Monday, November 08, 2010

Have Social Networking Sites Made Us Dumb?

Clarification: Not dumb, as in stupid. Rather, dumb, as in mute - or, wordless.

I am a big fan of the writer's message board and reference site, Absolute Write. It's an incredibly useful site; it builds writers' communities, provides support, and I would in no way ever make fun of and say anything negative about it. Something amusing I noticed when glancing through the forum topics in my Google Reader, however, is the subject titles of each new conversation. Examples from this weekend:

"i poop rainbows"
"so, is it possible without broken bones?"
"grandchild for sale, 30K. supplies limited"
"Lindsay Graham advocates mass murder"
"we don't need another hero?"
"no rest for the wicked"

I'm assuming these threads have to do with writing in some way, but maybe not. It got me thinking "what do writers really talk about in open forums?" (My alternate title for this blog post was "What We Talk About When We Don't Talk About Writing.") Most likely, these topics are intended for research purposes. (Who amongst us hasn't Googled "centaur mating rituals" in the name of "authenticity?") But, I'm sure many forum discussions have less to do with someone's work-in-progress, and more to do with starting a conversation with someone about something on his or her mind. I find this neither negative nor positive, as far as productivity is concerned; I simply find it curious.

Ironically, one of the forum discussions on Absolute Write this weekend was titled "Social Networks Destroy Your Privacy." I have my issues with Mark Zuckerberg as much as the next social networker, but I'm not one of those people who think social media sites are out to get us. They're guilty of taking a mile when we give them an inch, but that's about it. They wouldn't be able to exploit us if we didn't give them just enough to use. 

This is where using social media sites for their intended purposes comes into play. If we're using Facebook for reasons other than connecting with friends (and stalking), and using Twitter as a source of talking about what we made for dinner, rather than when our book is coming out, and, finally, using literary blogs and message boards as a means to discuss anything other than writing or books, then why wouldn't these sites take advantage of us? We're giving them way more than is necessary for them to survive, so why not take the excess and find a way to monetize it?

There is, of course, an alternative side to "saying too much." A more positive side. If any of you follow me on Twitter, you know that I don't always tweet about books... or writing... or publishing... OK, sometimes I just tweet about TV or what I did that day. Am I giving the Twitter gods authority to spam me with stuff I later have to block? Sure. But I also have developed relationships with writers, editors, and other agents whom I've never met in real life. I've even set up a couple meetings with editors as a result of discovering common interests. As someone who is still relatively new to the world of agenting, I've found it incredibly useful and fun to let other sides of me show via social media. 

The benefits of sharing recipes, discussing current events, and talking about your families via social media sites are obvious when you look to publishing and writers' blogs and see the same people comment on every post. These people know each other, and their comments turn into conversations, which lead to friendships, bonds, and critique groups. To me, people who say e-friendships aren't real are clearly not using social media to its full advantage. (That said, I'm a big believer in boundaries. Hence, I will not be your friend on Facebook.)

What do you all think? Have we been given so many literary outlets that we've now run out of things to say? Or is the "nothing" just another part of being social?

13 comments:

  1. All of the above?

    Well, most people don't have conversations. They're two people talking at each other. I don't know if it's simply a correlation to social media use, but more people are engaged in many shallow conversations, generally, than are engaged in few meaningful conversations. So while e-friendships can be real, most of them are superficial. THat's not a bad thing, but if you have 20 superficial relationships sucking your time, how do you maintain the two deep ones?

    I tweet a lot but most of my 'social networking' gets moved to google chat, where I talk one on one and can go deeper than broadcasting to the entire twitterverse.

    Which may or may not have anything to do with what you're asking. Sorry, it's Nano, I blame the mushy brain.

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  2. I often find these sites enthralling, and then, I stop visiting because I'm all "forum"-ed out when I realize I have nothing to add to the discussion (or don't want to join in because it's just random silly stuff.)

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  3. I have found crit partners through social media - Twitter, Facebook, forums. Sometimes we talk about books, share links, and open submissions and sometimes we chat about common interests. Some of those friendships have started via book/writing talk and some have started over BS and turned into something more.

    As far as over-sharing goes, that's why I have two Facebook profiles. One for family where I share personal photos and information and one for writing where I talk about my progress, success, failures, etc.

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  4. Five of us started a writer's group recently. We had discovered each other on Twitter, the blogs and AW. As far as I'm concerned, a writer's group [composed of very talented and smart people] was the last thing keeping me from going from an okay writer to a good writer. I can't shower enough thanks upon Teh Social Media.

    Re: your question. I think nothing is another part of being social. And that's an interesting conclusion.

