard time squaring literary agents' claims that they are too swamped with work to respond promptly with the fact that some of them spend a lot of time posting their thoughts on Twitter. They like even less what some of those thoughts have been. That was yet another cyberstorm that made its way into the mainstream media. For the record, I think a lot of those complaints are unreasonable, but not all of them. In any event, agents are also discovering that they have to weigh carefully how they express themselves online. Online communities are displaying that other characteristic of village life - you can't set a foot outside without all the neighbours knowing.

I myself am becoming a little more circumspect. I had a rather strange thing happen to me recently which I can't tell you about. I'm becoming all too aware of who might be watching. No, it wasn't anything bad or creepy or shameful, just yet another thing to make me realize my voice could carry further than I think.

So now I'm curious. As this realization sinks in, will we see a withdrawal from the social media? Will people prefer to abandon them for the sake of greater privacy? Or will we learn to live with greater transparency, too smitten with the advantages of connectedness to give it all up? Will we become like the inhabitants of real villages, constantly aware of the eyes on our back, reflexively close-mouthed, yet often comforted by that constant presence?

Are your habits changing?


Janna Qualman said...

Shoot, I see this spammer got you, too. Pfft!

You bring up a lot of valid points, and it makes me want to be less "out there" than I'm already trying to be. I especially need to think about whether or not the way I present myself ever exceeds professionalism.

Janna Qualman said...

Well now I've got myself really thinking, because they ARE social sites. I think we (those who try to make it on some level, like writers) just have to find the medium between personal and professional. Right?

spyscribbler said...

It's got me thinking, too. I miss the days when everyone was anonymous. You could be truer, more honest, and create deeper friendships. I like that my pseudonym is private, and that I can talk about writing freely. I don't know. I often wish I could take back every linking my name with spyscribbler.

Ed said...

I've tended to avoid the typical social networking sites, and only recently returned to blogging after a long hiatus.

I read The Guardian link, and I think it all comes down to tone on the agent's part. If they're going to quote from silly queries they've received, it should be in a context of a "don't do this" instructional piece, rather than a "hey, pity me for what I have to deal with and let's laugh at the bozo that sent it" piece. The first is worthy of a professional, the second is not.

Janet said...

OK, spam removed. I guess I'll have to reactivate word verification. I don't know what these guys hope to accomplish with that gibberish.

I originally set up my Facebook profile only for people I knew in real life. As soon as I get a publishing contract, I plan on setting up a writer's profile there and probably asking most of my "virtual" friends to transfer over. It's OK to mix a certain amount of personal in with the professional, even beneficial I think, but it would be nice to have at least one profile where I can more or less let my hair down. Even here, I keep personal information relatively limited. There has to be some kind of privacy curtain between me and the rest of the world.

I think once the novelty of being able to put ourselves out there wears off a bit, and as the stories of the people who got burned get more widely known, people will pull back somewhat. Even some of my kids (of the adult variety) have been quite restrained in what they post. I sometimes wish they were more restrained.

So yes, we'll be finding the balance, and each of us will probably find a different comfort point. I'm just interested in where the mass of those comfort points will settle. Will the social media evolve into a collection of classified ads as we decide to keep more personal info off? Will the behemoths like Facebook and MySpace fossilize while the real interaction goes on in a myriad of smaller, more specialized groups? It will be interesting to watch.

Janet said...

spy, I can sympathize. I wonder how many people are going to pull the plugs on their various profiles and start over more selectively. Or not at all.

Ed, I think the agents initially intended it to be an educational thing, but some people feel it degenerated into sneering. Maybe it is better to do that kind of educating in a blog context, where you have time to ponder what to include and how to phrase it, rather than the instantaneous reactions of Twitter.

kimmirich said...

Morning. Great subject. I think we are giving away far too much, and much ado about nothing. And I strongly feel that facebook and tweet, text etc is breaking down the intimate of communication. ... eroding our capacity for communication. i.e. Face to Face, or phone, so we can tap into real emotions. I love my blog, but refuse the facebook and tweet, but even more so, I love hearing voice, human emotion. Nothing better.

