Once in a Lifetime

3632962623_1bab7ccb9f_mOne of my favorite Talking Heads songs is Once in a Lifetime. Lately this stanza has been resonating:

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

This encapsulates my social media existence in a nutshell.

That beautiful house

Thanks to the online world, I have met some pretty amazing people, and by met I don’t just mean online. I mean I’ve gotten to talk to them face to face. I’ve gotten to talk to Angela Daffron, for example, the woman behind Jodi’s Voice. I’ve gotten to talk to authors of books that I’ve read and I’ve even gotten to hug a few of those authors.

Every day, I’m embarrassed to say, people say the kindest possible things to me. They tell me I make them smile. They thank me for doing things that most people in the “real” world would not have noticed. It is through social media that I was able to co-found Homespun Helpers and then bring it back again this year. Social Media is behind the Blankies for Boston love-miracle that is happening on Facebook right now. I can talk about anything with the people I’m connected with, from television shows to religion to politics, and more. It’s sort of like a Utopia when you think about it that way.

The mysterious highway

The weird thing about my social media journey is that I seem to be on a highway I never wanted to travel. I have felt a palpable pressure to “take it to the next level” for my own self for the last 2 years or so. Other people have certainly done it. People who were new with me, who lamented the granite ceiling that crushed out new voices, have now skyrocketed past me in the game. They’ve written books, spoken at events, and have turned their social media work into jobs. I could have traveled that highway, I suppose. I still could, I guess. But it’s not what I wanted to do online.

I thought maybe if I got a following online I could help make the world better. You didn’t know I was a Pollyanna, did you? But that was my promise to myself from the start. “If I get a following, I’m going to use that power, such as it is, to do good.” It’s a catch-22 though, of course. The more you want to really make an impact, the more you need to build your following. The more you need to play the game. I am perpetually asking myself, “How much of my soul would I sell to be able to reach more people with messages I feel are important?” These messages are important to me, as a person. My online work for my professional career I view as separate. Tied to me as an individual, but separate.

Right or wrong?

I have always been outspoken when I feel things are wrong. I was that way long before social media came into my life. When I was in grade school I saw people bullying a kid, and I told them to stop. When I was in graduate school a professor had us make fun of our friends’ papers. When it came to be my turn I told him I refused. His face turned a very festive cherry red and he stepped out of the room. He took his vengeance on me during my thesis defense a year later. In the online world, I carry this trait with me. I do not like to see people hurt. I do not like to see people misled. But in the online world things seem so much more complicated.

On the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, I admonished people for having their automated tweets continue. I did this with the intention of trying to prevent them from facing more mean criticism from other people. I didn’t want people to look bad just because they didn’t know “the etiquette.” I was corrected though, by my friend Raul Colon. There are always bad things happening in the world. Why should the world stop when something bad happens in the US? Darned tootin. In my effort to be right, I was wrong. I worry I do this a lot. How did I get into a position where I feel responsible for people I talk to? I never wanted that.

My god, what have I done?

When I started blogging, my blog site was ladybugnotes.blogspot.com. I tried to tie a social media persona into my professional work and decided to start tweeting as RealLifeMadMan. Neither of these ideas were good. They seem laughable now. But I shuddered at the idea of having a me.com website. I didn’t want to ever have to say, “I have xyz followers.” How can you say or do either of those things and not feel like a narcissistic d-bag? Yet here I am. I’m writing this post at MargieClayman.com. I’ll post it to Twitter via my handle, which is my name. And I laugh at the surrealism inherent in saying that x many people “follow me.” I will never feel unweird about that.

In making my social media presence about me, I have strayed away from everything I really wanted to do online, and I have wandered into territory that I never wanted to explore. The murky world of people pretending to be things they are not, the unfortunate terror that occurs when the online world impacts someone’s real life, real family, or real job. I never thought I would worry about people I barely know. I never thought I’d be mediating online fights amongst people who are older than me and far more successful, depending on how you use that word. I wanted to be out here as a professional and as a do-gooder. That was it.

I’ve become, I fear, what I shuddered at when I first started.

I am not comfortable in my social media skin. I have not been for about two years now. I long, many times, to just go off the grid and only work as our agency or for our clients. I want to disappear from the online world and remember how I used to spend my time. I have projects I want to work on. And yet, just this week people posted things to Facebook that nobody else was sharing or commenting on. Causes that were near and dear to their hearts. That’s become one of my roles, I guess. Sharing things that are important to individuals but maybe not as important for EdgeRank or Retweets. Letting someone know I see what they’re doing – that’s important to me. How can I abandon stuff like that? Or does it even matter, really? Maybe if I let the posts go without shares other people will just pick them up. Would it really matter in the end? What am I to those people whose information I share?

You tell me what the next stanza of this song is. Are you singing it too?

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I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Signed Off

189512184_95a0d4ca45_mI often wonder what a poet like Emily Dickinson would make of today’s online world. In the 19th century she wrote a poem about the moment of her death. People often imagine what it would be like to attend their own funerals. Would people say nice things about them? Would that jerk who picked on them in fifth grade break down in a puddle of remorse and grief? Would that person they had always lusted after admit, just too late, that they had felt the attraction?

The online world is so hypnotic in part, I think, because we can create scenarios where we can actually witness how people might talk about us at our funeral. Consider, for example, what happens if you decide to go off the grid for a long time. When you come back, isn’t it interesting to see who started to wonder where you were? Who noticed you were gone? Who started to leave notes of concern because you suddenly had gone quiet?

How many times do you sign off and then take a quick peek on your phone to see who says, “I’ll miss you!”?

And yet, these are dangerous games we play. Trying to manipulate daily, weekly, or monthly grieving for our absence can have dire consequences. The most obvious one is that for many people, the online world is something that is engaged in with something short of full attention. When people sign in, they are here to promote their thoughts, their content, their ideas – themselves. This is not to say that they fail to enjoy your company when you’re around, but your absence may not leave an impression on them. Indeed, as sad as it is to ponder, it might not even register with them that we’ve been gone for ages (like, two days or so). For people who depend on the online world for their sense of well-being, this could be devastating. It could lead to a downward spiral. “No one cares about me, see, I told you!”

The online world is seductive. You can be anything you want to be. You can even post pictures of people who aren’t you and pretend that it is you. You can create  a voice for yourself. In fact, bloggers are told that this is a must. You can highlight only the parts of your life that are most spectacular, and indeed, you can make those up too.

What we can’t make up, however, is that real feeling of human connection. This is what people who purchase fans and followers really miss, I fear. You could have 50,000 followers, 100,000 blog subscribers, however many fans you can muster on Facebook, but how many of those people are connected enough with you that they would notice your absence? Taking it one step further, how many would begin to get concerned over a longer period of time? For people who depend on these followers for affection, validation, or positive reinforcement, this lack of attention, perceived as lack of care, could, I hypothesize, be rather a hard blow.

Is this why people seem so antsy when it comes to the online world? Are people looking for a type of fulfillment that seems so much within reach, but then floats away out into the ether? Is this why people sometimes cry out for attention, because they want to know someone really does notice them and acknowledge their existence?

Are we playing with fire here?

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Sorry, but I like my phone a little better than you

4666140801_393890e5fd_mWhen you get involved in online communication, it’s very easy to quickly reach a point where you are communicating with people all of the time. Multitasking has become the new “must” skill, and much of our multitasking talents are used for entertaining chatter while we are working, doing homework, cooking, or even driving. Despite this 24/7 communication online or via text messages, however, our willingness to relate to real people in the moment, face-to-face, is dwindling. All of the signs point to it.

This was first brought to my attention by Ellen Bremen (aka @ChattyProf). Ellen is a communications professor, and as such she has undertaken a seemingly simple experiment. She invites her students to “fast” from social media and texting for three days. The only way you’re allowed to communicate with people is in-person or via the phone. Old-fashioned ways. Ellen’s students, who range in ages, almost universally struggled with this task. In this intriguing #HecklersHangout chat I co-hosted with Brian Vickery, Ellen talks about students who told her, “When I met my friends in person, we couldn’t really talk. We didn’t know how to relate.” Students accused her of making them doubt how real their friendships were. Many, unable to coordinate outings, ended up feeling more isolated and more alone than they ever had before.

This is not just mythology, but we don’t talk about these new complexities outright. What I do notice is that when friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time get together, they post pictures of their meal to Facebook. They post pictures of themselves to Instagram. And as people comment, they continue to reply. I often picture a table with two friends (or more) who were looking forward to seeing each other…maybe, sort of…sitting with their heads down, fingers tapping away. Maybe they talk about a comment their tagged picture got. They are bringing their online means of connection into the “real” world, but they are not really engaging with each other in meaningful ways. We see this all the time, but we don’t comment on why this happens. No one ever says, “Don’t you want to put your phone away and talk to that friend?”

I wonder if I’m the only one thinking it.

