I have an aversion to blogging about my personal life on public websites. I just don’t think I’m that interesting. And it gives me the willies to think someone I don’t like, or wouldn’t like, can spy on me. It also makes me shudder to think I may type something I’ll regret, and I won’t be able to delete it. I prefer to blog anonymously. I don’t need credit for my posts. If I were an entertainer, a performer, a celebrity, a politician, or a creator of absolutely anything that should be in the public forum, I could see the interest in having a MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter account. However, as best as I can tell, there are more “regular” people with these free blog pages than public figures, and it amazes me how many of these people appear unaware of the fact that the entire world can watch them in this fishbowl technology. I had to wonder: How many people who post using their real names wonder if anyone is spying on them? Do they wonder if they may be sounding unprofessional? Do they wonder if judgments are forming about them—and I don’t mean the good ones?
So as not to be judgmental, I researched the pros and cons of these sites. There are advantages and disadvantages, and if you have a fan club (even if it consists of a nephew and a niece, or one friend) Facebook and MySpace are a convenient and free way to keep them up-to-date on your thoughts and whereabouts. But be mindful: e-mail is much more private. On Facebook, you can allow or block readers. But on Twitter, the whole world can “follow” you. If you are a voyeur, that is the best feature of Twitter. (More on that later.)
I had never had an interest in posting to any of these public sites. This past October, I was invited to join Facebook. It was against my sensibilities, but in order to see photos from a thirtieth high school reunion I had attended, I had to open a Facebook account. It took thirty seconds to do. This was the forum used by the former classmates so they could stay in touch with each other. Facebook has a tool to create alumni groups, social groups and activist groups. It’s wonderful for networking. But mostly, it’s used by friends and families to post in-the-moment thoughts and photos. Facebook also encourages its users to play gimmicky social games that are, for me, sophomoric.
When I joined, I had no idea how popular this site was. I had heard about FB for the first time a couple of years ago. A high-school student mentioned it to me as a way she was staying in contact with her friends and acquaintances. It seemed like a fun thing for kids, and she seemed to think that high school and college kids were using it as an alternative to MySpace. Now, a couple of years later, it seems people of every age group are using it.
Within a day of joining, people from recessive corners of my life began to find me, inviting me to be their FB “friends.” Oh no! I wondered, do I have time for this? When you have a FB, MySpace, or Twitter account, if anyone googles you, they will find you quickly. If people were looking for a way to contact you, consider yourself found. Since you have to apply by using an e-mail account, all your email contacts who are also using these other blog platforms will quickly find out you too are using the same platforms. And voila—if you are popular, or if former friends had been looking for you, your e-mail inbox will be filled to the gills with messages from people from your past. If you are looking to expand your social or professional network, this can we a wonderful tool.
However, if you are trying to hide from the world, do not open a Facebook account!
There are many uses for these sites. But be forewarned: Many of the people with Twitter and Facebook accounts think that the minutia of their lives is interesting. They are basically tone-deaf to their own vapidity.
With Facebook, www.facebook.com, you have to be invited to be a “friend” in order to enter someone’s blog page and read all the posts on their page. I have accepted the invitations of everyone who has asked me to link to them, and so far, only people I know have requested this. Suddenly, with access to their homepages, I was now peering into their cyber worlds, reading their posts, and viewing their photos. I thought this could be a lot of fun. Dorian the Spy.
So I began to read posts. What surprised me the most was that for the most part, their personal comments painted a picture of rather mundane worlds, although I doubt these individuals think of their lives as mundane. I also don’t think that in reality, their lives are as mundane as they sound. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making them public…one would think. What I learned is that when given a public forum, most people aren’t very creative. What caused me to form this opinion was that I observed that those who religiously post on Facebook answer truthfully the ever-present Facebook question: What are you doing right now?
The answer to that question is what is known as your “status” update. As an example, I noticed that my acquaintance “friends” were regularly answering that question with brutally truthful answers that seemed to me so dull, perhaps only one or two people on the planet might care, and that’s being generous:
“Dreading having to go food-shopping in the freezing cold.”
“Sitting on the sofa with my feet up, watching TV, but nothing good is on.”
“Bored silly on a Saturday night.”
Coming up with an answer more scintillating than that probably requires more thought than most people are willing to entertain.
The schticks and gimmicks attached to FB are endless: delivering cyber glasses of wine to your online “friends,” throwing “snowballs,” and “poking” them. Please don’t ask me to explain this. It’s not worth your time. But the one gimmick that gave me pause was the request to post “25 Random Thoughts About Myself.” A “friend” invited me to participate. It’s a way for them to get to know you better. I declined. I can’t even think of one person who would be interested in reading 25 thoughts about myself, or 25 people who would want to read even one random thought about myself! I decided I could not bear to inflict my personal and random thoughts on cyberspace.
To be clear, I think these sites are great. Merging freedom of speech with interesting communication technology gives everyone an interesting product. However, by posting the question “What are you doing now?” these popular sites are enticing people to write the first thing that comes to mind. And from what I can tell, these knee-jerk, thoughtless comments are creating an inordinate amount of mindless cyber-clutter.
This led me to my next observation: If you are trying to impress someone—for instance, if you are looking for love, or looking for a job—if the most interesting answers to the question “what are you doing right now” are more often than not in the realm of the tedious, work-a-day drivel that clutters your mind—and you are at the same time hoping to convince someone out there in the real world that you are the best thing since sliced bread—you might want to put a bit more thought into your posts.
Additionally, it is wise to keep in mind that all of your “friends” and fans can post to your page. And if they are FB or Twitter addicts, they may post some inane things from time to time. If they sound like ninnies, don’t blame the rest of the world if they judge you by the cyber-company you keep. Trust me: There are people out there who are not willing to ignore the portrait your blog pages are painting you to be.
If I were looking for love, you can be sure I’d refrain from telling the truth about my boring Saturday night. Your other bored friends might enjoy your misery-loves-company attitude. But remember that the world is watching you in that cyber fishbowl. My status update would surely be something much more enticing to the reader I was hoping to attract: “Cooking yummy gourmet meal. Listening to Beethoven’s Waldstein. Taking dog for walk on beach. Wish I had special guy 2 share it with.”
That post was 131 characters long. Why mention it? This is important to know if you want to use Twitter. www.twitter.com. Each post on Twitter has to be no more than 140 characters in length. Can you sound interesting in fewer than 140 characters? From my observations, most people can’t. But the point of Twitter is not to sound fascinating. The point is to communicate is short sentences.
I recently read that six million people are using Twitter, which grew by 900 percent last year. The average age of a Twitterer is 31. A few news anchors I watch have been mentioning their Twitter blogs, such as Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper. I’ve chosen to ignore that until now. Most of the time, a TV anchor might ask the viewer to “go on Twitter and tell us what you think.” By the sound of it, it seemed to be something I needed to “ignore.” There is way too much stuff I don’t have time to read which I wish I did have time to read, and I decided I definitely do not have enough time to wade through Twitter babble.
However, after my recent foray into Facebook, and my refusal to participate with others very often, I decided I should take a look at Twitter to see what all the hoopla is about. As I mentioned, if you are a voyeur, it can provide hours and hours of fun. While you can find links to topics of interest, and short, personal updates written by people you may find interesting, it is also a site where you may find you are spending hours and hours poring through mini-thoughts—most of which are no more interesting than an observation of the weather at the corner of Sixth and Nowhere. For many, it is a useful tool. I certainly do not begrudge anyone a useful tool. However, one needs to be aware that if you are reading someone’s Twitter page, you might wonder why a public figure might have just posted they are stuck in rush-hour traffic. My first reaction to this was: BORING!! WHO CARES!!! Turns out, because Twitter links to Blackberry and I-Phone applications, it keeps friends, family, and colleagues up-to-date on your whereabouts. Famous people and others with important, relevant issues to discuss use their Twitter blogs for advertising, PR, sales, and comments. Yet, periodically, they post they are just getting on the red-eye, or they are stuck in traffic. Someone out there actually cares. I’m guessing the significant other cares…the rest of us are just innocent bystanders, or witless voyeurs into their fishbowl.
twitter1.jpgSome people report that Twitter is faster than email and doesn’t require an Internet connection. Therefore, millions are using it so their inner circle and network are updated when necessary. From what I can ascertain, the most beneficial use of “tweeting” is to communicate short ideas, directions, or bulletins to inform your circle what you are doing in that moment, what information they need to know, or where they need to be. Many Twitterers post a link to an article, a website, or a video that they think the reader will find interesting. A Twitter page is a running log of comments, and tweets are often non-linear conversations. Posts intended for fans or colleagues are interspersed with posts responding to specific people’s comments to you, or personal updates to family members and friends. If you are reading their page, you’ll find you may want to “ignore” a lot of it. Expect that you’ll have to wade through a lot of posts that sound so meaningless and banal, you might wonder why the Twitterer took the time to type them. If this gets too tedious, you may find you don’t enjoy Twitter. If you don’t, you are not alone. Many people hate it.
Getting onto Twitter takes a few seconds. I had no goals. I quickly set up an account and started looking around. The setup lets you know which of your e-mail contacts have Twitter accounts. These are people you can instantly put in your Twitter network, if you choose. You can also delete their names in an instant. Anyone you find on Twitter is someone you can “follow.” You don’t need permission from them. Through my small instant network of friends who were immediately linked through my e-mail contacts, I clicked on one of their names, and looked at the people they were following on Twitter. You can literally follow thousands, if not millions, of people on Twitter. Within a minute, I was reading David Gregory’s, Rachel Maddow’s, and Chris Hayes’s Twitter pages. A blog entry is called a “tweet.” (That term is a bit saccharine for my taste, but it follows the birdbrain, micro-attention-span format of the site.) Chris Hayes writes for “The Nation.” He appears on MSNBC frequently as an astute political commentator. And yet, Chris’ tweets can be rather banal blurbs about D.C. rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon. When he’s not following the ins and outs of the political scene, he’s blogging about stuff that definitely needs to be ignored. I learned quickly that Chris must have people who care about his traffic woes. I was disappointed. Chris’ Twitter page wasn’t giving me anything worth reading. David Gregory was posting the names of upcoming guests on “Meet the Press,” using his page as an advertising vehicle. Rachel Maddow was posting the names of her upcoming guests that evening, listing stories she was working on, and making some snarky comments, too.
tweeter4bird.jpgNot surprising, for many people, these sites are a place for the egocentric who wish they were famous. Some people have in fact successfully become “famous for being famous” by using these sites. All of these sites are getting more and more popular. But they have one thing in common: they allow everyone in their network to know how interesting, or ordinary, their life is.
Supporters say, “Just ignore the things you aren’t interested in.” However, you can’t know you want to ignore something until you have read it for content. In the search for interesting posts, ignoring can be very time-consuming. There is a lot of drivel out there. On Twitter, you might find yourself wading through an endless list of 140-character posts of nonsense.
On Day One of my entrée onto the Twitter site, I got a cute little pop-up message with a picture of their cute bird icon: The message read: “Twitter is over capacity. Too many tweets! Please wait a moment and try again.”
Their site went down. Too popular. And clearly their servers are beyond capacity.
The following was a comment on a blog responding to an article about Twittering. This supporter of Twitter wrote this:
“Sure, there are people whose ego overrides their good sense…Like any tool, Twitter has good uses, and LOTS of worthless ones. I follow about a hundred accounts…most of them automated news feeds. Much quicker to read through a few pages of headlines and links than to scan a hundred or so RSS feeds or hit a hundred bookmarks. I do fieldwork with a group of colleagues, and we’re all set to phone-follow each other. One twitter can broadcast a quick update to several people at once, and it’s much easier than conference calls or mass emails…and can be done from places where we don’t have any Net connection. ‘15 mins – NW corner Smith & Jones’ and we all know where and when to join up…And then there was this recent weather emergency when phone lines (and cell freqs) were overloaded…one quick tweet every hour or so, taking almost negligible bandwidth, could let a couple of dozen friends, family, and editors know that I wasn’t dead. Oddly enough, they seemed to care about that. Twitter’s just another way to keep in touch.”
Another downside to all of these sites is that like Instant Messaging, both Facebook and Twitter can be addictive, if you are prone to that. For some people, they can be so consuming, their relationships and jobs can suffer.
On the same blog on Alternet was this comment, which summed up my concerns perfectly:
twitter3.jpg“Does anybody enjoy being alone in their own space anymore? Seriously: a quiet walk in the park, a quiet book with some soft music, a dinner made for a loved one, a morning doing art, canoeing or gardening…anything that doesn’t have a constant e-portage of the minutia of other people’s moment-to-moment commentaries?
“…When is the last time people just spent time alone and enjoyed it? If you’re not enjoying being alone in your headspace for any significant period of time…are you ever doing your own thinking & personal development? Are you ever in the moment?
