It’s a funny set of places, the social networking sites. People posting updates on the most mundane developments in their lives, photos of their food, commentary on TV programs. You can ‘support causes’ and sign petitions for just about everything, creating the illusion of something meaningful done. You can have hundreds of facebook friends but not really know anyone, creating an illusion of social contact. Then there’s the option of hiding behind a fake name and trolling the hell out of your victims. Oh, and there are games. We spend a lot of time on social network sites, time we will never get back and so much of what it gives is illusory.
I have, I case you were wondering, twitter, google+, linkedin and facebook accounts. I’m also on goodreads. Feel free to attempt to connect with me on any of those, although in practice facebook is the only place I reliably show up and interact with people. I have real friends there, people I actually know, or will know, or want to know, and that helps. I find that compared to the general assessments of social networking (as above) I have a pretty good experience of it. This is because my network doesn’t deliver many food photos and random trivia. I get pointers to really good articles I would not otherwise have found, and I get to find out about what some really interesting people are thinking and doing. In that way, I get a lot out of it.
Of course one of the things people use this stuff for is selling their work, big companies included. How much promo can one person take? Speaking as an author, occasional publisher and avid reader, nothing depresses me more than some author I’ve never heard of, banging on endlessly about their book. The egroups used to be full of similar stuff. I know there’s a theory that we can all go 50 Shades with our products, but maundering on about them isn’t the answer. Nobody cares. This can come as a bit of a shock, but one of the lessons the social networks have the power to deliver is that most of the time, most people do not give a shit about that thing you thought really mattered. When they do, it can be a humbling, overwhelming and powerful sort of moment, but that tends to pass. In the great noise of the internet, we might start to see our small place in the grand scheme of things, or we might equally end up with an inflated ego.
In practice the social networks are a lot like the rest of real life in that what you get out depends on what you put in and who you associate with. It can be really good. That a lot of it is tedious, pointless and time wasting, is simply down to the people who use it.
As a Druid who does not have many other Druids in close geographical proximity (when you walk or cycle, ten miles away isn’t close) I appreciate the contact of being online. It’s enabled me to stay at least a little bit in touch with friends and to learn more about the Steampunk community. For this, I am very grateful. I know I’d feel more isolated without it. Not all of us can get to where the likeminded people are. But if there are real people to interact with, better not to be on facebook, I think. My Druidry calls on me to go outside, but it’s easy to hold an illusion that time playing with online Druid communities is somehow proper Druid time. Mostly it isn’t. Or it’s a pale shadow of the real thing. It worries me how readily many people seem to have replaced real world contact with social networking though. Locked away in our little rooms with our little boxes, typing words to people we’ve never met… The scope for fantasy and illusion is vast. The unfortunate outcomes of this show up on a regular basis but the hurt caused is all too real.
I know that the internet has changed how I think. I’m watching myself for good ideas to blog about, and good thoughts to share over the ether. Twenty years ago, this didn’t feature in my mind. I lived and thought differently. I’m aware that social network sites can be addictive, particularly in times of boredom or loneliness. They tend to perpetuate the problems rather than solving them. I don’t think we’ve begun to understand the social implications of what we’re doing. Or the psychological implications, for that matter. It’s a mass retreat from the real world. And yes, the real world is not a great place just now, but we aren’t going to fix that by signing a petition on facebook.
Jo over at http://www.octopusdance.wordpress.com has committed to spending one day a week free from modern communications devices. Obviously I know about this because she facebooked it… but the idea is well worth a thought. Spending less time doing it can, if nothing else, improve the quality of what you bring to it.
I may not be blogging for a couple of days, I have a lot of real world stuff to do. Gods of trains and weather permitting, I shall be in Northampton Waterstones for a book signing on Saturday and then doing family stuff on Sunday.