Thursday, 28 October 2010

The gawking, the stalking and the (non) talking: Confessions of a torn Facebook user

As promised, in this entry, I’ll share my take on Facebook and why I was only sorta on it. And this is as of right now. Hey, you never know! (Was just about to put a hashtag on that #YouNeverKnow – then I remembered where I was.) My feelings toward it might just change by next Tuesday. (Don’t ask!)

Well, there’s a good place to start. Feelings. I dare say, too many of mine were being engaged in the idea of making “Facebook friends” (quotation marks intentional) and connections. One of my girlfriends, whom I’ve known for more than 25 years, heard a smidgen of my angst the other day and summed it up quite nicely, “You are too weird!” All I could say was, “Yeeaaah.”

I joined Facebook sometime in early 2007, I think. My Facebook friends count now? About 46ish – in any case, it’s under 50. Essentially, three groups comprise the count – High School Alma Mater; the Alma Mater where I did my BA and the Alma Mater where I did my MA. The remaining connections are family, relatives and a few offline friends I’ve known since childhood.

I get that many people are interested in looking at pics of friends from Adam. The whole picture/thousand words thing does make sense. And it is fun to look and reminisce and all that. No substitute for going way back and enjoying it together. What I don’t get, though, is the gawking. People connect with others and simply comb through their pictures (yes, ‘cause they let ‘em!) clicking through album after album, without making a single comment. How do I know this? I found myself doing it. And I am 100% sure I’m not the only one who’s dunnit. And my doing that scared me that I could be that person – taking a kind of warped interest in the life of someone whom I hadn’t talked with in ages. Warped, because, after the gawking, I’d have no inclination, whatsoever, to exchange even two words! #EverGetThat? Not to mention my "Wait! Who's that living my life?" stares. Ouch! That musta hurt God's feelings.

I stopped gawking.

Round about September of 2009, when I had about 50-something Facebook friends, I posted a kind note on my wall to inform that I was going to unfriend (or de-friend – whatever the term I used) a few people. I explained that I found we didn’t talk much and whenever I was on Facebook, I’d feel like I was stalking (!)

‘Cause I did feel that way, man!

I’d go on and check their walls and comments and what-not. I’d catch-up with their lives – as much as they cared to share – tracking their moves (?!) I mean, what was the point? Surely, there had to be more than that to Facebook. (Occasionally, one or two persons would say hi – they never gave up on me.) I convinced myself that I wasn’t using the space to its fullest potential; wasn’t making the best use of it at all. So, with plans to return after appointing an FAM (Facebook Account Manager – yeah), I took a hiatus. I recall one person saying that they (the un/de-friended) really weren’t going to like it (she wasn’t one of them). But, alas! The deed was done. I also opened my mind to the probability that some of those who’d remained would probably un/de-friend me. I was prepared.

Long after, I’d pop in – rarely – to post a vid I liked or an article I thought was worth sharing. That kinda thing.

I just wondered why folks would send invitations, and then not talk to me. Couldn’t see through that. Was an Facebook friend not a friend? Don’t friends talk to each other? Another aspect was just as puzzling. Friend request when we barely say hello offline? Even though we might cross paths every so often?

It took me a while to get it. Facebook friends are not necessarily friends, per se. No deep analysis required. They may be friends; associates; colleagues; someone you met once; third cousin twice removed; friend of a friend of a friend – you catch my drift. (I just recently caught that drift.)

Even though we had connected – after years and years of not knowing what each other had been up to; where each other’s beliefs now lie and so on – what we cared to share would, clearly, not tell the whole story. And the truth is that we really might not have much in common after all! Really might not have anything of such substance to glue a decent conversation together. To my mind, that explained a lot! That’s why we weren’t talking!

“Yes, Claudia,” you say. “That there is one of the mischiefs that Facebook tries to cure.” Get reacquainted and what not. I say fine, but, am I the only one who gets even a little bit queasy about reconnecting with long time friends/folks?

The big omission in all this? That thing that you’ve been waiting for me to admit? I wasn’t initiating m/any conversations myself. Of course, I’d go on about not talking and so on, but hardly ever said hello.

