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Posts Tagged ‘social networking’

Although I have friinternet-addictedends in the town where I live, I spend more of my free time online, socializing with people, many of whom I haven’t met in person. This is the new normal, where we can morph into hunky superheroes or meet and “marry” our soul mate and start a Second Life that’s much more interesting than the first one. It’s possible to spend too much time online,but most of us know when to sit back and look up…most of us.

“I need to get out more”

Thanks to social networking, the word “friend” has acquired a new fluidity. What is a friend anyway? Someone whose interests you share? With whom you can swap stories or exchange confidences? Someone who’ll lend you money,  take you to the airport, water your plants or show up at your funeral? At some point, the only people we can count on for those sorts of things are either family or people we pay, and the latter group is often more reliable.

Online friendship is relatively easy: I like you; your sensibility or sensitivity or sense of humor; you seem like “good” people;  we have friends in common—boom! You’re my friend. Many social networking circle-of-people sites don’t even require that you be acquainted with someone you embrace as a comrade. I have “friended” the comedian Lewis Black and the journalist Charles Blow. Of course, that the creepy guy who used to follow me home in high school can ask to “friend” me, but I can always virtually run in the other direction via the “ignore” button.

Just as I get used to this loosey-goosey, all-inclusive buddy system, along comes Google+ to throw all my choices into question.

google-plus-logoGoogle + is a new social networking site who some people think (and others hope) will knock Facebook back on its heels. Thanks to a few tech-forward friends, I’ve been invited to poke around on the site.  There are many cool-looking features I’ve yet to try, but Google’s big selling point is that it solves the “too much information seen by too many people” problem by creating a classification system. This theoretically allows you to organize your networking by organizing your network; sorting out friends from family (some of whom might or might not be considered friends, but never your mother or your crazy brother) and from acquaintances, people you don’t really know except through someone else. Then there are people you’re “following” (a nod to Twitter): people you only wish you had as friends who in truth don’t know you from Adam. You can customize your circles:  you might have a professional circle (very LinkedIn), or a common interests circle ( like a bunch of, say, writers).

Circles are supposed to be good. They represent strength, unity, connection, community; commonality, unbroken and everlasting. Yet the very act of separating everyone out is giving  me agita.

240px-Bartolomeo_Di_Fruosino_-_Inferno,_from_the_Divine_Comedy_by_Dante_(Folio_1v)_-_WGA01339

I get that someone might want to share professional or technical  information only with people she thinks might be interested. But as far as privacy is concerned, let’s not fool ourselves: if it’s on the ‘Net, it’s absolutely, irretrievably public. Maybe not instantly but eventually. Forget circles or squares or compartments or e-mails marked “private” or password-protected sites. If there’s anything you don’t want anyone to know—ever—your best course of action is not to type it out—ever.

“Hell really is other people.”

The truth is, I don’t want Google or anyone else to help me sort out my relationships. I feel I’ve earned the right to be vague or uncertain. At the same time, my maturity doesn’t protect me from re-experiencing those painful high school-era feelings about belonging. It’s bad enough to invite someone to “friend” you and get ignored. On Google+, you can add someone to your friends’ circle and learn they’ve tagged you as a mere acquaintance or worse:  they haven’t included you in any of their circles. That’s harsh. And must I be denied the thrill of claiming Lewis Black as one of my peeps?

friends Maybe I’m just not seeing the big picture; Google+, please,  help me out.  Why can’t we all be just friends? Even if we’re not in real life.

 

 

images:
healthadal
parenting support circles
Google
Bartolomeo Di Fruosino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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One of the biggest challenges any writer has is to balance between putting too little or too much of himself into his work. Too much, and the writer’s voice threatens to overwhelm the material. Too little and the narrative takes on a detached quality, which is often less interesting to the reader. Many wrleg2iters I know tend to over-invest; I’ve got the opposite problem: how to be sufficiently objective without creating an unbreachable distance between me and my work. I finally get it; I’ve got to show a little leg.

