Tag Archives: Social Media

Identity Versus Voice

I’m reading an ARC from NetGalley about the ways in which technology affect our physiology, both in terms of our health and well-being, and also in the way we think and the physical structures of our brains. I have to admit that so far I’m finding the book to be a little more on the alarmist side, though there have been some thought provoking ideas, one of them being our sense of personal identity.

As the writer puts it, there are two kinds of effects the Internet has had on personal identity. The anonymous web of the 90’s (which still persists in many forms today), allowed for an exploration of the “true” self, meaning that we could say whatever the hell we wanted with minimal consequence (see “Birth of the Trolls”). The more recent explosion of the socialized web allows for a forum that encourages the sharing of more personal details, and one that allows us to construct an external sense of identity, an online persona that depending on our frequency of interaction with the connected world may supersede any internal sense of self-identity.

As I said, it’s a bit of an alarmist book.

Here’s the thing, I get the idea of having an online persona, of curating the thoughts that you share with others. Some people share every thought as they have them (Twitter). Some like to look at interesting articles or get into debates with others of a different opinion (Facebook). And some take a while to think about things, then write their thoughts about it (Blogging).

I have a couple of guidelines when it comes to what I do and do not share online. First of all, almost every word that I write has been sitting in my head for at least a couple of hours. Rarely am I showing the raw stream of consciousness. This isn’t so much about privacy as it is about reflection, of not showing everyone my rough drafts or rough thoughts. In a similar vein, I’m not eager to share most of my political or social opinions, which are frankly more nuanced than anything but a face to face conversation can convey. And truthfully they’re evolving as well, and I don’t like to contribute to the noise of the Internet by throwing my own little feelies into the mix.

I try to create something that people want to read, that’s pretty much it.

Writers have had this concept of identity for a long time, but we call it something else, voice. My writing sounds like no one else’s. Sure there are elements of the things that have influenced me, but the choices of what words to say, and which ones to leave out, and how sentences and thoughts are constructed is  mine alone. This is a form of identity, and one that does bear a significant impact in how I interact with and process the world. And more then ever it’s a voice I’m developing online. I am making writing choices based in part on feedback from the audience I’m trying to build. I pay attention to posts that get more likes and comments and try to figure out what it is that people liked.

That way leads madness much of the time. My general advice is to write whatever you want and people will come along for the ride, but the author has to make some consideration of the people who’ve actually taken the time to read you. I’m not going to feed people the literary equivalent of lima beans, when what they’ve really come for is the chocolate.

Okay, we might be getting a little more into stream of consciousness territory, but this is a voice I speak with too.

I try to be mindful of the ways technology affects the way I think, one of the reasons I’m reading this book in the first place and will take the time to finish it rather than dismiss it. The worst thing we can do in life is to make ourselves slaves to something without even taking into consideration why we’re doing it. I wouldn’t be working in a technological field, or investing in self publishing in electronic form, or even blogging if I thought technology is inherently bad. But I do try to keep part of myself that isn’t for all of you, isn’t for my friends on Facebook, frankly isn’t for anyone else but my God and my wife.

This isn’t to say I don’t love you all. Here’s a personal tidbit. I’m writing this post while sitting in my office in my pajamas which have Snoopy on his Sopwith Camel chasing after the elusive Red Baron. Trust me, this speaks volumes about the kind of person I am.

Now I’m going to turn the web off, and do some revision.

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Flash Fiction Challenge “Excuse me. Sorry to bother you…”

What do you think? Do we have enough writers following this blog that we can have a little fun?

Prompt: Write a story in which two characters are having a conversation in a public place, and a stranger cuts in. Or conversely, write a story in which your character cuts in on a conversation between two strangers.

I’m from Ohio. We’re a friendly but uptight bunch. If I’m having a conversation with a friend in a public place, it seems a little weird, awkward and even rude when a stranger cuts in. Some might see this as an opportunity to make new friends, but generally I want this person to mind their own business.

But I do find myself tempted to listen in, and sometimes respond myself, particularly when it’s a subject matter with which I am familiar (i.e. “Babylon 5 is a really good show”). 99% of the time I refrain, and the other 1% I feel just as awkward as when someone cuts in on me.