Before coming out of hiatus, I got into Twitter more (@cyopro - see previous post for how that all went down.) I then permitted the app to run on Facebook and, Voila! I was instantly increasing posts and presence on Facebook! And, little by little (never “mis-underestimate” the power of baby steps), a few friends began to take note and the conversations began to grow more frequent. Then, a few old-new friends connected, and I accepted – without the level of queasiness I used to experience. (I tell you. Waaay too much thought.) As I lightened up a bit, for some areas, I started permitting “friends of friends” and, cautiously, in others, “everyone”! Mmhm! We’re cookin’ now!

As with any online social network space, participation in Facebook highlights a kind of opposition, if you will, between online and offline realities. Many construct this virtual world and become convinced that it is “just like real life”. Nuh-uh! The personal pics and vids shared are, for the most part, pleasant. Indeed, they capture the moments of beauty. But, how many folks post pics and articles of ugly details of what’s happening to “others” in other countries or wherever and do/would do the same detailing the awful moments of their own lives? They may personally experience brutal and ugly moments, but those are not gonna make it to Facebook; not even in private albums. And even if some folks talk about it, sorta, they mightn’t touch the matter directly but kinda talk around it.

Offline, attention and popularity may wane; the 500 friends mightn’t show up at the barbecue (love this "Throw'd TV" clip). I see it as a space where folks enter, do stuff, then leave. I don’t know anyone who is “always on” Facebook, but I’ve heard that "they walk among us." And when the "book" is closed? When the site goes down at any time? I imagine there are shrieks of horror heard around the world. And, just imagine, those shriekers have to talk to other people now? Either that or scream at the computer until it gets back up. Not to worry. These addicts, well, they haven't lost their minds. They have them backed up on Facebook. Good thing FB allows you a zip file of your FB life - according to that site and a few others.

As one of my sisters put it, when you get into Facebook, it’s like entering a huge space where everybody’s chatting and you’re hearing all these voices and some are talking with you and others are within earshot so you join in, if you feel like it, and you may be interrupted by someone who wants to chat when you’re trying to complete a move or a thought but, it’s organic and, like Hammy the speedy squirrel said in “Over the Hedge”: “It never ends!!!”

So, I’m in. Back. On. Into. On top of… (whatever) Facebook. I understand that there’s so much more to Facebook – groups, organizations’ pages etc. – a whole ‘nother’ world I have yet to explore. No, I don’t have a FAM – it’s just me. As I proceed, however, I’m ever careful. And, I’d ask you to exercise due care in building your online presence as well. To parody that Ontario Lottery and Gaming ad (and, I don’t play the lottery; I just think it’s a neat line): “Know your limit. Post within it.”


Last week, a former CFB Trenton Commander was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole for 25 years. I honestly don’t want to repeat the atrocities and perversions he committed. I’ve thought about posting a link…OK. Here’s one.

For a while, as this unfolded, I realized that, just given the graphic details that reporters provided, I could only read two accounts. I came to the realization that I did not want these things to be repeated to me over and over and over. Not once did I tune in to a TV news item or special coverage of what was unfolding. It was just too horrible. I read a part of a report after he had been sentenced. I made my last tweets on the subject – no more than two.

The crimes he had committed, the ways in which he had committed them (he pleaded guilty) and the reality that all this was embodied in one person who, on top of it all, held such a prestigious position, made me feel sick. And angry. And awful. So much so that, for a while, I could not get to that place where I could forgive him and have compassion on him. That’s not something that I could reconcile with my Christian beliefs and practice where forgiveness is everything! It eluded me. And, in a way, it still kinda does. But, I’m working on it. Honest.


Monday, 18 October 2010

"The Medium is the Message" for Twitter, too!

Several years ago, a professor of mine told our class: “The last word on anything hasn’t been said.” That stuck. Clearly. Occasionally, I think of that sage statement and tell myself that that would explain the plethora of views on any given topic – on any given Sunday.