The big reveal has its place, especially in a memoir and more power to the brave people deliberately choosing to let us in. But when it comes to everyday online information, I subscribe to the theory that less is more. I’ve made peace with the account information my various financial institutions require, although I’m trying to get more creative with my passwords but I prefer remaining circumspect about the minutia of my daily life. Who cares what and where I’m eating, drinking, reading, or fornicating?

My friveilends do, at least if I’m a technologically savvy under-thirty-something. Today’s hipster uses not only text and Twitter but also Foursquare, Skimble, Blippy, and Doppir  to let friends, acquaintances and, inevitably the world at large know where they’re hanging, how many crunches they’re doing, what they’re buying, and where they’re traveling. Since the companies behind these nifty communication aids seem to be raking in the bucks, apparently no one is worried about putting their itineraries out there, although one funny Dutchman suggested they might want to think twice about over-sharing with a website called Please Rob Me.

For the ultimate in over-sharing, social networking sites currently rule, although You-tube seems to appeal equally to the flasher2 exhibitionist and the voyeur. Each of these sites requires a combination of tact, fortitude and a firm grasp of social boundaries. I have a close friend who uses an online addiction site for support; he says the stories he sees on Facebook rival anything he’s encountered in his anonymous support group. For the record, I enjoy Facebook; I use it like I might a meeting of casual acquaintances at a coffee shop to exchange pleasantries and information and yes, to connect. But just as I don’t mistake my friends for therapists, I don’t conflate social networks with the confessional…or the bedroom.

If it’s hard for adults to know where the line is and when to draw it, it’s nearly impossible for teenagers. News stories abound about online bullies and their vulnerable and often socially awkward classmates. The group Common Sense Media is offering in-school seminars to grade schoolers on how the web really works: how information gets shared, stored, hacked and breached. Even the youngsters who realize their most private communications could potentially be seen by a wider audience (and you’d be surprised how few of them really get it) can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their online moves might come back to haunt them.Teens and tweens tend to revel in their invincibility or rebel against the idea of a grown-up version of themselves feeling mortified at youthful indiscretions.  chagrined

All this may seem obvious upon reflection but most of us, when posting, commenting, texting or chatting, don’t reflect: we react. I have great respect for the written word but emails, posts, texts, tweets and such don’t represent conversation. They’re monologues masquerading as dialogue, great for casual connections and providing duck and cover on occasion but lousy for building, maintaining, sustaining or even ending a relationship

How much is too much? It’s a decision we make each time we share anything with anyone.With the wisdom of hindsight MMand the benefit of many mistakes in the early years of email, I might suggest a form of rationing as opposed to regurgitating. Reveal something (you are trying to connect, after all) but pay attention. A little goes a long way, trust me.  

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Can empathy be taught? I asked myself this question when I read about a new program instituted in certain suburban high schools to combat bullying and harassment among young people, both of which are apparently on the rise. Instead of merely being shunned by the mean girls or humiliated by the bad boys – bad enough when you’re in puberty – you can have your mind messed with, your reputation utterly ruined and your family stalked and also humiliated via text, Twitter and on any number of social networking sites.  There have been reactions that have made the news (high school shooters and MySpace suicides) and many more that haven’t.

We accept that some people are more empathetic than others, that women are generally (although not always) more empathetic than men, that the whole concept of relating to one’s fellow person simply comes more easily to some than to others. Michelle Obama is scoring high points for being so genuinely interested in the people she meets. Her husband’s empathy quotient is harder to read even by those who support his agenda but he is connecting on some level. Dogs are supposed to be highly empathetic creatures although they are also into their version of self-preservation. I adore my dog but I’m not sure she cares whether I’m having a bad day if she wants to be fed right at that moment.

When I first heard Bill Clinton exclaim: “I feel your pain” I was a little taken aback. What pain was he able to feel, I wondered. The shock of a young man diagnosed with a fast-acting terminal disease? The anxiety of a family on a downward economic slide? The fear of woman on the run for her life in the middle of the latest ethnic warfare? What kind of pain were we talking about here?