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  5. While I think this reverence we have for the days of yore precious, I have to admit I wonder why we imbue previous practices with substance and meaning. If anyone's ever stumbled upon a written correspondence from the turn of the previous century and was bored out of his/her mind that people would talk about nothing when it was such a commitment and task to have it delivered and responded to....yeah. If only every letter read like a love letter by Cyrano. People have been people as long as there have been people. And I'm sure even he romanticized the carvings on walls.

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  6. That made a lot more sense when I wrote it while multitasking. Hm.

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  7. I don't use Twitter or Facebook, so my opinion might not be relevant. I've read things from Twitter though, and of course, by its nature, it isn't designed to show off the "deeper" aspects of a person. But because its word limit is so strict, I think the best way to use it is to prove to others that you are, in fact, a human being. Talking about what you ate for dinner is one way I guess, proving you are in fact a life form that chews food for sustenance, but using it to talk directly to others and give little looks into what you're like as a person on a day to day basis seems important for people for some reason. I think it helps us, as an audience, to read about other people’s day and engage in self-reflection. If someone talks about something that just made them the happiest person alive, most of us tend to gravitate to our own memories of when we felt like that. It’s natural.

    If, I don’t know, some manly man movie star tweeted about how he screamed like a little girl at the spider in the shower, I’d probably have more respect for them. I’d be thinking about that time that I, too, screamed like a little girl at the spider in my shower.

    So I don’t think it’s a bad thing, either, to go “off-topic” with our conversations with social media. In fact, I’d say always talking business won’t get you very far. Not many people probably read Twitter just for book release dates. It’s more probable they read a writer’s twitter feed for the one post where the writer just got a book deal, so they tweeted about how they excitedly danced around the living room with their dog. It’s not exactly business, but it makes the person more personable, probably.

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  8. While I agree to a point, we can run out of things to say. As a writer, it's those odd posts that really get my imagination working. For instance, I follow many blogs by, authors, agents, etc. It's what I take away from their posts rather than content that is important to me.

    A good example was a recent blog post I read. The authors writing about bridge-biking was more personal than industry related. Of course she did have a point which was clearly made (Thank you!). The point I'm trying to make is that if I didn't read her blog post "My life would make a boring memoir.", which, let's face it, sounds personal rather than industry/craft related, chances are slim that I would have ever heard the term bridge-biking.

    As soon as I read it, I instantly thought it was something worth noting. Will I ever use bridge-biking in one of my novels? Maybe not. But, like all blogs I follow, I came away with something.

    So my comment, message, take on your post, whatever... keep it up. Personally, I expect the 'nothing'. Or as josheverettryan commented, going 'off-topic', to me, is a good thing!

    To go a step further, just by reading your post and the comments following I've made note of a character referrence to possibly be used in the future.

    Thanks to Jess Tudor, I have an idea for a character who, to sum it up, spends more time with electronic, superficial relationships rather than maintaing true deep ones. Of course, this has been done before. The difference will be my way of interweaving the character into a story.

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  9. Thanks for the comments, everyone. This post was mainly just to spark conversation, so I appreciate the interesting takes!

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  10. Dear Sarah, your post certainly has sparked conversation...though I'm not sure where we're going!
    I will say one thing: trying to stay tuned to ALL the various websites, fora, twitter threads etc that I feel are interesting,or might be interesting, after a while, has my head spinning. So I give up and that's when I shut down my Internet connection and go back to writing my novel...and my blog!!! Yeah, in spite of what I just said, I'm on Internet too with my own blog (check it out at claude.nougat.blogspot.com)...
    But all this worries me. I worry about what I might be MISSING! Good grief, so much is going on out there, HOW can I keep track?
    And that's just one more source of anxiety I would have gladly done without!
    So to answer your question: no, social networking sites don't make us dumb but ANXIOUS!

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  11. yes, they have made society dumb, and less social. social sites are stupid, and pointless. not to mention, very boring, and not needed. if you want to talk to your friends or family, call them, text them, or just go see them, or email them. a social site is not needed for anything at all. so why are they so popular in our society today?? don't have the answer, but they are a fad, i can say that.

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  12. If you're on the other end of the switch, may have felt tired from the scene of online social networks. There is a fundamental problem of having a negative mindset that looks like a social media networks. Your actions will always follow your mood. If you look at the negative, you'll find. Unfortunately, you lose the opportunity to grow your relationships and your business. A little forgiveness for those who tried (and still trying) outdated techniques you buy their products and a quick change of mood can bring your goals to grow your business and your relationships in the fast lane.

    social networking site

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