Category Archives: social media

Social Media as Magic Mirror

mirrormirrorI’ve been thinking so much about the whole social media universe lately. My thoughts are not all sweetness and light. In fact, I’m feeling pretty dark about social media these days. I think it is due for a shakeup!

Here is an example. Have you visited Wattpad.com? I just heard about it a couple weeks ago and decided to check it out. Wattpad is a platform that allows you to post your book or short story or other pieces of writing (read: fan fiction) from your profile. You can follow other writers. You can collect a library. You can create a reading list. It’s pretty cool. It’s also pretty young. In fact, Wattpad.com seems to be a huge collective of many, many young (ages 14-22 I’m guessing) writers, kids who are used to a dynamic of “following” and “following back” that is akin to a smile–something polite and nice to do to make the other person and yourself feel good, but not an actual indication that he or she is actually going to read your work.

Because, how many writers(bloggers/Tweeters/Instagramers/Pinners, etc.) can one person actually read/follow/interact with? Certainly not 700…or even 350 or 200!

I think it is the same with all social media, including Facebook and Instagram and the like. People may “like” you or “follow” you, but it MAY be only a feel-good,reciprocal thing with no real intention of visiting again, or a politeness thing, or maybe even a way of trying to entice you to visit their account in hopes they get one more tick on the counter. Or, less cynically, maybe they stumbled onto your account and liked what they saw enough to give you a “like” or a “follow,” but your posts then become so lost in the avalanche of notifications piling onto the erstwhile follower’s in-box or notification tab that he/she never stumbles back onto your page again.

In this way, your follower number on your social media account(s) becomes nothing more than a meaningless numeral, or at best a tally of notches on your belt. Certainly it is not an indicator of real readership.

I’m told (by young people) that this doesn’t bother them at all. This meaningless number is fine in a world of people who are interested only in self-expression. For them, social media is a magic mirror. The larger the number, the bigger the mirror, but it is still reflecting back only one image. The Self.

I post, therefore I am?

But what about actual communication/community? What about the real spread of ideas?

I’m wondering if the only way this will be sustainable will be people coming together (the way planets formed after the big bang) to create their own worlds within worlds, so to speak. Social circles. We’ve seen the big bang, the social media explosion. It has happened.

Perhaps now people will combine naturally into their smaller social media circles–communicating with each other, reading each other’s posts, commenting, adding to collective knowledge so that an individual piece becomes more of a springboard or topic sentence for the larger “work.” A collective piece of art. If this is how things end up, a blogger with 10,000 followers could not be considered more successful than one with 1000. In fact the one with 100 might be considered MORE successful, especially if those 100 actually read and comment on the work and vice versa. In fact, 100 might be too many.

How many blog posts do YOU read in one day? How many do you comment on? And do you read the comments of other followers?

I predict there will be a weeding out frenzy soon as we come to realize we are all just hanging our posts/work on a wall and gazing into the mirror 99% of the time. Or maybe I’m just getting too cynical.

And to that end, I’m going to do some housekeeping. It is time to officially pare down my “following” and “friends” and “likes” lists. If I’m not really and truly interested in investing my time in a social media site, I’m going to delete it. Please do the same here. I won’t take it personally. In fact, I’ll applaud you.

And to my real, constant readers out there…thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to read and respond in the little time you have in your day for such activities.

Get Bent, Ayn Rand, or How Sharknado Saved My Sanity

Note from Localista: The best part of social media, including blogging, is for me the exchange of ideas. Here is a counterpoint to my ATLAS SHRUGGED blog post. Kirstie is a funny and astute writer. Enjoy!

Copy-cat Highlighting on Kindle

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

Dear Reader:

Just going to write a quick post about a certain human behavior I found myself noticing while reading books and articles on a Kindle. You know how you are skimming along on your electronic device, your mind filling with images and ideas, caught up in a story-line or argument, and all of a sudden there is a dotted, lighter-gray line underscoring a particular sentence or paragraph?

Well, this line indicates a “highlight.” Not YOUR highlight. Someone else’s highlight. And all the copy-cats who followed suit. Somehow Kindle keeps track of these highlights and reports directly to each reader a helpful note telling her just how many fellow-readers have highlighted that particular sentence, phrase, or paragraph.