I sense what Clinton was saying: I can empathize. Whether and how this affected his style of governance is something I’ll set aside for now. But he somehow engaged in the task of putting himself in someone else’s shoes of trying to sense how they might feel.

Of course he couldn’t have literally known what it might be like to fully experience living someone else’s life unless he were living it. We can’t know what its like to be living in Gaza or in a refugee camp in Darfur or even as a high-schooler with a lisp or a limp or an odd way of relating to people unless we’re in the moment. Even then, people react differently depending on their emotional makeup. We’re all unique that way, which makes this whole business of relating somehow trickier.  I can’t tell you how many people said after my husband was killed on 9/11, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” Some of my angrier friends who had lost loved ones used to retort, “No, you can’t.” I’d only say, “You don’t have to.”

The fact is: you don’t have to imagine the specifics of a horrible or difficult situation or the origins of the anger, fear another person is experiencing because, frankly, what purpose would it serve? Instead, you might recognize the sorts of feelings and impulses a person in such a situation might have; somewhere along the line, we’ve all had similar feelings. You base or adjust your actions and words to take those feelings into consideration, so that you do no harm. There’s compassion involved and also a willful putting aside of your own interests and desires, even if you can never truly understand what it might be like to feel like an outcast or feel threatened or feel terror. Then there’s the whole idea that you might be able to modify your behavior in a more sympathetic manner. It seems like a lot of work, more like empathy isn’t “just” a feeling but also a way of thinking. Which means, yeah, it could be taught and we’re all probably due for a refresher course.

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Yes, I have a Facebook page. Call it cultural anthropology but it’s an interesting place to hang out, swinging as it does between highbrow (a group supporting books in print) and lowbrow (a campaign to dump your friends for a free burger at Burger King). After a fast start in a  college dorm it’s a world-wide phenomena available to both the young and the young at heart, which is to say we baby-boomers who just have to get in on everything. I’ve connected with a number of writer friends I like and admire, I located a college roommate and an old boyfriend, and I can finally get a clue as to what my nieces and nephews are up to. Lately, more of my friends are joining, especially those with teenagers. I’m kind of a slacker when it comes to posting, linking, poking, tagging, reminding and joining. And why do my friends all seem to have many more friends than I do? Makes me feel like I’m not getting out enough, cyberspace-wise.

I like to try and come up with clever posts under the “what are you doing right now” section although I tend to fall short. My friend Steve Clemons, who writes a well-regarded Washington political blog, is always dropping impressive tidbits like “[Steve is] having lunch with the Saudi foreign minister” or “…talking about a new approach to Mid-East policy with Rachael Maddow on MSNBC tonight.” Steve has more than 3,000 friends. Most of the posts tend towards “[Joe is] feeling better about work” or “[Jane is] wondering if winter will ever end.” I have six or eight pictures posted but nothing I worry about strangers viewing. When Facebook altered its Terms of Service TOS) agreement, appearing to retain ownership of user information even if the user quit Facebook, the outcry was fierce. The company has temporarily reverted to the old TOS language while it seeks to clarify its intentions (i.e.,w e would NEVER sell your information). Whatever. I’m kind of surprised at people’s expectation of confidentiality when it comes to the Web. I figure all bets are off when you log on. Security is one thing; I support and encourage any and all protections possible when it comes to online commerce or anything relating to children. But the rest of us must know that the information, the images, specifics about who you are and yes, where you live, the asinine thing you wrote to a co-worker or the tasteless joke you sent around – it’s all out there and sooner or later, someone will get to it.

Of course people are free to reveal as much as they like when they like, which is why we’ve progressed from IMs to texting to Twitter, which allows  you to let your friends know exactly what you’re doing at any given moment. Apparently, celebrities, not to mention some politicians and media personalities are all a-twitter over the thought they can fill their fans in on their most minute, not to mention mundane activities. I don’t have a twittering device, at least not yet. I can’t get my head around the idea that I might one day receive a Tweet from someone I like and admire that says: “Had xistential thot b4 heading to men’s rm. It passed.”

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