Other cultures, or even other areas of the country, might have a different view on this. It might be perfectly okay to walk up to you browsing in a store and strike up a conversation. If you and a friend are talking about something interesting, others may want to drop in their two cents. And what about Facebook, or the blogosphere? Anybody can comment on anything and this behavior is encouraged, even celebrated. Is Facebook the new public place where if a few of your friends are talking about something, it’s okay for anyone to interject?

Just a few thoughts to get you going. If you send links to your stories to bentrubewriter@gmail.com or post them in the comments, I’ll reblog my favorite next week.

In the meantime, what’s the social convention where you live? Is it okay? Massively rude? Spoiling for a fight?

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Thinking about techie parenting

Grain of salt included in purchase price as this is written by a guy who currently has no children.

Being a fan and avid consumer of media of all sorts, and a techie by vocation and avocation, I wonder a lot about what sorts of media and devices I should expose my children to and when.

Two questions nag at me from time to time as I contemplate my hypothetical children.

1) When should my children join social networking circles, and which ones?

2) Should I raise them to read books on real paper, or on tablets like their father?

The answer to question 2 is probably paper. We just painted our basement this weekend, and having to move all those children’s books back and forth from the shelves reiterated the fact we have a lot of great stuff to expose them to on paper (including the 58 Hardy Boys hardcover books). We’re not re-buying all this stuff on tablets. That’d just be silly.

Question 1 is more complex. I have this niggling feeling that social media will be semi-critical to my children integrating well in their peer group. I already know there are whole worlds going on around me of which I am unaware. The Twitter-verse is virtually unknown to me, as is Pintrest, Reddit, and ridiculous scads more. My feeling is that face to face interaction will always be the most important, but given the different ways in which people conduct themselves on-line, I wonder if missing these conversations is leaving out a crucial subtext. Someone might be friendly to your face and flame you on-line, and hold both thoughts in their head without their brains exploding.

I think maybe a real functional social community of parents would be necessary to support time away from the computer. A group of parents who agree that time spent chatting on-line is not time spent together. Even I, the very technically inclined kid got together to play basketball with friends, or bike around the neighborhood.

In fact this is the thing that probably makes this question hard for me. Being an only child I’ve never seen interacting with a computer as an experience to be shared. I like to play games alone, occasionally to the annoyance of the little red-haired girl if she wants to play with me on the console. It’s only really been in the last few years with the start of the blog that I’ve been interacting with a larger community of people using a computer, but this is very different from twitter or even Facebook interactions. When I was younger and playing games, I played alone. I read alone, which is probably why social reading feels a little strange to me. Watching TV or movies was a little more social, and has remained so, but otherwise my interaction with media more often than not is singular.

So I don’t entirely understand the impulse to socialize in this way, since the computer has always been a separate entity or tool, even if it’s a tool I like to use a lot. If I’m going to talk to you, I’d rather see you face to face and have coffee if that’s possible.

I don’t necessarily want my children to be curmudgeons like me, but I think there’s value in treating computers as separate from ourselves and the world. We’re moving as a society toward devices being part of our bodies, smart phones and technologies like Google Glass are just the start. My generation needs to make decisions about technology now, so that we’re prepared for whatever is coming.

How do you manage technology in your family?

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Another [expletive deleted] post

Does social media cause us to self censor?

Charlotte Higgins of the Guardian thinks it might.

I think there are two elements to this question:

1) Do we hold back on giving our opinions?
2) Do we stiifle ourselves creatively in favor of what the majority will like?

As for the first, frankly I wish some of us practiced more self control before spewing whatever nonsense pops into our heads (myself included). I’ve tried for the most part to keep my political opinions to myself, stepping in only for needed calls for civility or common sense. I’ve contemplated doing a My “Controversial” Views post, but frankly I don’t think that would be very interesting to all of you, especially those who come mainly for the writing.

About the second I’m not really sure. Since my audience includes my dad, my mother in law, and several coworkers, there probably are some topics and stories I don’t write. But I have tried to mettle with some dark subject matter, particularly with regard to Foxconn. I can’t say I can think of a story I’ve left out because of audience response, but I do try to play to what people like, sometimes resulting in too much sentimentality.

I do agree with the writer’s frustration at people who comment without reading. Fortunately I don’t see it all that often here (because you guys are a special bunch), but I do see this all too often on news forums or Facebook.

I do think we should always take care with what we say, and realize some topics are bound to cause disagreement (I’m looking at you Adam 🙂 ). But fear that someone won’t like what we write is no reason not to.

In fact it’s all the more reason we should.

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Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing