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?