In Praise of the Nobodies

In Praise of the Nobodies

It seems to happen at every conference: there’s a moment when I see someone I know, say hello, and they blow right by me in a rush for a 10-second exchange with someone “big” who won’t remember them five minutes later. Then: onto the next conquest.

Maybe they thrust a business card into the person’s hand and say, “Listen to my podcast!” or “Read my blog!” Sometimes it’s genuine — telling the person, “I love your work.” But in many cases, it’s all about trying to buddy up in the hope that they will somehow be brought into the inner circle and become big themselves.

At best, it smacks of desperation; at worst, it reeks of, “What can you do for me?!”

What is the Goal of a Conference?

I get it — a conference is at least partly about making connections.

But if you zip past the people supporting you right now in a race to get a handful of seconds with a bigger personality, you’ve just established that you’re in it for yourself no matter how genuine you claim to be. No matter how many times you tell those around you that they matter to you, it becomes clear they don’t.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather have an experience like this (or this), instead of desperately trying to put what I do into the heads of a bigger guests.

In Praise of the Nobodies

So here’s to the nobodies just doing their thing, in spite of all the obstacles…

Here’s to the girl getting together with her geek buddies to talk about Dungeons and Dragons because they all love it and don’t care whether or not they can monetize their passion…*

Here’s to the guy with a podcast about novels only a handful of people may be reading; by curating things for that small following, you’ve given a voice to those who often feel silent…

Here’s to the people talking about quirky passions, the invisible outcasts who will keep talking even if only four people listen to or read what they’re doing…

Here’s to the people doing a thing simply because they love it — not because they want to claw their way to “guru” status…

Here’s to the non-“Rockstars” and “Nope-I-Am-Not-A-Ninja”s; people who are so much more than a buzzword…

Here’s to the real people who don’t just say they are genuine, but truly are.

Cheers!

Wine glasses - cheers!

 

Look Up, Down, or Not at All

Look Up, Down, or Not at All

Do you remember the Look Up video?

Now I’ve been seeing Can We Auto-Correct Humanity shared quite a bit:

They are well-done videos…that seem to assume a lot about people and the way they use technology.

Yes, My Phone is Out

If you see my wife and me having coffee and tea and our phones are out, you’d be wrong to assume we are a couple that doesn’t communicate.

After work, the first thing we usually do is sit on the couch and talk…sometimes for hours. We walk most days, and on those walks we either talk or walk in silence. But if we’re getting coffee and tea, you’ll usually see us with our phones out and scrawling in notebooks and talking. When we get coffee and tea, they are usually times when we have agreed to talk about webpages and plans, so yes: phones come out as we look up information.

Technology is Not the Problem

We dedicated an episode of the weekly podcast I do to technology. We definitely talked about how we know some people who cannot go very long at all without bringing out their phone and looking at social media, texting, and things like that. But we also discussed that the problem is not technology (or even the people using the technology).

The Problem is Our Own Perception

If I see a couple in a restaurant on their phones, I don’t know why they aren’t talking to each other. It’s presumptuous of me to assume they can’t go ten minutes without checking their phones.

I don’t know if they are visiting the area and looking up directions to their next stop, or if some family thing is going on and they are keeping track of a situation. I don’t know if they are on the verge of separating and they are looking at things from their lawyers. But I do know this: humans are good at looking at a couple with their phones out at dinner and amplifying that. Suddenly, a handful of people looking at their phones at a restaurant becomes, “I went out to eat and everyone was on their phones! Nobody communicates face-to-face anymore — we’re doomed!”

When I go to restaurants, the majority of people I see are still talking to each other with their phones put up. To say things like, “No one communicates face to face anymore!” would mean restaurants and other places people meet up would be disappearing at an alarming rate.

I live in a small town, but if you see a new building going up — chances are — it’s a restaurant. People are meeting face-to-face probably more than any other time in history.

Another Thing We Do Not Consider

I know a lot of reclusive people. For whatever reason, they are not the biggest fans of face-to-face communication. For these people, social media and other things puts them in touch with people who have similar interests, even though it’s not face-to-face over dinner or in a living room. Is that any less real than trying to talk to someone in a loud restaurant or bar?

And let’s not forget all the people who are alone or disabled, and how being online — for the first time ever — has provided millions with the ability to communicate and finally be heard.

Maybe that person on SnapChat is sharing a story with someone who cannot get out. I know I will never see all the places I want to see before I die, so friends sharing their travels online allows me to at least get a taste of a place…and when I travel, I try to share for the same reason.

The Assumption

There is a big assumption in these videos…that, when I see someone post a photo of their new, big house (and I’m writing this in a tiny room that doubles as storage space in a small apartment) it makes me feel bad about myself. But it doesn’t — I’m always happy for my friends. (Hell, even people I don’t particularly like who have nice things…good for them!)

I know, I know…there are studies that show some see people posting about their good fortune as bragging, but guess what: there were jealous people long before social media came along! Those kinds people will always see everything as an attack against them and all they believe they don’t have…and it doesn’t matter if it’s seen online or in person.

What is Wrong with You

Really, it comes down to this for me: how is that person on their phone in a public place hurting me or society to the point that I have any right to judge their use of their device? Sure, if you play Words with Friends hours a day and complain to me about how you don’t have time to write, I’m going to laugh in your face and tell you the time is there if you want it to be there. But if a person wants to play games on their phone for hours each day, more power to them! It’s not my place to tell others how to live their lives, and even more — it’s quite presumptuous for me to say, “What’s right for me is how you must live your life as well!”

I don’t watch much TV, but I don’t care if you do. I don’t play video games, but I don’t care if you do. I don’t go to clubs and bars and stand around nodding at acquaintances, but I don’t care if you do.

(And if we have the right to say, “This is how you must use technology!” then everyone reading this should turn off all push notifications on their phones. Turn off all sound — even the vibrate feature. Only look at messages, email, and other things when you’ve blocked out time to do so. That’s what I do, and I now expect you to do the same!)

If You See Me On My Phone

I am a writer. I love solitude. The last thing I would want to do in a long line is pull out my phone and distract myself when I could be thinking. I rarely listen to music while driving (or even at home) because I’m usually thinking about stories and where I want to take them. Chances are, I spend more time thinking about things than you do — I live inside my head.

I also love people. I’m the guy who gets along with the weird person you talk poorly about when meeting with friends face-to-face. I’ve picked up hitchhikers and spent time talking to homeless people most others just pass by. I meet up with friends face-to-face, and phones stay put away. All that, and I still spend a lot of time online.

I make no distinction between the online world and the “real world.” It’s all real to me. I’d put money down that I’ve had some deeper conversations about writing and other things online than you’ve had during face-to-face meetups where you’ve fumed about people who spend too much time on their phones.

If you see me on my phone, feel free to think, “Oh, there’s another person who can’t avoid looking at Facebook!” or, “Why can’t someone just enjoy a view without taking a photo?!” Feel free to say to yourself (or to your friends), “That’s just like the Look Up and the Can We Auto-Correct Humanity videos.”

You’d be wrong, but you’re free to think what you want.

Meanwhile, when I am on my phone, it’s with purpose — and I’m probably being far more productive in that moment than you are getting bent out of shape that society has lost another person to a tiny screen.

What is the Best Social Network

What is the Best Social Network

So…Ello. It’s new, and for some reason, even people who said, “I’m tired of more social networks!” jumped onto the new thing.

(Okay, so one person I know declared it ugly and canceled his account not even two hours later. Others have praised it as the most pure thing they’ve seen, free of all that makes “those other,” social sites terrible.)

Battle Lines

I recently saw someone on their preferred social network take a shot at Twitter, saying it is worthless (because, it seems, it didn’t work for them; therefore, we should all join in the hatefest). At the same time — while attending WordCamp DFW last weekend — I heard people talk about business deals, new jobs, and great friendships that came their way…all started through Twitter.

Google Plus seems to get knocked quite a bit in online news articles and by others, but despite inflated numbers — when factoring for just active users — there are people using the network. When I tell people I like Google Plus, many just don’t get it. More than that, though…many almost talk about the network as though its mere mention has offended them.

Oh, I tried that for awhile and there was nothing there. It sucked, so I went back to [preferred social network].

Others were not as eloquent:

That place %#@! sucked!

(For me, the Podcasters community alone is worth Google Plus.)

Grrrr!!! Grrr, I Say!

I can understand the pull toward one social network over another, but not the anger or need to say, “My network is better than yours!”

I’m over one month into a break from Facebook. I’m not fond of Facebook. Outside of being in touch with a few friends in other states and countries who don’t use other networks or email, it’s just not my thing. But…just because it’s not my thing, doesn’t mean it can’t be your thing. I know several people who have made businesses take off through Facebook. Just as I’ve seen others do the same with Tumblr, Pinterest, Google Plus, Twitter, and — I’m sure at some point soon — Ello.

The Sad Fight

If you’re an adult praising one network and knocking others, it’s almost as sad as the iPhone vs. Android, Mac vs. PC, and all those other battles.

It’s not much better than Star Wars vs. Star Trek or Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings. Don’t even get me started on one sports team over another.

I know many people who have made nice livings by what they’ve made on Macs and many others who have made a life for themselves from PCs. I know people who have found ways to make Twitter work for them, and others who have made other networks work for them. They are all people who seem too busy making things happen than to have time becoming angered by what others are doing elsewhere.

It’s sad, really, this anger — and shows a certain insecurity when one feels the need to say the thing that works for them is the best and that all other things just “suck.”

The Best Social Network

The best social network is the one that’s right for you. John Green loves Tumblr, and — chances as — John Green is far more successful than most praising one network over another for business purposes. (If you didn’t rack up millions last year and raise over $300,000 for clean water in Africa in recent weeks, you lose the “Tumblr is useless!” argument.)

I know a photographer who owes the existence of their successful photography business to Facebook; meanwhile, Trey Ratcliff isn’t hurting on Google Plus with his approaching 8 million followers. The writer behind Shit My Dad Says met with more success than many social media “gurus” praising one network over another…and he owes it largely to Twitter.

Others have made a name for themselves on Instagram; Will Sasso is probably more famous than you, and millions of people have watched the things he’s done on Vine.

The point: there is no best social network. Resourceful people have met with success on all networks that have come…and even gone. (MySpace was great for comedians…before they seemed to jump to Twitter.) The best part: the people behind the the success stories don’t seem to feel a burning need to spend time talking about what didn’t work for them with disdain…because they’re too busy enjoying what works for them.

Another Social Media Break

Another Social Media Break

It’s that time of the year: time for my annual electronic equivalent of retreating to a cabin in the woods by taking a social media break. I’m not sure if it will be a break from all social sites, or just Facebook, but this afternoon I said, “Time for the annual Facebook break!” I logged out and removed the app from my phone.

I’m not sure about other social sites right now because I can filter Twitter to see only what I want to see. (I do that on Facebook, but Facebook insists on still showing me things I’ve requested be hidden). Google+ and Tumblr are free of drama, politics, and stress for me — places I can visit and leave refreshed. So we’ll see about those other sites as the week moves along.

The Problem with Facebook

I don’t know why it just seems to be Facebook for me, but it seems there’s usually a topic of the week that gets discussed — and it’s often discussed with a certain angst.

  • One week, talk about how depression kills. Then: “Robin Williams was a coward!” [Battles ensue.]
  • Another week, people doing the ice bucket challenge. Then: “This is why you are a dummy-head for doing the ice bucket challenge!” [Battles ensue.]
  • This week, people talking about a bunch of nude photos of female celebrities leaked online and shared. Then: “If they didn’t want the photos out there, they shouldn’t have taken them!” [Battles ensue.]

I know these same arguments are happening on Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Plus, but I only follow publishers, photographers, artists, and other people who tend to talk about positive things and creating work they love.

So I can’t say it’s Facebook’s problem exclusively. But I can say it’s the only network that keeps presenting things in my feed I’ve requested to not see.

“Are You Crazy?”

Most people I know understand why I take these annual breaks, but there are always a few who can’t fathom giving up the social sites they frequent. Those who use social sites to promote their work, and who know I do the same thing, usually ask:

“But doesn’t that affect your numbers?!”

I’m not a huge fan of tracking things; if you know me, you know I just like making the things I like and if people look, read, or listen — great. If not, it’s not the end of the world. For me, the most satisfying part is in the creation. This isn’t to say I don’t like having a following…especially as that following keeps growing.

When I take a break from one or all social sites and don’t say, “New podcast!” “New story,” or “New video,” it’s reflected in fewer downloads. I’m not there to remind people to check out whatever new thing I’ve created, so fewer people check out what I’m doing. When I think back to every year I’ve taken a break, all the way back to the 101-day break that kicked it all off (and what I learned in taking that break), there is an initial fear of losing the following I have. It’s not long, though, before I remember the sense of peace that comes from stepping away.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out is enough of a thing that we’ve turned FOMO into a buzzword. With each break I’ve taken, someone has asked me if it bothers me that I miss out on what’s going on — as though nothing happens outside of social media.

Even during the breaks from all social sites, I still read and replied to blogs. I still saw people. There was email. Those closest to me knew how to get in touch if there’s an emergency (or if they just wanted to hang out or say hello). So what do I really miss, outside of the rage of the day or week?

[It didn’t even hit me until just now that there is a midterm election coming up, which means all the people who rarely/never spoke with me in high school (but requested to be friends on Facebook because, I assume, they think I share in their view that our current president is a Muslim lizard man who will impose Sharia law on us before 2016), will be out in full force soon. I won’t mind missing that!]

I may miss out on some good news along the way, some funny memes, and other things, but what is gained from these breaks is something that makes me a better writer.

Writing is What It’s Really All About…

For me, Jonathan Franzen’s words about electronic distractions holds weight:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

I write best when I disconnect from distractions. I also write more when I disconnect from distractions.

I started the novel I’m working on almost three years ago. With a life, day job, weekly podcast, other writing, and additional things I do, my goal for a solid draft of a new book is every three years. I’m on pace to make my self-imposed deadline if I disconnect and focus.

So that’s what I’m going to do…

From Goooooal to Noooooo!

From Goooooal to Noooooo!

The World Cup has started. People who normally don’t post much online about sports are taking to social media and shouting GOOAAALLLLL!!!!

Recent Sunday nights have had people watching Game of Thrones shouting NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

It can seem strange, people posting these things on their social media feeds with the assumption that others will know what they are talking about. But connections are made…

The Importance of Connection

It’s easy to say that social media leaves us all with a sense of connection where there is none. I see so many people say, “Nobody gets together in person anymore.” Yet, every time I go to restaurants to meet friends for lunch, they are packed with people getting together in person. To hear it from some, the only things in the streets are tumbleweeds and blowing leaves because people are all inside, “connecting” through social media when they “should” be meeting in person.

First, the notion that what works for one should work for all is a bit presumptuous. If a person wants to connect through social media and not in person, that’s their right. I understand the sentiment, though; I enjoy when I’m with people in person. I leave my phone in my pocket when visiting others — but that’s my thing. (My phone is always muted — it doesn’t even vibrate — and has no push notifications set. That’s what works for me, but I don’t come unhinged if a friend jumps on Facebook and says, “Having lunch at Al Wadi with Chris.” For whatever reason, that connection to a larger group is important for someone in the moment.)

Ranting online about people not behaving the way you want them to behave online is the digital equivalent of shouting, “You kids get off my lawn!” There are some people I will not see in person because they cannot stay off their phones, but that doesn’t mean I think they are wrong in the way they choose to connect with others. It’s just not my idea of a good time.

When I Avoid Twitter

While I understand this connection in the moment, when the Super Bowl, Oscars, or any big TV event that can be shared online comes around, I avoid social media. I find millions of people all watching the same thing and talking about it in their feeds fascinating, but it often moves from simply making a connection to displaying like a bird in mating season — a struggle to come up with the funniest (or snarkiest) tweet in the hope of retweets and 34 seconds of Internet fame. But is there anything really wrong with that?

I have never watched an episode of Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, but I know quite a bit about the shows, simply by seeing friends’ social media feeds lighting up on evenings new shows air. I know that tonight the San Antonio Spurs have a chance to win the championship…and while I have never been a basketball fan, for the sake of some friends, I hope San Antonio wins. I’ll know if they win through Twitter and Facebook tonight, just as I know what’s happening in the World Cup, even though I’ve only watched about 10 minutes of one game so far.

In a way, it’s not much different than talking about sports in a bar.

“It’s Not Real”

I’ve seen people say that connecting with others online isn’t “real”; that somehow, since the connection is made digitally, that it’s less than face-to-face connections. (Never mind that there are millions of people who can’t get out and around; for them, an online world has opened up so much to them!) But I understand the sentiment.

I prefer talking to people in person when I can, but I’ll say this: if I meet you face-to-face and all you can talk about are sports stats, for me, I can get a better connection with people online talking about deeper things. I’m not knocking sports or people who can only talk in stats — I believe adults should do and talk about what they want if that’s their thing — but I would see a conversation on Google Plus about writing and creating things more “real” to me than sitting in a bar and listening to someone spout off sports stats, rant about politics, or fume about how social media is destroying society.

It’s All Real (If We Want It To Be)

I’ve had great conversations about writing and creating online and offline. I don’t see one any better than the other. Online, I have the ability to talk about writing with people in other states and countries. I can get a much wider view of what’s being discussed than I could if I talked with the same handful of people, face-to-face. There are some face-to-face conversations I can predict before they even happen, and there are times I sidestep those meetings and write a blog entry in the hope of discussion about a topic, or take to social media and see who has the time to discuss things.

I’d go as far as saying that going into the world of an online role playing game and talking with people can be more “real” than the experience of going to a club just to be seen and stand around with a drink in hand, bobbing my head to music. For others, life doesn’t get much better than going to a club and holding a drink while bobbing one’s head to music.

The connections made by being seen in a club, typing “GOOOOOOOAL!!!” online (knowing others are watching with you), or having an in-depth talk about something that means a lot to those involved — whether online or in person — is as real as people want the moment to be.

E-Hermitage

E-Hermitage

With the shift to so many digital things, it seems the “e-” prefix can be attached to anything:

e-book, e-commerce, e-trading, e-business, e-signature, e-etc.

As 2014 approaches, I propose a new e-thing:

e-hermitage!

E-Hermitage

I’ve written about my experiences taking a 101-day social media break. I even followed up with additional thoughts after returning.

I reread those two blog entries and realized that I’ve been quite e-interrupted since that break (and other breaks I’ve taken from social media — mostly around election seasons).

After coming back, while still making progress on the novel, I started focusing on blogging and other things people say matters if one is going to write. I lost the focus I had during the breaks from social media, and…I decided to write a novella instead. I started a podcast. I started blogging here, again, instead of just at The Juggling Writer.

It’s time for another e-hermitage: a break from being so connected. Maybe the numbers of the podcast will drop without reminding people on Facebook that a new show is online. Maybe my blog numbers will plummet without reminding people on social media what I’m up to.

I’m okay with that. For me, an e-hermitage is finding Walden in an e-connected world and focusing on what matters most to me: fiction!

The Book

A Magic Life is the best thing I’ve written. It’s surpassed Old Man, now, as my favorite story…and it’s not even complete. I guess it’s probably half complete, and it needs to be fully complete in 2014.

That means stepping back from interruption and keeping the story in my head almost exclusively — rolling scenes around over and over to see the best way they should be presented. I know the advice says I must be available online, and that Twitter, Facebook, and other networks are every bit as important as what we write.

I don’t believe that, though. And I’m not so sure people who care about books on deeper levels than just, “This person has a big following that will buy whatever they churn out!” believe that, either.

So it’s time to wander into the e-woods and build my e-cabin and come out when I’m done with a new book.

I hope people understand.