Even more disturbing is a trend that Sherry Turkle points out in Alone Together. Numerous children in her study report that as they get into their parents’ cars after school, their parent may not even look up from the phone, or the parent might give that now common wave. “Give me just a minute, I’m finishing this.” One teen Turkle quotes notes that she waits for the time that her mom picks her up and says, “Hi, how was your day.” At the same time, the teen notes that her mom will never change. The phone will never leave. Indeed, Turkle even tells the account of a man who becomes infatuated with his Second Life wife. He texts to her, essentially committing a new kind of adultery, while pushing his child on a swing with the other hand.

Children, according to Turkle, do not ignore these moments when they want to engage with their parents but are placed as a second priority to their parents’ emails, social media, or texting. One son notes that he and his dad used to watch football games together and it was a great time to bond. Now the dad is buried in his phone and they barely talk to each other. This leaves children, in real life, feeling abandoned. It opens them up to the idea that maybe real-life connections aren’t as reliable, or as predictable, as online connections. If we are talking about how we turn each other into robots in the world of social media, we can see how we are creating a generation of potentially very confused young people.

We all are tied to our phones because of work these days. We all are getting more email than we can handle. But we need to take a moment to weigh a 20-minute lag in responding to an email versus losing a connection with people we love. Is that email or text really worth that? This may seem dramatic, but I do not believe it’s overstating the fact. Over time, we are sending the message, “This is more important than my time with you.”

We don’t want to do that. Do we?

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ubiqua/4666140801/ via Creative Commons

Needing the Illusion of Grandeur to Be Real

446970097_9ced5afe58_mIn today’s world, we are bombarded with bad news. Murders, holes in the ozone, wars, people who are starving, people who are homeless, bad unemployment numbers, shaky governments, and so on. It’s no wonder that humans are looking for something grand, something full of affection and validation. What is different about this time period versus times that have passed is that all we have to do to start building illusions of grandeur is create a social media account.

Consider this. If I had gone up to you in say, 1995, and said, “Guess what? There are about 7,000 people who follow things that I say, and often they share or respond to those comments,” would you have congratulated me? Probably not. More likely, you’d have thought I was some crazy drug addict who was riding a high. But today, this is commonplace. Indeed, there are people who can say that they have a million followers on Twitter. There are people who write blog posts and it immediately gets acted on THOUSANDS of times.

In the online world, we can create whatever image of ourselves we want. Our gut reaction to this fact is to say, “Well, I’m authentically who I am.” But that’s not 100% true for any of us, is it? The online world offers us a place where we can get an entire thought out without being hissed at, disagreed with, interrupted, or ignored. In the online world, we can say something and people, if we are lucky, will say, “Wow, that was really smart.” How often do we get that in our real lives? How often do you talk to a spouse, a parent, a co-worker, or a friend and hear in return, “That’s a fascinating way to look at things. I’m going to tell 500 people you said that,”? How many times do you hear, in the offline world, “What you said really made my day?” How many times is your day made by what someone says or does? The online world is a heady place. If we want to, we can believe that having a lot of followers, a lot of connections, means that what we are saying is 100% important all of the time. Everything we are saying has deep meaning. Everything we do is improving the world. Our online world may become more rewarding than our actual lives, though most people would shudder to think of such a thing.

I just watched a documentary by Vikram Gandhi called Kumaré. The story is fascinating and could easily be translated into a parable of the online experience. Gandhi grew up in a family that wanted to instill in him his Hindu roots even though he was growing up as an American citizen, in the “melting pot,” as so many have called it. The more Gandhi was exposed to gurus and other spiritual leaders, the more convinced he was that the whole host of them were rubbish. Although he does not pointedly say that gurus can hurt people in obvious ways, he clearly feels, at the beginning of the documentary, that people put far too much trust into such people.

To help fight this trend, Gandhi creates for himself a Guru character called Kumaré. He sets up shop in Phoenix with two friends acting as his first disciples (and PR associates). Ultimately, Kumaré becomes increasingly real. People start telling him their darkest secrets and their deepest fears, and while he remains fully cognizant that he is not really equipped to help these people, he does not reveal his true identity until the very end, about 4 months after he leaves his enclave and 14 disciples. Through the course of teaching people that they don’t need an external guru, Gandhi, as Kumaré, actually benefits all of the people he has adopted as students. One woman loses 70 pounds. One man starts thinking of ways, every day, to make his wife happy. Another man is working on letting go of his anger. These are all great things. But when Gandhi reveals that he himself was a hoax, you get a sense that even the people who experienced these massive positive changes now feel stupid. They entrusted a person with their hearts, and the person turned out to be a fiction.

Does this, however, mean the improvements in their lives are less real? They may feel betrayed, but if they hold on to their new habits, was it all bad? Was it all imaginary?

If a person who is going through a depression finds comfort in the online world, does that make their comfort any less real? If a person who feels ignored at work gets a lot of responses to their content in the online world, is that confidence boost a bad thing, or is it just a 3D figment of our imaginations? Pragmatism suggests we should not worry about how we find contentment so long as we get there, but if our happiness begins to depend on 2-dimensional avatars of people we will never see offline, is that a good thing? Is online acceptance less real than a high school clique?

Social Media gives us an opportunity to become a guru and to follow gurus. We can define these words however we like. We can manipulate people so easily. It’s easier than what Vikram Gandhi did. He faced people every day for months as he lied to them. All we have to do is find a picture of someone else, someone else’s house, someone else’s family, and say that it’s us, our own. When we get uncomfortable with our hoax, we can turn the computer off till we get our courage up again. Most people, hopefully, do not go to this extent to create their illusion of grandeur, but we know it happens. And it happens in lesser degrees far more than we’d like to admit.

Is social media a help or a danger? Are these feelings of affection and validation good or an evil masquerading as something beneficial? How do we define all of these words? Perhaps it depends on the individual.

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Why do we post the things we do to the online world?

3718789722_8800a8f2a3_mBack in 2010, I think, I decided that I was done with Facebook. OK, this wasn’t the first time I had come to that conclusion and it would not be the last. In this particular case, I decided I would go back to where my online experience had started, which was the blogging platform called Livejournal. There was a lot I was not liking about Facebook. I did not like how easy it was for me (and others) to post banal, meaningless details about our lives. Livejournal gave me an opportunity to noodle a thought, write it out, and then get more than a “thumbs up” when I was done, if anyone was in the mood to react at all. On Livejournal I was connected to people I had known in my college years, primarily. Facebook was full of people i had met online, and I was becoming confused about our relationships. Were we friends? Facebook said so. I didn’t feel like dealing with the moral dilemma, I guess.

Shortly after deciding that Facebook and I were history, a big thunderstorm rolled into my neighborhood. I did not take this as a sign from above that I had made a mistake, but I did notice that my immediate impulse was to post to Facebook. “It’s thunderstorming! I love thunderstorms!” What was that all about? Who cares that it’s thunderstorming? In fact, more to the point, who cares that I love thunderstorms? What was this new instinct all about? Something happened, I must report it to people I may not know at all.

Of course, I returned to Facebook after some short amount of time, and I have never really returned to my old friend Livejournal. My Facebook world is a hybrid of communities that represent a “This is your life” amalgam for me now. There are people on Facebook with whom I went to nursery school. There are high school friends, college, friends, grad school friends, work friends, and people I have met over my years “doing” social media for my family’s full-service marketing firm. Indeed, if you traced my connections chronologically you’d have a good start on the story of my life. But this does not explain the urge I experience to report on random things throughout the day. “It’s snowing.” “It’s warm.” “It’s cold.” Of course my statements are not so simplistic, but in the grand scheme of things, that is about the level of significance many of my Facebook updates carry with them.

8272939201_eef7695961_mThis is not a self-condemnation. I am of course not the only one who posts things to Facebook that reflect the everyday grind of life. People post pictures of what they are eating. I’ve seen people post pictures of an empty plate, noting that what had once resided on that plate was really tasty. They ate it all. Do I need to know these things? I don’t know what my parents eat for dinner most of the time, nor do I really care. Same for the rest of my family, unless they are eating something I’m really jealous of. Yet every day I comment on pictures of peoples’ food, pictures of peoples’ new shoes, peoples’ observations about airports and grocery stores. Why do we post these things?

I pose this question rhetorically. I don’t have an answer. For me I would say it has become a habit over the years. You might even sy it has become an addiction. Through these tiny humdrum updates I have built real friendships, so each little one can’t be a waste of time. Sometimes posting something seemingly unimportant touches another person in an unexpected way and you learn something about them they may not even have thought about. I like the unpredictability of those kinds of interactions.

I think there is more to the story though. I am often puzzled as to why people post pictures of their food to Facebook while they are out with their spouse to celebrate an anniversary. Why do people post pictures of themselves snuggling with their children? Shouldn’t the focus be exclusively on the spouse, exclusively on the child? Why do people who say they are content with their lives spend hours every day staring at a computer or phone screen, typing to people who are not there. Typing to people who may even be on the other side of the world?

I am reading an amazing book by Sherry Turkle called Alone Together. Right now she is exploring how humans interact with robots that are intended to mimic facets of human nature. Turkle notes again and again that when humans engage with Artificial Intelligence, the human mind changes in a very short period of time. The robot evolves from “a machine” to something the human wants to earn affection from. The robot is anthropormorphised. It is given a name, it is attributed feelings like caring, likes, and dislikes. The human has something missing, and suddenly there is something that can fill that hole, whatever it may be. A child who feels it does not get enough attention can suddenly receive undivided attention from these robots. A person who feels unimportant can become proud if they teach a robot a new word or action.