Now here’s my question: Why do so many people end up highlighting the very same phrases? Is it because these thoughts are so obviously important that everyone decides, on their own initiative, to highlight them? Or do many people highlight a passage simply because OTHER people have already highlighted it? I suspect the latter answer falls closer to the truth, and it is just another weird indication of the sheeple-like behavior of most humans.

Memes–an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person through a culture–have always been an aspect of being human. We used to spread ideas via storytelling and then via letters and books and magazines and newspapers. Even as we moved to the written story versus the oral, we were still able to experience the story in our own private heads, think our own private thoughts, and draw our own private conclusions about what we thought was important. Maybe we’d talk about what we read. Maybe we’d jot a private note in the margin. Maybe we’d share that book with a friend who happened upon those margin notes. But did that person underline your underline in his own pen and then pass it along to yet another friend who underlined it in her pen and so forth? Um, no.

What we are talking about here goes so far beyond your college roommate’s yellow highlighter in last semester’s American Literature textbook that you bought from her because you’d like not to spend $500 on something that will be obsolete by spring semester the following year. Now that we have technologies that allow us to share everything with everyone electronically, so that even the once-private reading experience has become hive-like, herd-like, the question arises once again. Are we people, or are we sheeple?

This morning, for example, I began reading short story by Jennifer Weiner entitled Swim. It’s a good short story, well-crafted, interesting characters, great internal conflict. I’m reading along, minding my own mind when, POW! A phrase with 68 (not much compared to some books I’ve read, but I’ll get to that) highlights. This must be a rip-roaring great sentence, I thought.

So I read it.

“…making my heart beat like a little girl who’s gotten just what she wanted for her birthday.”

I blinked. Really? Sixty-eight people thought that phrase was highlight-worthy on their own initiative? I growled at my Kindle and startled the dog. “No stinkin’ way!”

Here’s what I think happened. One person highlighted it, someone else saw someone highlighted it and so highlighted it as well, and then a third followed, then a fourth, and then twenty. I actually found myself compelled to drag my finger across the words and click “highlight” in the pop-up box myself, as if some weird internal synoptic hard-wiring connected a vestigial sheeple-lobe in my brain to my right index finger with nary a stop in the actual thought-processing centers in the frontal lobes.

And then I DID highlight it, just to see if the number of highlighters changed from 68 to 69. It has now. Experiment complete. Let’s see if I can un-highlight it. Yup. Just drag finger and hit delete. Voila!

Have I highlighted other books and articles I’ve read in Kindle? Yes, particularly for non-fiction stuff I want to go back and read again or wish to quote. These are my own highlights, though, irrespective of whether or not anyone else got a tingle of “aha!” while reading the passage. Do I hope other people see my highlights and chose to highlight it, too? Should I go back and look and see what kind of influence I’ve made in the world with my fancy-smancy highlighting skills? Shudder. That the thought even occurred to me sets off warning lights and danger sirens.

This is all beginning to feel a little bit too much like Facebook and how some people actually analyze how many “likes” their friends get on posted photos and shares–as if that is some indication of that person’s popularity or likeableness or something. Not to mention Klout–social media that calculates your influence on the social-media culture. I signed up for that for about a week, just to see what it was all about. Then I got outa’ there. What, exactly, was the point?

(This post is turning out to be anything but “quick.” Sorry about that! I didn’t realize I had this much to say on the topic, which is kinda part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? It’s a new discovery each and every time.)

But back to the egregious example of copy-cat highlighting. After resisting for as long as I could, I gave in and bought Fifty Shades of Grey on Kindle. I really didn’t think it would be any good, and it wasn’t great. However, I readily admit that I was curious about why this erotic novel sold so spectacularly well, spawned a slew of copy-cat novels, re-invented a genre which now fills entire shelf-displays in bookstores, and has even been picked up for a movie adaptation. Pretty good stuff for the author, I have to admit. She must have done something right. I wanted to see if I could find out how she did it.

So, yes, the writing was pedestrian, the sex scenes were so-so and there were way too many of them for my taste, and now I have my own theory about why women like this book (which I may or may not share in a later post), but there was one aspect of reading this on Kindle that really amused me. I knew the story wasn’t exactly gripping my attention (no matter WHERE Christian Grey was gripping Anastasia at the particular moment) when I began paying more attention to the highlighting.

“My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail…” 1,761 people thought this was highlight-worthy.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” 3,962 highlights.

“A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.” 8,586 highlights, and who am I reading? E.L. James or Ayn Rand?see Reading Atlas Shrugged in my 40’s

“Oh, f___ the paperwork, he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator.” 2,349.

And so on. The funniest thing is that there is never just a highlight with 50 highlighters or 10. Just thousands. Does Kindle only report the top-scoring highlights of each book or article? Yes. “We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.” (http://gigaom.com/2010/05/03/amazon-starts-sharing-what-youve-highlighted-on-your-kindle/)

I’m so glad to know that two-thousand people thought Christian pushing Anastasia against the wall of an elevator was wicked important, aren’t you?

What Amazon doesn’t address is why. Why so many people highlight particular passages. Is it based on true personal preference or is there a copy-cat quality?

I will continue to watch with great interest the highlighting trends in Kindle editions. I’m wondering how this feature could be used and abused–both from sharing information about what certain kinds of readers highlight and also from influencing what readers think is important by artificially amping up the supposed highlights (hello: pay or otherwise ask 100 readers to highlight a certain passage thus causing more people to pay attention to certain ideas and to also copy-cat and highlight that passage than would happen organically.)

What do you all think?

A Localista Valentine’s Day

How do I love thee? Let me count the quotes.

How do I love thee? Let me count the quotes.

Dear Reader:

So, it is that day of the year again where we turn our thoughts to love and romance. And candy. And flowers. And candlelight. And jewelry.

Well, a few of us turn our thoughts to jewelry. Others bemoan the commercialism of a “made-up” holiday. Some vow to ignore the candy hearts and the smoochy pictures and the sappy sentiments popping up all over social media (“What photo of the pink lovebirds?” she asks with an innocent look on her face.) A few, like my friend, Amy, get really creative and do things like send heart-shaped egg salad sandwiches in their kid’s lunchbox…awesome idea, Amy!

This year I’m treading down the middle of the road. I like Valentine’s Day because it falls in February, which is a nice month. The bitter cold of January has eased into soft snow, stronger sunlight, longer days, and moderate winter temperatures. Christmas and New Year’s revelry has faded in memory. Spring, with St. Paddy’s Day and Easter, seem far away here in the north where the earth is still covered in white, and the bare branches of deciduous trees crisscross against the sky with no sign of swelling buds, let alone a hint of green.

Mostly I like the sentimentality of Valentine’s Day, the one day in the year where you can let yourself get as mushy and gushy as you like, the mushier and gushier the better, and hardly anyone will scoff at you. What about those people you know will scoff? Ignore them, smile, and plop another chocolate covered strawberry in your mouth.

A Library Card

A Library Card

You can celebrate love and romance without spending any money at all. For instance, I made handmade valentines at the local library, where one of our high school volunteers had organized a wondrous variety of craft materials and offered assistance. When I got up there, three children and three adults were happily cutting, pasting, stickering, and drawing–and this was ten minutes before the end of the event. The card above was crafted by one of our creative library patrons for her granddaughter. So imaginative and pretty!

What else could you do? Draw a sketch. Write a poem, even a sappy poem. Pen a love letter…how long has it been since you passed a note to the love of your life?

Don’t like paper tokens? Play “your song” on the stereo and take a long, slow dance. Read the “interesting” parts of a romance novel aloud to each other. Bake brownies together. Light some candles, pour some scented oil into the tub, and take a bath together. Your imagination is as good, probably better, than mine. Use it!

But what about flowers and chocolates and the rest? I told Hubby that he really and truly does not need to buy me an expensive bouquet of flowers this year, but if he absolutely feels he must go floral, then would he mind buying a little something from our local flower shop, Nature’s Way Greenery? Buying from a locally-owned shop means more of that money stays local, zipping up to town hall in the form of property taxes, that money goes to pay the guys who plowed the roads after the big winter blizzard last weekend, maybe they spend their paycheck at the locally-owned gas station and to buy bread and milk down to the small, locally-owned supermarket. Maybe the supermarket owner is ready to plant some rhododendrons this spring, so he goes down to Nature’s Way to get some. Loop closed (minus a few State of Maine sales taxes, but that is a story for another day.)

The moment that money is spent at a national or multinational retailer is the moment the cycle is broken. A portion of the local economy just got sucked into paying the bonus of a CEO in Belgium or India or Bentonville, Arizona.

So shop your town first, and then the towns next door. Today I moseyed over to Waterboro and popped into the Cornerstone Country Market, a locally-owned and operated shop. There, I picked up an avocado and greens for lunch and a tub of lard (really!) from a Pennsylvania producer of Amish meats and cheeses. I use the lard for popping my own corn, for pastries, and for frying up pancakes, but I would love to find a local producer this year.

Love in paper and sugar

Love in paper and sugar

Anyway, while checking out at the cash register, I spied old-fashioned stick candy in all these pretty colors, five for a dollar. Excellent, I thought! Perfect to go with my handmade valentines.

I’m not the only Localista in the family. The Teen, too, chose to present handmade gifts to her “crush” this year: a book of her original black and white sketches glued onto craft paper and bound with yarn, a love letter, a colored-pencil drawing mounted on thick paper stock, and one of her beloved stuffed animals (there is some story behind it, but I’m not privy to the details). All this was squirted with her signature perfume, of course, and stuck in a paper gift bag. Local, handmade, thoughtful, and an expenditure of time rather than cash.

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Drop in and share your wisdom, your wit, and your words.

Happy Love Day, Dear Reader!
XOXOXO

What Debate? We Had An Earthquake!

Dear Reader:

Shaken…not stirred

Shaken, Not Stirred

While the rest of the country focused on the presidential town-hall debate last Tuesday night, Mainers were abuzz with excitement on an entirely different topic–a 4.0 magnitude earthquake that hit a few miles from Lake Arrowhead around 7 pm Tuesday evening. Lake Arrowhead is less than a quarter mile from my house, and the funny thing is, Lake Arrowhead is not a municipality…it is a literal lake. Lake Arrowhead Community is a homeowner’s association, however, so you could call it a quasi-municipality, and for a day or two we were ON THE MEDIA MAP.

I was bopping around on Facebook when the quake hit. The house shook, and a blast of sound like an explosion had me bolting out of my office share and down the stairs to the first floor to check on Dear Daughter and my dog, Delilah, who only barked once (unlike when she sees a squirrel outside and throws a full-on intruder alert). Like many, I thought maybe the furnace blew up…or the roof was caving in because a pine tree fell on it. As the house continued to shimmy like Mother Nature bellydancing, I realized it was an earthquake. I bounded back upstairs to post on my Facebook page the following elegant rhetoric:

“Holy crap did we just have an earthquake?”

I wasn’t the only one. Facebook posts surfaced on the screen like bass during a insect hatch on Lake Arrowhead. Within minutes my Facebook feed was all “earthquake.”

This is the real story, I think.

Yes, we had an earthquake. It was a big one by Maine standards; however, it was the speed of social media response (could we call it “reporting” even?) that illustrates how much society has changed. Twenty minutes after my Facebook post, the first reporting by the online news sites trickled in. Trickled? That is how we describe news reporting a mere twenty minutes after an event? Crazy, but true.

Here is one example of the viral nature of social media. A spoofy Facebook page called ISurvivedThe101612Earthquake gathered over 84,000 “likes” in a mere fifteen hours after the quake. 84K! We are living in a New Media Age. News is immediately reported and transmitted and shared and “liked” and “tweeted,” and we expect nothing less than that immediacy. We are all in the loop all the time. The fault lines have shifted. We, all of us, ARE the media circa 2012.

So, almost a week later, the frenzy has passed, the buzz had quieted, and nobody talks about the earthquake much. Guess it’s old news now, but we sure did have fun here for a couple of hours . . . Outside the Box.