Janet said...

Kimmi, I know people in their 20s who feel much the same as you. I wonder if that attitude will become generalized. Or if I will become the new norm: loving these media for their opportunities (I mean, how else would I end up having an exchange with a Hollywood scriptwriter on the intersection of faith and entertainment?) but circumspect in what personal information I give out. Or whether there won't be a new norm at all, with a great diversity in attitudes and behaviour. I don't pretend to be able to predict it.

You bring up another interesting point: does involvement in the online social scene actually decrease our ability to maintain face-to-face relationships? There are some signs that it does. But that's a post for another day.

ORION said...

I was anonymous until I got my agent and sold my book. I used to be only ORION. Now I have an advantage as most people do not know my REAL name (I have a hyphenated last name) but everything I say is attributed to me as an author - This means I really couldn't go off on dub ya and I cant spout off and rant as I might like to - this could be good-
I am tempted at times to blog about an annoying email from an anti-fan but then I have to stop and censure myself. Does it make me more polilte? I dunno.That being said I am making connections on facebook, blogger and the internet that I really value. I have resisted twitter as I really have to finish my next book...

Janet said...

Pat, my current plan is to publish under my maiden name. I do like that extra privacy screen that it would give me, for sure.

In an earlier iteration of our lives, hubby was the pastor of a pioneer church in Quebec, where politics and language can be very touchy issues. We learned to keep our lips sealed. We didn't want anybody blaming God for our political views and we knew that if we expressed them, too many people would associate them with our religious beliefs, which we really didn't want. So I can really understand what you're saying. Sometimes you want to be able to compartimentalize things, which will be much harder in the future. In our last election, there were several candidates who had to withdraw because things they had said online years ago came back to haunt them.

Alexander Field said...

It seems as if those who wish to remain anonymous and preserve some sense of privacy, will do that in this age of social media (they seem to do it already)...however, i think the social media is here to stay. It seems that everyone from senators and presidential candidates to celebrities have adopted things like I don't think its going away..for better or worse...but your point is well taken - be careful what you post!

Melanie Avila said...

I had a spammer too. Bad spammer.

I'm fairly new to the whole online community (summer of '07) so I didn't know what it was like when people were anonymous. I've always used my real name and so have always taken the same precautions. I don't tell people specifically where I live, I don't say things that I wouldn't want a potential employer seeing, and I don't post drunken pictures. Seems simple enough. :)

I actually had a friend tag a picture of me where I was drinking, and he had the nerve to be offended that I removed the tag. I believe his words were, "What, are you running for office or something?" Because a normal person can't desire a little respect... I let him have it and he apologized. :)

Janet said...

Alex, I think you're right, but they could evolve into shapes we don't see clearly yet. The three biggest - Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter - are all changing. Ironically, they all seem to be trying to become each other... At least Twitter remains app-free.

Melanie, for a rather chilling example of why you should be careful of what you post, search for Nazis in this blog. You never know who is listening.

It bemuses me that kids speak of Facebook "creepers", as in somebody who actually turns up to read your page outside of the audience they intended. I asked my niece how her soccer game went yesterday. She asked how I knew. "You posted it on Facebook." "Are you creeping me?" Um, you accepted me as a friend, remember? This strange idea that I'm violating privacy by reading what is publicly posted is pretty common among teenagers. So much for the younger generation being Web-savvy.

Melanie Avila said...

Janet, I sometimes leave comments with my niece about stuff her friends post (like lacrosse games). I try not to be intrusive, I'll just say I liked the picture or whatever, but I hope it reminds her that other people can see what they post. She's good, so far. :)

And besides, it gets posted on my wall!

Janet said...

It's quite the task sometimes, getting kids to understand that they are not entitled to privacy with the things they post online. That's like getting changed in public and getting annoyed when people don't look away. And yes, better they learn from innocuous comments from their aunt. ;o)


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