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Things I Think My Friends Already Know

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Dec. 18th, 2012 | 05:22 am

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk around the ol’ LJ about whether Facebook is taking over, whether Twitter has boiled us down to 140 or however many characters.

(Confession: I don’t “get” Twitter. I know what it does, I have two mostly-unused accounts and I don’t, in my heart, really understand it. Perhaps the best explanation I’ve seen is kathrynrose talking about using hashtags to see what snarky fun chat is going on about her favorite shows, as they are happening.)


Twitter is like being in the lunchroom with super-hearing, able to listen to everyone’s conversation at once, catching a bit of gossip here and a fact from someone’s science project over there. Because the lunchroom monitor won’t let you yell from table to table, you can only respond by chucking a paper airplane with a single sentence over to the other table. At the end of third lunch, someone gathers up all the paper airplanes and pins them to the wall in subject groups so that anyone who wants to can read what happened.

Facebook is the conversation you’re having with the people at your table. It’s a pretty big table, and you have to make room for racist Cousin Millie, because your mom will get mad if you leave her out. On the up side, you get to have all your friends from elementary school on there, too, and you only have to listen to them two sentences at a time. Half the people there are ranting about politics, the other half are using their cell phones to take pictures of their food and text them to other tables where they also have seats. The table feels like it’s in the lunchroom, but it’s actually at the principal’s house, and he’s selling the ability to electronically bug the room to corporations.

Livejournal is having coffee with friends at the coffee shop. Even though you don’t know everyone at the table, they’ve all been vouched for by your friends. Everyone takes turns talking for a few minutes about something they’re really passionate about, or how their day went, and there’s a lot of group hugging. Everyone is, in internet years, Age Dinosaur, and so the conversation has slowed down a lot, with a lot of people quietly drinking tea and saying, “Now, back when I had a Commodore 64…”

When I see my friends talking about the new Internet communities, and the perception that the older communities are becoming marginalized, two things strike me. I think there’s a huge concern about privacy that may be somewhat misguided, and I think we all know that we get out of it what we put into it—that part of our sadness about the lack of community is sadness at our own lowered participation.


On Privacy

(I’m partly quoting myself from a conversation over at xo_kizzy_xo)

I'm from the Internet’s early middle generation, somewhere between scientists at universities discovering online communication and AOL disks arriving in every mail. I remember BBS services and meeting at the bowling alley to put faces to names, and that everyone I knew online lived within 50 miles. In twenty years, my ability to connect has grown enough that I can make friends in India before I arrive, and sustain acquaintanceships with people I met there after I’ve traveled on to the next country.

I've come to feel that privacy is greatly overrated. If it's truly private, don't put it on the internet. One can still purchase a pink diary with a lock on it and hide it under the bed. In many ways, being able to be public—to share one’s personal life and thoughts online—has made us able to find like-minded friends in real life and online. Before the internet, what was an underwater-basket-weaver to do? Especially when they lived in a landlocked state? Now there’s an online forum for that, chat rooms, blogs, and one need never practice #aquaticcrafts alone again.

Two years ago, I had a conversation with my play publisher about schools making unauthorized videos of licensed productions, and posting them on YouTube. Should we be making students take them down? Was it hurting our copyright? In the end, we decided our problem was not piracy, but obscurity. Pirate video gets our names out there, it’s free advertising. And we decided to monetize it by selling video licenses that made it clear, you can film and you can post, but you must credit us and you must pay.

Facebook is a business. It's not the public library. The indignation about privacy is a little humorous—like showing up to a lavish party with all our friends, free food, open bar, great swimming pool, and then complaining that the host took pictures of us having a good time and put them on his office bulletin board to advertise his event-planning service. Or being angry that the host is charging the Avon Lady to show up and have access to all these great guests.

If we don't want to surrender our privacy, the answer is simple—don't come to the party. Don't eat the free food, don't drink the free drinks. Don't graffiti on the host's wall and then get angry that other people know what we said. Eschew the online tool and pick up the landline, and if we’re worried that it’s bugged, there’s still Central Park, where one can exchange coded messages in trench coats and pass microfiche in hollow umbrellas.

Most of us vastly overestimate our own importance. The (false) FB meme about “I'm posting this status to say that no-one can use my information” is ridiculous beyond its ineffectiveness—it presupposes that we are as individuals important enough to have our personal details ‘stolen’, and that it harms us to have those details traded as commerce. It’s no different than Mrs. Grundy giving her address to redeem her Green Stamps and having the Fuller Brush salesman buy the list so he can show up at her door. Annoying, yes. Irritating that someone else can profit by selling our information, yes. But as far as actual harm? None of us are really that important. Those of us who are, are either smart enough to not put our details out there to begin with or rich enough to hire staff to close the gate.


On Community

I’m on Livejournal because it's a useful platform until I can create my own blog embedded in my website, at which point I'll cross-post. I like seeing what people are up to, and I enjoy learning more about personal concerns, but the life I myself want to have on LJ is primarily a public life—I want to share my writing, I want to connect with other writers. Having people who are also friends is a pleasant bonus. Cynical, perhaps, but this is also because my writer-life is about making the personal public and taking the public personally.

I take this pretty seriously. As a writer, I feel an obligation to honesty, to be my real self (gussied up with good structure and a reasonable sense of voice and craft) even online. I also feel an obligation to the community. One of the factors in my LJIdol victory (that year-long writing contest a bunch of us did) was that I read and commented on every contest entry, every week. Now, I read everything on my friendslist and I comment on about half, making sure I keep in touch with everyone. “LJ Maintenance—comments and flist” is an automatically-generated task that pops up every morning in my list app. It’s a joy to read what friends are writing, see what interests them, be part of a larger discussion among thoughtful people. I take it as a fun challenge to write journal entries that generate comment and Facebook statuses that get a lot of likes. I want to be entertaining, and thought-provoking, to make people think, “Hey, Allison’s fun, wonder what she’s up to?”

Eventually, I will monetize this. I’m writing a book (two books), I’m sending out submissions to magazines. And when they get published, I want people to read them. I want to have spent two or three or five years building an online persona and staying connected to my real world friends and acquaintances, so that potential readers will think, Well, I always love seeing her stuff online, sure, I’ll buy that book. Or even, Yeah, I know her online and I don’t get her, but I think you’d like her book. How much is my friendship oriented towards your life, and how much towards your book-buying dollar? And does it matter, if, as I've said before, "Being 'popular' and being 'engaged in the the community' are the same behavior with different hats"?

When we present ourselves online, if we want to be part of a community, it’s up to us to go more than halfway to engage that community. Even if our daily writings are the memoranda of our daily lives, we can ask questions, we can post articles for discussion, we can muse about our emotional and intellectual conflicts. Yes, our real friends do want to know when we’re having a hard time, but if our perpetual pattern is “my life is terrible, my life is terrible, my life is terrible, also, please give me money so my life will be less terrible,” why should anyone care? As human beings, we love fighters. We love underdogs. We want to see Hamlet working like hell to find out who killed his dad, not moping around the castle being existential. We want to be able to root for our friends, to help them grasp the moments of hopefulness that glimmer in their words.

It’s up to us to figure out what we’re working like hell for. What the mission of our personal life is, so that we can cast our problems as dramatic obstacles that inspire us to work harder, for ourselves as well as for our community. Daily life in pursuit of a mission is interesting. Questions invite responses. The braver we are about violating our own privacy, about putting ourselves out there into the world, the more we build community, the more we allow others to share our burdens, to sit beside us, to take our hands and say, “me, too.”

_____________________________________________________
What did you do today to build community?

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Comments {53}

theafaye

(no subject)

from: theafaye
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
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I don't think big corporations want my children's photos. My concerns about privacy do not surround that. My concerns are more focused against the kind of people who've waged internet hate campaigns against me (yes, that's actually happened - a supposed friend started blogging lies about how awful my husband and I are) and people who will take my information and use it against me. I don't give a stuff about corporations making money off my statuses because I can't see it happening and even if it did, good luck to them because you can guarantee I'll find a way of making more. I *do* care about what your average every day Joe Bloggs does with my information, which is why I have everything locked down and why I resent FB suddenly messing about with privacy settings without telling me. Sure, I can choose not to use FB and I've been tempted many a time to walk away. The reasons why I'm there are very few - but they're important and when you have children and you want your children to go to events that are *only* mentioned on FB, you don't have enormous amounts of choice.

It's wonderful to talk about bravery when it comes to violating privacy, but that comes from a place of not having that exploited and used to cause great harm. You weren't on my f-list while I was in NZ but it was horrendous and no, it's not worth it to me to be part of a 'community' if that community then stabs me in the back. In fact, the older I get, the less and less inclined I am towards community and the more I am on deeper, more meaningful relationships with the select handful of people who've earned it.

I sense a very cynical side to your usage of LJ - you're pretty open about the fact that you're doing it to build up a platform to help sell your writing, just as you commented on Idol entries to win Idol. But I think that makes you see LJ with very different eyes to those of us who are here to vent to friends and who want to get to know those friends better. The way you describe using LJ means that by default you will always keep a certain distance between yourself and your f-list; I don't want that kind of distance on LJ. Your use isn't invalid by any stretch of the imagination, but it means that you're coming into this subject from a very different perspective to a lot of us.

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tigrkittn

(no subject)

from: tigrkittn
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I don't know if "self-serving" is the right term here (ok maybe it is but the connotation seems more negative to me than I feel about this specific instance), though I agree with you otherwise. I don't mind since she's honest and upfront about it, but it does make her an exception to the discussions about LJ going around our flists, since she doesn't want the kind of LJ experience we're saying we miss.

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SuperCAILEfragilistic

(no subject)

from: caile
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm still amazed that you managed to comment on every single Idol entry. Maybe next time everyone will take that tack and contestants will be overwhelmed in floods of feedback.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 02:12 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) It was worth it, too - I feel like I got to know everyone through their work in a much deeper way than if I only read some of it, and I also felt like I grew a lot as a writer by reading everything that was out there and thinking about what made it succeed and what was less successful. Like a year of writing school :)

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tigrkittn

(no subject)

from: tigrkittn
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 02:16 pm (UTC)
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How much is my friendship oriented towards your life, and how much towards your book-buying dollar? And does it matter, if, as I've said before, "Being 'popular' and being 'engaged in the the community' are the same behavior with different hats"?

I'm not sure I get the point you're making here*. The first question certainly occurs to me, as someone who's going through the "I used to have FRIENDS here and now it's just a bunch of People On LJ" and though I have enormous respect for your self-marketing mojo I do care whether someone I interact with online actually likes me or not. I have no problem being part of an online fan base - I read and comment on several authors blogs and LJs, and get a little thrill every time I get a response - but blurring the lines is a little uncomfortable.


*and I may be overthinking it or something, because I'm a socially backward misanthropic hermit who's spent the past week berating herself about it, so it's possible I'm just in the wrong frame of mind to read this.

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Holly

(no subject)

from: minnesattva
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
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As I understand it, sufficiently pervasive niceness is indistinguishable from someone who likes you. That is, when you do like someone you are kind to them, do things to make them feel better, and so on. I quickly noticed I was seeing whipchick's name in my, and everybody else's, comments, but I also really valued and enjoyed her feedback. She was making such a point of commenting that I figured she had ulterior motives, but that didn't take away from my appreciation of her comments because it was clear she'd thought about them and tailored them to each individual -- it isn't as if she was just saying "Nice entry!" to everybody, which would have been insulting (and thus both not nice and bad PR -- again they overlap); she found something specific each time. So even if it was a deliberate campaign, I still benefited. I thought it was nice, even if it was cunning too: there's no difference.