“Who are you if you can’t spend any time without a constant chatter from talk radio?…tv?…Twitter?…Facebook?…TXTMSG? Hell, some people can’t even walk down a hallway without jabbering on a cell phone…don’t even get me started about ‘quality time’ with a BlackBerry or iPhone junkie…
“Is our technology stealing our opportunities for experiencing the goal of Zen practitioners: being in the moments of our existence?”
Very good questions, if you ask me.
Not only is there a social issue, but there is a safety issue. Did you hear that New York City may make it illegal to type text messages and cross a street at the same time? At least one casualty per day shows up in the emergency room because someone fell off a curb or hit a lamp post while using their Blackberry because they were not watching where they were walking.
Would you read a magazine while walking through a crowded city street?
Would you read a magazine in front of your companions at a fancy dinner party?
Would you read a magazine while driving a car?
These are all activities where texting simultaneously is not obviously rude, or worse, dangerous, to a lot of folks.
Jerry Seinfeld recently did a bit on Blackberries. He won’t use one. He rightly observed that people have become exceptionally rude while using them during social gatherings. He explained that there were perhaps more interesting buttons on the Blackberry than there were on the face of the person sitting next to them. From my own experience, I have noticed some of my in-laws playing video games on their iPhones during dinner parties. How has this become socially acceptable?
For years, I have suggested that adolescent addictions to instant-messaging and texting has turned young people into people with fewer interpersonal skills. And yet supporters of these technologies insist these technologies will never replace the need for face-to-face communication. That may be true, but I have my doubts. I have observed that social groups, while face-to-face with friends and family, find whatever is happening on their Blackberries and I-Phones exceedingly more interesting than what is being said by the person in the chair next to them. How many of us have been out to dinner with someone who has constantly answered their cell phone and has spent more time on the phone than in conversation with us? Have you been with people whose gaze is constantly drifting down to their idle cell phone to see who may have sent them a text or e-mail? I surmise they fear that they are missing out on something if they aren’t checking their cell phones constantly.
With the increase in cyber networks and platforms, the number of digital communications has become so tremendous that it can be a full-time job reading them, let alone responding to them. It has become very easy to tune out from real life in favor of tuning into the world of digital communication.
If they are not waiting for an emergency call, should we not inform our friends that this behavior is rude? Or should we just “ignore” them and move on? If a dinner companion who is jilted in favor of their friend’s tweet and texts on a cell phone doesn’t find this insulting, they should. It worries me that so many are turning into Pavlov’s dogs, jumping at every ringtone, every vibrating alert, every text message.
On The Daily Show, Feb. 26, Brian Williams responded to Jon Stewart’s question on this topic. Jon asked Brian what he thought of Twitter, observing that many correspondents now use it.
Jon: “Have the news organizations now become so enamored of the technology that they really are not using it for its proper things? Congressmen are Twittering. Newscasters are Twittering. Is this a distraction? Is it worthwhile? What’s your opinion?”
Brian: “You know what? I don’t Twitter. When you Twitter, the subject line is automatically, “”What are you doing right now?”” And the answer I have to that question at any moment of the day isn’t interesting enough. It’s not interesting enough to my family and friends…my dog doesn’t wake up when I come home. So until I can answer that with a more compelling thing…it just isn’t my game.”
Jon expressed consternation that members of Congress were Twittering during Obama’s address to Congress on the evening of February 24. Brian replied, “A 200-pound chimp in an inappropriate relationship has caused them to jump on monkey legislation, and you’re expressing surprise??”
As my parents used to say, “There is a time and a place for everything.” Unfortunately, I believe our society may have lost its sights on the appropriate time and place for respectful behavior.
When I have more time to waste, or an addiction to take up, I will surf through Twitter to look for the hidden gems…the blogs of artists, musicians, scientists, writers, thinkers…the people who are compelled to share more interesting thoughts than wishing they didn’t have to go out in the cold for a quart of milk, or wishing they could find something good to watch on TV.
In case you are interested in organizing your cyber platforms, there is software that allows your various blogs to link to each other, so one status update will update all the other platforms. It’s an organization tool that can be a valuable time-saver. A friend linked me to this page, in case you need to link your blogs. mashable.com/2007/07/17/social-network-aggregators/
Source / CommonSense2