A Brave New World Where We all get Left Behind

In this uber connected 24/7 world we are living in, those of us that use social media either for professional or personal reasons often forget that not everyone else plugs in like we do. While a large swatch of Americans have access to the internet, that does not mean everyone who does is tweeting, Facebooking, Google Plusing and thinking about their Klout score. For some it’s just a place to check email, apply for a job and maybe look up something.

Lately when talking to my Dad during our weekly chats, we have been talking more and more about the impact of the internet and social media on our daily lives. He recently asked me to explain Klout scores and was blown away by the concept and asked a simple question that really stayed with me…what about those who simply are not a part of this brave new world?

Well sad to say they get left behind. As our dependence on social media grows, in many ways it’s a good thing but in many ways it’s not. In some ways the digital divide is closing, turns out some of the heaviest users of Twitter are African-Americans. Which I can attest to and not because I am black! I often joke, I have two twitters that I am a part of, mainstream and Black. Sometimes the two clash especially when I make a tweet that someone who is Black or familiar with Black culture gets as a joke, yet someone who is not takes way too seriously. For me it’s all fun and games but really it isn’t.

While it’s commonly assumed that if one chooses not to be connected and heavily involved in social media, money or lack or resources is the chief barrier. Well my non-scientific study says that’s not true at all. Among the low income families I serve, many have home computers (often through Rent a Center, but that’s another post), and now that cell phone technology has grown it means one can even have a pay as you go smartphone which of course provides access. While there are clearly parts of the US that don’t have great connections thus limiting access, the truth is not everyone wants to be connected.

One of my oldest friends is an on air-person in the Chicago radio scene and has been for years, yet he has no Facebook or Twitter accounts. In fact he has been adamant with his employer that unless they just demand that he get them, he has no intentions of doing so. I asked him a while back why, and he told me privacy. Lately B’s decision has been in the back of my mind as Facebook goes through yet another series of changes. How much are we giving up to be connected?
I am starting to slowly think that the price of this 24/7 connection may be higher than any of us think, yet we won’t realize it until it’s too late. In the old days, one could be relatively anonymous online, but more and more we are being asked to reveal ourselves. In some cases there are very good reasons. Yet depending on who you are, revealing your inner self can have deep repercussions. Does the boss really need to know you are a member of the BDSM scene? Yet if Mark Zuckerberg has his way, frictionless internet experiences will have of us all knowing way too damn much about each other.

Yet the price you pay when not connected is pretty damn high! Depending on what you do for a living, not having a Klout score can hurt you, and in order to get a high score you have to be a heavy user of social media. Some months back, I did a little experiment, I attempted to give up Facebook for a month, and it failed. Why? Turns out party invites, and other ways of connecting are all done on line especially via Facebook. Just this past weekend, we went to celebrate a friend’s birthday…how was the invite and plans made? Facebook. Gone are the days when we just pick up the phone for many of us, at best, we might text.

There really are no answers, I can’t imagine going back to a world where all shopping must happen in a store, or research at a library. In recent months, I have taken some of my online interactions, off line and met up with people who really may turn into good friends. That said, I admit even I am starting to grow uneasy at how much of myself is revealed and known online by people who really don’t know me.

In the end maybe we are all getting left behind, some by choice and some by being a part of this brave new system where the entry price is higher than any of us can truly understand and won’t understand until it’s too late.

It’s all about getting that cash

I have been using various forms of social media now for well over a decade now. In the late 1990’s  I discovered discussion boards, I was contemplating making some life changes and was in need of a supportive community and at that time the net was small enough that I hooked up with a couple of online communities that met my needs. Over a decade later, I have met some amazing women many who have become real life friends.

When I packed up my life in 2002 and left Chicago and landed in Maine, it was those same online communities and friendships that sustained me until I reached the point of having some local support in Maine. I guess what I am saying is I have been online for quite a while. My first husband was and still is a computer geek, back in 1991 when we married he was going online using BBS (bulletin board system) I remember back then thinking what the hell is he doing, little did I know how much that early exposure to making connections online was going to impact my life.

In the past 5-6 years we have literally seen social media go mainstream, I remember just a few years ago before sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter became household names explaining my online activity to real life friends and being looked at like I was insane. After all who communicated on a computer with people they didn’t know? By the way this was in the early 2000’s…many of these same real life friends now use sites like Facebook and others as staples in their daily life.

I stumbled onto blogs probably about 4-5 years ago, many of the early blogs I read were true labors of love. Often folks sharing amazing tales of their life, awesome writing. Back than folks often just started blogs to have an audience, another way of making connections. Take bloggers like the very popular Pioneer Woman, she just wanted a way to stay connected to the folks in her life, she had no idea that one day she would be writing books and last I heard there is talk about a movie about the story of her life. I think many women particularly mothers gravitated to blogs as a way of making connections. In Maine we have Amanda Blake Soule of the blog Soule Mama. Her blog chronicles her life here in Maine with her 4 kids and their creative endeavors.  Her daily life and adventures became the basis for the 3 book deal she later landed but from what I have heard (Maine is small, while I don’t personally know Amanda, I have friends who do) she didn’t start blogging with the intent to land a book deal. She did something she liked with no expectations and well good shit happened.

 Initially when I started this blog, I had my eyes set on achieving some level of fame that would translate into a paycheck but over the two years I have been blogging, now it’s about my process. For me it’s about strengthening my skills as a writer but also having a voice, lastly as a woman of color its about connecting with others. This blog has allowed me to connect with folks in Maine as well as outside; I have met some fellow bloggers and readers that one day I would love to sit down with and share a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

I also think that when I let go of dreams of turning this blog into a cash cow, it allowed me to stay true to myself and my creative being. I also use social media such as Twitter to promote this blog but even Twitter allows me to connect with others especially some of the most creative and free thinking minds in Maine. Just yesterday I caught lunch with a young lady of color who recently moved to Maine. So yeah money might be nice, but making human connections is even better.

I say all this to say that as a long time user of social media in all its forms I see some disturbing trends developing. More and more I read blogs or see Twitter users turning themselves into a brand…the brand of me. Twitter for many is about promoting oneself, one’s business. Look there is nothing wrong with promotion if you have a legitimate product to promote but in many cases I see complete and utter bullshit being packaged in a slick glossy package and well its empty as hell.

The problem with this new trend of self promotion is that it takes away from authentic connections. How can we truly connect if at the end of the day you are more concerned about sealing a deal and getting paid? Look maybe that works with the youngsters but for an old head like myself its a huge turnoff. I think about some of my ex favorite blogs, ones that landed the book deal or through blogging landed a great job and then the original blog lost its spark.

There is a fashion blog I have followed for a while and when the blogger initially started off, it was great. You as the reader connected because you saw a regular person putting together articles of clothing that were accessible to the masses and rocking the hell out of that shit. Year down the road, this blogger blows up, to the point she quits her job, now she attends Fashion Week, has corporate sponsors up the wazoo and basically her blog reads like an advertisement, a glossy magazine.

Funny thing is this particular blogger is one of the biggest influence in my returning to my love of vintage clothes, she gave me some great ideas. Yet now I occasionally visit her blog and feel much the way I feel when I read a fashion magazine. That what she is hawking is inaccessible, furthermore as a follower of hers on Twitter, the constant promotion of herself as a brand is making me reevaluate whether or not I should even continue to follow her.

The thing is we have a zillion books and consultants who all for some cash will tell you how to market the brand of you, giving away so-called secrets that will make you into a social media superstar and of course earn you some cash. Look, and can I be frank most of what they are telling you is bullshit. You don’t need to have a brand called you because guess what? You are you! I admit as a graduate of a masters level organizational management program, I am well familiar with consultants and having even done a brief but successful stint as an organizational management consultant, I am here to tell you most of what these folks say is designed to earn them money and leave you wondering.

I admit occasionally they may give you a nugget of truth but I believe that much like real life relationships the only key you need is to be your authentic self in all that you do. Folks like The Pioneer Woman and Soule Mama achieved a high level of success in the social media world by simply being themselves, no gimmicks or special conferences needed. When we lose our authentic selves even in an electronic medium we risk becoming a mindless automaton who is programmed for one thing, getting that cash and really aren’t we more than that.

Kinda over Facebook

I have written often about my addiction to all things net related including spending too much time reading blogs and wasting time on Facebook. Well thanks to the girl child being home more often and my work life going full tilt as I do the money dance all non-profit executives are doing these days. I have had less time to spend online, yet when I do now get online aside from checking into a few of my favorite blogs, I find myself growing bored when I am online. Specifically the great love affair with Facebook is officially over.

Maybe it’s me but I seem to know a lot of folks who like to play Mafia Wars…don’t get me wrong it’s a great time waster but recently every time I log on, my newsfeed is filled with what folks are doing on Mafia Wars. To each how own… No the biggest issue is realizing that most of those folks I was so happy to connect with, well there is a reason they were in my past. Seems I know a high percentage of folks who are just out-and-out nutty. To the point I cringe when I get notification that certain folks have replied to one of my links or status updates. At this point there are about 3 folks I am genuinely happy to have reconnected with but otherwise most are people I would be happy to never know again.

Then again maybe its just a sign that Facebook as a fad is on its way out as more and more folks realize after a while there is only so much catching up you can do with someone you haven’t seen in damn near 20 years.

So what about you? Are you still a die hard Facebook person or are you over it?