Enter mine, about Facebook and Twitter. (I'm thinking, I might have a two-parter on my hands.) Now, before the yawns and ho-hums, bear with me as I explore what must be a like-dislike interest I have in both. They are both social networking sites – no argument there. But, as one top tweet observed, funny how social networking sites seem to make us more anti-social. So, we talk to each other but we don’t really talk; and sometimes - especially with Twitter, it's not necessarily to each other. It’s more like ‘at each other’. I’ve found, given my recentish immersion into Twitter – and I know it’s not too soon to tell – that quite a lot of tweets from individuals are spurts of opinions/observations/comments about a topic. Once in a while, there’s a tweet to (or @) someone, in a reply. Sometimes it's sharing via ReTweet. The majority, though, are those that betray…no, let’s use exhibit a kind of random stream of consciousness that makes its way into a 140-character post. I've noticed that many companies/organizations tweet, too. That should give an indication that the facility is relied upon as a communications and marketing tool.

(Now, at this juncture, some would begin to wonder whether they should take any of what I’m saying with a grain of salt. I say yes, indeed! At worst, shrug it off and move on to the next topic of interest and the myriad tweets. At best, trust, but verify. Much of this is from my own observation, anyway, and has little to do with my MA in Communication. Perhaps the desire to look more closely through my often-preferred trope of metaphor, has indeed been touched by formal training.)

So, here's the thing, as another top tweet pointed out about Twitter, people are constantly talking to strangers. It’s not so much the novelty of that idea, it’s the fact that the strangers are from all over! (Have I heard of satellite radio? Yes. But, think about it. Isn't it imaginable that the rate of subscription to SatRad eats the dust of Twitter's subscription rate? I'm sure of it.)

To proceed, the idea of novelty is lost when one thinks about an on-air announcer/broadcaster, getting into the minds, hearts and homes of, well, strangers, over a period of time. That's been done. People tune in, they listen, if they like what they hear, they tune in another time - "rinse wash repeat". So, the announcer would be the poster, the listeners the followers, whatever he/she says, the tweets. Sooo, it's alike in that sense.

The points of departure then? For one, the followers get to keep a copy of what was broadcast and, if they “called in”/tweeted in response, they keep a copy of that too. Another is that these updates come in from several sources (all whom you follow) all within seconds. Try getting that done even by SatRad. Maybe I’m slow on the uptake here, but, I haven’t yet learnt of any broadcaster that gives up-to-the-second news/bulletins which the listeners get just a few seconds after and keeps this up 24/7. So, joined by mutual interests and hashtags (#), the broadcaster enters the mind, hearts and homes of those who’ve opted to tune in. This is an important point, because, unlike an on-air feed that you are inevitably tuned into (unless you’re plugged into your hand-held or something) when you’re at a store or the hairdresser or wherever, the broadcast/posts are by choice.

Would it be fair to surmise, then, (and I'm on to another idea here) that every single solitary tweet that you receive is borne out of the decision to be fed by that poster? If so, then it lends itself to the crux of the next question: Is there an underlying messiah complex that begins to take form after one acquires a certain number of followers? Just asking. I honestly wouldn't know - unless I did some research - as about half of my current eight followers are family, and, of the rest, I'm pretty sure two are marketers.

But, how does having a large following impact an individual, or the subsequent postings of that individual, who was (or would otherwise be) not-as-well-known? Does it even? Is that why some tweets come off as "wisdom from the oh so wise one"? Because there are followers who are (probably) hanging on every word? Do they? Sometimes I tweet stuff that would make my sis go, "Okaaaay. Right." Other times, "That's so true." Hmm. Without fail, we write/share from our different frames of reference, experiences and what not. Sometimes, though, you can tell the ones that are overreaching...

Maybe I'm over-thinking it, for, to be honest, I don't read every single tweet from those I follow. Still, even the term "follower", lends itself to this leader-follower duality, so I really can't be that far off base. That duality is certainly touched by the medium of choice (Twitter) and, according to Marshall McLuhan is the message: "The medium is the message" because it is the "medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action."

So, the fact that I tweet or I'm on Twitter, or however else it's articulated, communicates an intrinsic message in and of itself. (Not tweeting? Well, I never! I don't speak to people who don't tweet!) There is also an intuitive understanding of how the participants should (or should not) associate and interact with each other.

McLuhan was right on the ball, too, when he coined, "Invention is mother of necessity." So many things are now needed - online social networking etiquette; policies; leglislation. Read, just today, an article refering to Thompson Reuters and its decision to ban anonymous comments citing "legal risk" etc.

I shall continue this like-dislike interest, I imagine. My take at this point? If it's working for you, keep it going. Define working? Meets your needs and/or the purposes for which you indulge.

If not, don't take a trip to where the guilt is if you wish to hop off this train. Leave - guilt-free - the microcosm that is Twitter and join the other billions of people on the planet for whom satisfaction to express observations and communicate with others is derived through dozens of other non-Twitter ways.

Next up, why I was on Facebook but not on Facebook.

Her space :-) Happy Birthday to my niece. All of two today!!! You are my sunshine... la la la la la.

Several years ago while living in the USA, I took a trip to visit a friend in New York City. (New York, New York - city so nice they named it twice:-) Anyway, we decided to do some last stop shopping - on the way out (she was gonna find her way back home). I parked about two blocks away from the store, fed the meter for an hour, and we were off. After about forty-five minutes, I noticed the time and beckoned to my friend...oh yes! My lil sis was there as well. So, I beckoned to them both that we'd have to finish up 'cause the cashier lines weren't all that short. My friend decided to stay on a while and so sis and I practically high-tailed it out of there! It was now a mad rush trying to beat the meter. All I could think about was getting a ticket and how much I didn't want to get a ticket! It was about two minutes to expiration and by this time we were running down the sidewalk, past the stores that had set up 'sidewalk sales' when, the next thing I knew, I bounced right into her!

She was a little girl, no more than five, could be six. And there she stood with her ice-cream cone ice-creamless! She looked down at it, then up at her mom who was walking just ahead. She'd stopped and turned when I'd stopped and flashed me a look like I was something horrible. I apologised to her profusely and sincerely but briefly. I still couldn't get the pending expiration out of my mind - no ticket under my windscreen wiper, please! And I hurried off.

We made it before the expiration but I felt like crap. And every time since then that I remember how I knocked off a little girl's ice-cream from her cone, that feeling comes over me. Of course there were more mature, less selfish actions I could have taken in that moment. But I didn't. What I did do, however, was learn one of my life's biggest lessons. In a moment when I knowingly offend someone, I try to do the right and selfless thing. Even if it feels difficult.

For I absolutely detest that other feeling.


Friday, 8 October 2010

Don't stay out of it!

I read a newspaper column the other day in which the writer made a subtle reference to one of the then topical issues. In doing so, she couched it within a context that clearly indicated her leaning. So, clear context, subtle reference. I'd say more than a few of her readers got it.

So much so that, in my comment (as Cee Dubya) below the column, I made my not-so-subtle reference to her not-so-subtle reference. And someone spotted mine and so on.

What I was a tad put off by, however, was one of the comments that advised her to steer clear of making an input in the matter; not to be "caught up" in the debate and have her say.

Now, I just figured the author, Barbara Gloudon or Miss G, (as she is sometimes affectionately called - other times maybe Ms. B etc.) is mature and street wise and, in short has been around long enough not to have paid the poster any mind. I mean, after all, she is a writer - a columnist, to boot! Why would she hold back her thoughts about an issue, if she had something to say and the opportunity to say it?

Pretty soon, though, I realized why I was on about it so much; why I had given so much thought to a seemingly trivial thing. The reason was this: Anger - the healthy kind. See, I recognized some time ago the rather sad truth that many people would "put themselves out there" were it not for fear. It is a crippling fear that convinces you that the critics and cynics and naysayers are going to come raining dissent and scorn and ridicule upon your expressions; that it's better to just save yourself the agony, don't cause any problems and instead of confrontation, run! So, even before you begin to speak, you are silenced by angst and anticipation of the worst. And, very soon, the choice to "stay out of it" becomes less difficult with each opportunity to make a unique and meaningful input.

Here's the thing (Monk), the truth is, "we live in a cynical world" as Jerry said. (Yes, he "had me at hello", too.) Heck, I'm just now beginning to realize that I've added a dash or two of cynicism to a number of scenarios. I've had to take a step back and go, "Is this me?" Always, the answer comes back, Yup! Guess I've simply learned to look through other lens now. Point? There will be critics and cynics and editors and censors and apologists and nincompoops and people-who-may-mean-well-but-for-the-life-of-them-give-really-bad-advice. I heard my father with this saying a long time ago (when there was a minor home accident or something) and it stuck: "Never mind. The first hundred years are the hardest." OK. So I was about to highlight the point. And it's this: say what you have to say without fear - not even a little bit. Don't stay out of it! Provisos? Engage brain and mind before opening mouth. In some cases, you might need to open mouth, remove foot, engage brain and mind then proceed.

But, for the sake of your sense of self and sanity, don't clam up just because you're fearful that somebody might disagree with what you've said or might try to tear it apart. People are people wherever you go (I always say) and folks from the above list are always going to be around in some shape, form or hue. Perhaps no one, except the Lord Himself, may know from whence your strong points or passionate arguments come. But, be brave enough to express them and prepared enough to defend them - if necessary.

And I know about clamming up! About five or six years ago I wrote a book. It was not a big book, but, a book none-the-less. I've seen books with less than 50 pages, less than 20 pages, even. They tell their stories and that's that. Well, my book was running near 150 pages. I'm mentioning the pages because, at first, I thought a book doesn't really qualify to be called a book unless it has a decent number of pages. Yes, I clearly had a lot to learn; many myths to debunk.

The title of the book, "I'm not an American, but I live here". It had a sub-title, but that'll do for now. It captured the essence of the lessons and new things I'd learnt in my journey from Jamaica to the USofA. My experiences were neatly packaged in this little book that I hoped would be enlightening, entertaining and inspiring. Well, I sent it to a couple of family members, a cousin, a friend, a professor at my alma mater and a former columnist for one of the major newspapers in Jamaica who was, at the time, a professor at another university.

As you might imagine, the responses from my family, relative and friend were more favourable than the others. The main criticism from the professors was that I needed to identify my audience. To whom was I telling the story? The book wasn't ready for publication, then. It was good criticism. But the 'not ready' stuck with me more than the 'ID audience' part. I don't think I've picked it up since receiving the critique. And, I feel, that I've disappointed not only myself, but also family members who might have had hopes of me finishing the thing. I imagine, however, given my new zeal and no-fear, no-doubt resolve, I will be re-visiting that project - and that right early. It will be published one way or another.

And that's why I feel so strongly about putting yourself out there. Especially as a writer, you just gotta be prepared for the sharks and wolves and whatnot. I just think that some people don't speak up or write because of fear of what others might say. What if it doesn't sound intelligent enough; witty enough; well-read enough; "in" (with the in-crowd) enough; oratorical enough and all that jazz? Well, what if it doesn't? Does it mean that you will always be concealing your opinion or take on everything?

But, then again, what if it does?

Jump in. Add your say. Be a part of the vibrant exchange. You'd be amazed and delighted at the wonderful things you begin to notice about the world around you. About yourself.

I was just about ten metres away from the revolving doors, as I made my way to my building the other day. Just as I crossed at the lights, I saw another guy coming from my right, talking on his cell. He paused in conversation to holler at this guy, just ahead of me, leaning against a column, "Pablo!" Now, Pablo looked like an immigrant - Mexican, to be honest - mid-forties. Maybe I latched on to that nationality because of, well, "Pablo!" Anyway, I saw Pablo quickly end his own cell conversation, snap the phone shut and hurried to catch up to the first guy, who had by now, almost disappeared back around the corner where I'd spotted him just seconds before.

One of the first thoughts that entered my mind was, maybe Pablo is just getting a break - some degree of "hustling" and connections paying off at last. It just looked that way. Toronto is a pretty big city of approx 2.6M with a high percentage of immigrants. It was possible!

Just as they left my peripheral vision, I saw three guys (looked Caucasian), maybe early fifties, sitting in the patio area of a nearby café, having their morning coffee. Clad in hard hats and the proper construction attire, I surmised that they were on break from the massive multi-million dollar construction project taking place across the street (the hard hat one was wearing had the name of the project management company on it). They didn't look hurried or edgy or like they were 'hustling' at all. And I know that different people are at different points in their different lives. And I do believe that people make choices and they should be ready to face the rewards/consequences of those choices.

It's just that, for that moment, there was a juxtaposition of two very different worlds. And, for an-even-now-unexplained reason, it made me feel sad. In that instant, I got why there are those who commit their lives and resources to advocate for the marginalized and oppressed. It moved from "Pablo!" - cause I really don't know his situation; it moved from the construction workers - cause I don't know theirs, either - to the larger matter of disparity.

For, after all, Pablo's world seemed very different from mine, too.