It’s been more than five years since I first engaged as a writer with social media. I started in with writing a web log (usually called a blog and the earliest form of S.M.). I’m still not sure what’s especially social about a blog, since it’s mostly just a place on the web to put up text and pictures that people sign up to look at. A newsletter that arrives through the ether, rather than via snails.
My blog’s co-founder and I gave considerable thought to how we could best name what was to be a display of wisdom accumulated over two lifetimes. What resulted was ‘Musings of an Aging Boomer’, with the tag-line, ‘A Senior Perspective on the Evolution of Western Values since IBM Selectrics and Rock-and-Roll were young’.
I was very proud of that tag-line’s intellectual gravitas but its gently obscure pomposity may be one reason why our readership remains low. So about a year ago I started searching for a way out of the blogger doldrums by considering what I might learn from the newer types of social media. Were they truly a medium for socializing online? And, more importantly, do they represent a new writing paradigm that, if understood, could revitalize my writing so that it meant something to a wider audience?
Facebook, though started at a university, had by then morphed into a tool for grownups. I wondered if it represented a better format for getting read online; did it even provide the magic needed to restart a burnt out internet author? Needless to say the way to find out was to jump in and see for myself.
Postings on Facebook are well known not to be fully secure, and I knew not to post anything personally revealing that wasn’t already ‘out there’. Imagine my surprise when I found that FB’s universe harbours a surprisingly large percentage of spiteful, ignorant or prejudiced contributors who seem careless or oblivious of what their posts signal about them as a person.
My Gen X son hides behind an avatar on his personal FB site and steers clear of anything controversial or harsh in case any of his clients take a peek, but Boomers and the generation beyond use their real names yet often sound off like street vendors. Much of their utterance reads like a stream of consciousness, one that looks like its author stopped English class around Grade Four. Many of them seem never to have discovered FB’s editing facility, and they leave up spelling and grammar howlers forever in plain sight.
Early on in my Facebook experience I began to classify. I’m a biologist so that comes naturally. Today I can identify for you four types of users I think of as serial FB abusers. My least favourite are the Ranters. I find haters overpopulate social media. A topical hate theme you will be familiar with is ABH (hint: refers to our soon-to-be-past-Prime Minister). Slander and abuse that would attract a large fine if it appeared in mainstream media is de riguer in some corners of the Facebook universe.
Less hard on the nerves, but still irritating, are the Fans, those who chirp up only when an admired friend is preening online. “You always look terrific Susie”, “Oh, where did you get those shoes/that recipe/that lovely vase?”, and “Great pictures, Tom!” characterize the Fan.
Then there are the Wowed, those whose only utterances on FB will be followed by an exclamation mark. They use minimalist text as they’re just popping in and out. Wow! or Ugh! or Aah! as comment below someone’s newsy post defines the Wowed. They seem amazed or upset by many of the usually mundane facts that they briefly alight on in FB. I do sometimes wonder if the Wowed leave home much, or even watch TV or read a paper.
The last FB tribe that gets my goat are the Voyeurs. I think of them as the Peeping Toms of the Facebook world. Once they agreed to be your ‘friend’ and so still smile out at you from the row of contacts right of your timeline, but they lurk there in total silence, never posting anything at all. There’s nothing social about this medium for them; they just like to monitor the rest of us. I suspect they support Bill C-51, and even CCTV in every home.
There is no authorial fairy sparkle to be had from Facebook and its ilk, I’m disappointed to have learnt. No really new online writing insights to pep up my blog so it interests a wider audience. Worse, troubling to read all that is posted to one’s timeline can feel like sadomasochism. I’ve reluctantly decided it is best not to spend much time with the newer social media as they could permanently poison the mind. Skilled writers, such as those to be met at Caledon Writers’ Ink, have the only pixie dust I’ve so far encountered.
by Ian Keith Anderson