Is this why we interact online the way we do? Perhaps I post that I like thunderstorms because I want to share that joy with other people. Perhaps people share pictures of them with their children because they feel a need to prove that they spend enough time with their children. Perhaps people post pictures of new purchases or great meals because they want to prove that their lives are really good. Who are they proving that to, however? To others? Or are we all looking for a pat on the back from people, some nod of encouragement saying that even with the craziness in this world, we’re doing ok?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how coaches, teachers, and parents are raising kids with an “everybody’s a winner” mentality. I remember when this surfaced during my childhood. My brother participated in a competitive event called Odyssey of the Mind. He and the other kids on his team worked for weeks, really hard, on what they were going to do. All of the other competitors worked really hard too. At the end of the day, it was announced that there were no winners because everyone who had participated was a winner. I seem to remember a distinct groan from everyone who was there. Or consider the quote from the Pixar movie The Incredibles. “If everyone is special, no one is.” If we’re all winners and all special, we are like everybody else. There is nothing remarkable about us. Maybe we need our online interactions to accentuate what makes us unique.

Why do we post the things we do? It is a hard thing to think about. It’s like that childhood moment when suddenly you realize you’re too old to play “house.” The dolls aren’t real, you’re not really a mom or dad, and anyway, real life may not be so great as to want to play it out more than you have to. Pulling back the curtain of why we post the things we do can make us ponder things about ourselves we don’t really want to think about. Flaws. Bad feelings. Things we know we need to work on but don’t really want to. Are you willing to take the journey?

First Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/openpad/3718789722/sizes/s/in/photostream/ via Creative Commons

Second Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22261474@N08/8272939201/ via Creative Commons

A Letter To Those Of You With 1,500 Twitter Followers Or Fewer

4892486499_b03e35b730_mYesterday, shortly after the events in Boston started to unfold, a person who is very well known online still had their automated posts flowing into Twitter. One such post mentioned something goofy or something seemed inappropriately light-hearted for what was going on at that time. A person retweeted that post and mentioned that it was inappropriate. “This is why you shouldn’t automate your tweets” was the message with the shared post.

Shortly thereafter, the well-known person issued a pithy, not automated tweet. They said, “I love how people with under 1,500 followers are telling me how to tweet.”

To me, this means that this well-known person not only was taken off guard by a very appropriate criticism, but then they looked at how many followers the tweeter had before responding. Would this response have been different if the critique came from someone with 100,000 followers? Logic seems to indicate yes.

I have never wanted to write a “call out” post so badly in all my life. There is so much wrong about this exchange, especially during a time when people need love, support, and a sense that the world isn’t falling apart. But I don’t want to use this time to rip someone up. Instead, I want to build up those of you who may have seen this comment from someone you may look to as a role model, from someone you felt you were learning from, and I want to tell you that these words are not anything you need to pay attention to.

Some of the most amazing people I know have 1,500 followers or fewer. If they don’t know, they did at one point. I still remember (with the occasional nightmarish flashback) how frustrating Twitter was when I first got started. More than 1,000 followers? Are you kidding? I couldn’t get anyone to talk to me. I was stuck at 67-75 followers for months, and each follow or unfollow was ludicrously meaningful. When I got to 100 followers I felt like trumpets should be blowing, although I was sort of ignoring the high percentage of spam bots that made up my following. Details, details.

Anyway, the number of followers you have on Twitter does not matter. Certainly it does not pertain to your value as a person or the value of your advice. In the above scenario, who do you feel was more right in their actions? Who do you feel is more attuned to what is appropriate during a tragedy? It’s not about the number of followers. And clearly, how many followers you have does not improve you as a person. A person who is truly confident in themselves can accept criticism with grace, no matter how many followers or “fans” they have. Followers, like money, can’t buy you love.

When I follow people, I don’t look at how many followers they have. I look at how they interact with the people who are following them. I look to see if they are trying to use this online world to communicate, not just promote. I don’t care if you have 16 followers or 16,000. I’ve been at point a. I’ll probably never be at point b.

Does that matter to you?

Hang in there. Don’t let the big cats get you down. And to that person who called out the big guy – good for you. You did nothing wrong. The Emperor really isn’t wearing clothes.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22928412@N05/4892486499 via Creative Commons

Rootless

2543814431_4d20fc8917_mAbout a year ago, Olivier Blanchard wrote a post called Social Media 1918. It’s an amazing post (obviously, if it is still on my mind a year later), but upon reading it I became reacquainted with a sad fact. Whereas Olivier can easily trace his lineage back along some of the “stuff” his ancestors carried around, I am not so lucky. Geoff Livingston’s recent (equally amazing) post, called Antisemitism in the United States, again stamped a single fact into my head. Although Geoff’s family history is sad, he knows it and it impacts how he views the world. I don’t really know my family’s story. I don’t know about the triumphs and pain that resulted in well, me.

I wonder if this lack of connection with my roots is in part because most branches of my family haven’t been in the US for very long. On my mom’s side, I have a great-grandfather from Switzerland and a great-great grandmother from Ireland. My dad’s side of the family has only been here a short time. My great-grandparents were all born in Russia.

I am left with tantalizing tidbits that don’t make sense. I know that my grandfather fought in WWII because I have a picture of him in uniform with his parents, but I have no idea what branch he fought in, where he went, or what he did. I know that two of my great-grandparents came from Odessa, Russia, and the other two came from Berditchev. Why did they leave? Did they suffer from pogram-related violence? Did we lose family members due to anti-semitism? Or maybe they just saw the tide was turning.

Why did both sets of my great-grandparents change their names immediately upon arriving here in the US? The Kupcinets became Claymans. Why? The Bendisheets changed their surname to Bendis. Did my great-grandparents know family who were here already who had adopted those names? How do you get “Clayman” from “Kupcinet” anyway?

I do have pictures in some case, but this leads to only more mystery. Take this picture, for example:

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The woman on the left is my great-grandmother, Lena Bendis. The woman in the middle is my grandmother. Who is the woman on the right though? I have no idea. One would assume it might be my great-great grandmother, but I don’t know. I find this heart-breaking.

Or consider this picture:

dn-2

The baby in this picture is my great-grandfather Alfred Fuhrur, who was from Switzerland. I don’t know, off the top of my head, what his parents’ names were. I don’t really know his siblings’ names, either. I don’t know what made them come to the US from Switzerland. I don’t know why we have cousins from that side of the family who spoke French (my grandmother was fluent enough to write letters in French) yet the surname is German. I don’t know why my great-grandfather returned to Switzerland and then came back to Pennsylvania.

I don’t know why my great-great grandmother left Ireland all by herself as a young girl. Did she leave any relatives behind or was she the last remaining member of her family?

There are branches of my family who have been here in the US for a long time, but I still only have tidbits. We allegedly had people on the Mayflower. One of my ancestors apparently knew George Washington. In the Civil War, our Tennessee branch of the family was torn apart, but I don’t know any of the names of the players.

Maybe they were the sons of this woman, whose name was apparently Sophronia Potter:

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I have an ancestor with the improbable name of King David Russell. My great-great grandparents were known as Old Pap and Mammy Sally, and I think it was Mammy Sally who had Cherokee blood. How does that root travel through the soil of my past? I have no idea.

I wonder if a lot of Americans have this kind of experience. A recipe here, a photo there, some doodads over there, but nothing solid. No real stories, because everything was left behind, and it was too painful to talk about what had been lost.

Do you know your family’s story? How far can you go back? Do we need to emphasize our ancestry more? Is this a cultural thing?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/papaleo/2543814431/ via Creative Commons

Defining Social Media Friendships

4371372543_9d67ab84db_mIf you have been around me much, you know that I’ve been very pensive regarding this whole social media…thing. There is of course the business side. I’m a marketer – I can’t help but ponder the impact that social media is having and will have on the business world. But there is also the personal arena. Why do I post the things that I post? Do I post too much? Do I use the word “friend” too loosely? Are people really presenting themselves as they really are?

Last week these thoughts became even more insistent on grasping my brain. On Hecklers’ Hangout (a Google Plus/Twitter/Youtube show I co-host with Brian Vickery) we welcomed as our guest Ellen Bremen, a professor of Communication over in Seattle. The topic of our hangout was based around an experiment Ellen has been doing with her students. She makes them take a 3-day “social media fast,” meaning no social media or texting. The students then need to write papers based on that experience. One student’s paper really has been haunting me. The student noted that after the experiment, they are feeling isolated. They weren’t able to get in touch with their friends as easily, and they found that getting together with their friends in person was a very different experience from talking to them online. There didn’t seem to be as much of a connection. They felt, in a way, that their entire social world had been a fraud. Taking away social media had hurt, not helped them.

With all of that bustling around in my head, my friend Jillian then posted to Facebook over the weekend, clearly wondering about the same sorts of things. She wrote,

You know how we deepen the connections we make in social media, first into more platforms and then into email and finally phone calls and in-person socializing? It may not take that exact path, may skip or meander around those points but generally, the goal between humans is to increase the involvement where possible.

We like to reserve Facebook for those connections that are closest, most personal and mutually rewarding, right? So perhaps if you truly want to clean up your friend list, you can look at it not only as “who hasn’t interacted with my stuff in a while” but also as “who, in my timeline, can I tell how the last year of their life has gone?”

Because YOU have to be a friend, too. Maybe your FB friends have backed off because YOU aren’t making the effort to be involved with THEM.

I pondered all of this for quite some time and posted a very long-winded response to Jillian’s questions and thoughts. Here is where I ended up.

When I say that I care about you, I mean it. While we all might not be “friends” in the traditional sense – we don’t hang, we don’t call each other on the phone, we didn’t go to school with each other, the relationships we are growing here are not devoid of meaning. When bad things happen to you I feel terrible. If anything were to happen to you that would take you out of my life, I would be devastated. Those are not two-dimensional sentiments. Those are real.

While I am certainly closer to some folks than I am to others, what we all create here is a patchwork quilt of varying levels of friendship, understanding, similar experiences, and more.

While social media can become addictive and all sorts of negative things, I think we sometimes forget that it is because of this technology that we can talk to people simultaneously in Dubai and Akron and California and Minnesota and France and England and who knows where else. For free. We met each other because of social media. For all of its foibles and weirdness, I also wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I wish I lived close to everybody I engage with regularly online. I wish it was easier to make time to make the phonecalls and go out for the coffees that help friendships grow when they’re meant to. We are in a new era and these things are perhaps harder than they used to be. Distance, real life distance, works against us. But all the more reason to cherish the fact that we can talk to each other every day, and if we work at it, the time for those phonecalls and coffees will come around. Life is funny that way. As my man Lincoln said, we can lament that the rose bush has thorns or we can glorify the fact that the thorns have roses.

I also happen to know, from personal experience, that friendships created online can deepen at the drop of a hat. There has been many a time when I have noticed someone seems down. I have decided, based on our growing friendship, to drop them a private message to check in on them, and often the trust is there. We begin to share there, and from that point on moving to in-person meetings or skype chats or whatever the next level might be is far more meaningful. If any online relationship has the potential to become a more meaningful, traditional type of friendship, should we not cherish those relationships just as much, even if we have perhaps never been in the same exact location together “in real life”?

What do you think about all of this? How do you define the “friends” you have on Facebook? What do you think of online relationships? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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A Letter To Those Of You Struggling With Infertility

6880359855_3179d2ea9e_mDear You,

I know you are probably trying to stay anonymous. They call infertility one of those “silent” things people deal with. It’s too hard to talk about casually, for one thing. It’s not like you can shake someone’s hand and say, “By the way, I can’t seem to have children.” I suppose you could, but it might be a little awkward. And besides, people get kind of weird when you talk about this. You can see them trying to figure out if they should unfriend you on Facebook you so that they can freely post their pictures of their kids. You can see them wanting to ask questions, like, “Well, are you sure you aren’t just too stressed out?” It can seem easier, really, to stay quiet and anonymous.

But I know you’re out there. I’ve seen glimpses of some of you. I know you’re out there because I’m out there, and I’ve been quiet too.

Being immersed in the world of social media when you struggle with infertility is hard. It’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s a whole segment of the online population categorized as “mommy bloggers.” It’s hard to see things on Pinterest like, “You haven’t really lived until you’ve tucked your kids in.” It’s hard to see all of the pictures of your friends’ children that show up in your Facebook stream. It’s hard, and it can feel overwhelming at times, to be inundated with conversations occurring between parents – conversations you can’t really participate in.

It’s hard to stay quiet. It’s hard not to yell at everyone to shut up. Just for a day.

It is hard, but it is not impossible.

I am here to tell you that you can make it in the online world, even with all of these nameless, quietly endured obstacles standing in your way. If you are thinking about shutting yourself away or unfriending people who post pictures of their kids, do not do it. You will come to a place, as hard as it may be to believe, where you will actually get great joy from watching these babies you know grow in the online world. These pictures, these conversations, they serve to remind you that even though you may not be able to bring your own children into the world, there are still tons of children out there to love. Some of them, like your friends’ babies, are really lucky. There are countless others who are not so lucky and who need our help. These are all good reminders to have.

I also want you to know, though, that you are not alone. Even as you sit there typing, not saying anything as these messages of pain and bitterness flash across your brain, you are not alone. There are people out here who know where you’re coming from. They may not say anything, but they are out there. They understand with no questions asked.

Some day, I hope society can evolve to the point where women AND men who struggle with infertility are not made to feel ashamed. I think medical professionals have a lot to do with that. I think family members have a lot to do with that. Infertility is not a badge of dishonor. It is not a scarlet letter I. It is a medical condition. Sometimes it is caused by other things. Sometimes nobody knows why. It should not be the “Silent” syndrome, however. My belief in that last point is why I wanted to write this post. I don’t want to be hush hush about this anymore. I don’t want it to be an everyday topic either, but I am not ashamed that this is something I have to deal with.

I don’t want you to feel ashamed either. And I don’t want you to feel alone.

You are not alone. I am here. And I’m just one.

Remember that.

Love,

Margie

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Dear A-Listers: I’m Worried About Your Souls

7499366134_ed78fd5868_mI’m coming up to my third year bloggiversary. I can’t legitimately celebrate it, I suppose. I haven’t really posted here much for the last several months. But my bloggiversary also marks about the extent of my time in the online world. A lot has changed over the last 36 months. Maybe some of those changes have just been in me – my perspective, my experiences, my various amounts of increasing or decreasing knowledge about certain topics. But A-Listers, I think you’ve changed, too. In fact, I’ve watched it happen. And I’m worried about you as people. I’m worried about your souls. I’m worried not that you’re “selling out,” but I’m worried about your souls.

A-Listers, you don’t walk your talk anymore. I watch you continue to talk about relationships, but what you create are not relationships. Not anymore. You have your cliques. You have your secret meetings that result in projects that you all announce on your blogs at the same time. You don’t even pretend to follow people that aren’t in those groups, in some cases. All of the things you used to preach, all of the things you stood by, you now contradict with your actions. I worry about you, A-Listers.

A-Listers, you no longer are willing to “do the work” like you so often used to preach. You forget what it was like working your way to the top, don’t you? Now you go for the short punch, the quick kill. You have learned that if you put “ROI” or “Content Marketing” in your blog title or in your e-newsletter headline, people will read. And sadly, most will not question why your post or your e-newsletter has nothing to do with those things. You will get away with the traffic bait unhindered because people are convinced of your expertise. But I see it, A-Listers. I’ve fallen for it. And it disappoints me every single time. Because you know better than to toy with people like that, A-Listers. I know you know the importance of not messing with people online because when I was starting out I went to YOU to learn those lessons. I went to your blog posts that were about the things the headline hinted at. I worry about you, A-Listers.

A-Listers, I worry that you are creating protective bubbles around yourselves and around each other. I worry that you are showing your work to each other and that you are so afraid to give or receive honest feedback, you are creating a world where “the Emperor’s new clothes” is no longer just a fairy tale. You are not perfect. None of you. Sometimes your work will be flawed. Sometimes your thinking will be flawed. You need people in your life who will say, “Man, that post kind of blew.” Because sometimes your posts do stink. Sometimes your writing is crappy. Sometimes you say things you really should not have said. Where are the people who will keep you honest? They have been dismissed as “haters.” You have surrounded yourselves with people who will only coddle you. And that is doing no favors to you, A-Listers. You need a devil’s advocate. You need to hear other perspectives that may not match your own. You need civil disagreement. I worry about you, A-Listers.

A-Listers, I listen to you talk about how you value people, but I have watched you throw people away. Some of you have thrown me away. Some of you have thrown great people I know away. For stupid reasons. For selfish reasons. For reasons you did not think through clearly before you acted. This will catch up to you eventually. You will lose those who are loyal to you. You will lose those who will defend you. You will be left with the dreary consequences of your actions, actions that were made for what? To maintain your celebrity status? To keep you on the speaking circuit? These things will seem inconsequential to you if you stay on the paths you are on. You will find yourself married to your work in a relationship without love or joy. You will find yourself ensnared in a mire of incestuous, mindless support of the same people, the same ideas, over and over and over again. You will find yourself with a house of cards built on avatars and Facebook updates. I worry about you, A-Listers.

It is not too late – it is never too late – to right your path. You can do your work with honesty and integrity. You can admit that you don’t know things. You can accept criticism, gracefully given, with grace. You can reach out to new people. You can learn new skills. You can hone the skills you have now. You can apologize for the wrongs you have done, and you can correct the missteps you’ve taken. It’s the option we all have, A-Listers. You can do it too.

I worry about you, A-Listers. I worry that you are going to drag down individuals and companies with you when you fall. I worry the weight of that will be too much for you.

I worry about you, A-Listers.

I really do.

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