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drwex

So, um

from: drwex
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
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I'm kind of new here and I'm about to go stompy-stomp with the big boots. If it's not OK to do that in your garden I apologize and I'll refrain.

I find myself baffled how you go from online privacy to copyright violations and back again. Copyright (and IP in general) is something I know a fair bit about and we can debate that separately. As to privacy, while I agree that anything you put online is effectively no longer private it doesn't have to be that way. Just because Facebook is a corporation doesn't require them to be scum-sucking deceptively evil. And just because there aren't perfect solutions for respecting peoples' privacy wishes online doesn't mean there are no good ones. We can be active participants in co-creating the social/media environment, or we can be passive victims of it. I prefer the former.

It's true that people putting silly copyright notices on their FB posts is ineffective, but only because FB has horrid ToS that all those people agreed to already. There's no reason that FB (or any other company) couldn't implement the internal equivalent of robots.txt that would let people specify things they'd prefer weren't in the public advertiser-searchable bit bucket. Don't confuse corporate policy choice for technological necessity.

As for overestimating one's importance, I have two words for you: identity theft. You (or I) may not be that important, but it's our very obscurity that makes us commodities to be bought and sold by people who just want a few thousand more names, SSNs, and credit scores to abuse for their own profit. The odds of you being the victim of identity theft are roughly comparable to the odds of your house being burgled if you live in a low-crime peaceable suburb. But nobody thinks it's odd if suburbanites put locks on their household doors.

On community - I assume you've read what AFP has written about "aggressive fan service." She's sort of the modern queen of it, and a good example to check out if you still don't "get" Twitter. Obviously she's several standard deviations off the norm, but that's part of what makes her an interesting example. The point is that community isn't a bunch of separate things - it's one thing that is remarkably fluid across media - at least at this point and I believe likely to remain so for the near future at least.

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whipchick

Re: So, um

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
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More later as I'm about to walk out the door (it's 8PM in South Africa), and I think you raise great points! And stomp away--if I can't take the heat, I shouldn't open a kitchen on the internet :)

I do want to clarify that I'm not referring to identity theft. And I don't think most people post their SSN, credit card numbers, etc, to Facebook. I'm referring to a desire for privacy about the details of one's personal life, that one has nonetheless chosen to post to the internet.

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
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What did you do today to build community?

A week or so ago when we all started kicking the FB/LJ/Twitter subject around, I decided that rather than just bitch about how no one puts content on LJ anymore, that I was going to make an effort to put more content on LJ. Also, I'm reading more of other people's posts and skimming less. And I have REALLY GOOD INTENTIONS to comment more, which dammit, I just suck at. Anyway, I've improved on my posting frequency, and I'm working on an honest-to-god series of essays, so cross your fingers.

I can't talk about the FB privacy thing intelligently, because honestly, I haven't read much about it. I would love to drop FB entirely, but dammit, every now and then there's someone I just don't have any interaction with any other way. So, I stay because I love. (even when there is so much not to love)

Also, when all the mindless ranting started on FB this week about guns/no guns/etc. I posted links to actual senate and house phone numbers so people could tell someone who might actually be in a position to DO something about it. I file that under, "put up or shut up." (or put up and shut up) :P

As to the rest of it, I'll buy whatever you write because I love your words. And I've never felt you were "fake" with me, because for heaven's sake, who else in the world would call me from their vacation in India just to listen to me cry?

Rock on.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 11:52 am (UTC)
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I like seeing you build community, and I think both you and I are motivated to write and motivated to post for reasons beyond just sharing our lives (again, this does not have to be everyone's choice).

Psst - you'll get an advance copy anyway :)

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Kizzy

(no subject)

from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 09:20 am (UTC)
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I so wanted to respond to this in a timely manner yesterday, but given the outage, it wasn't meant to be. Now I only have a few minutes before getting ready for work :p

I've never had any issues with you regarding your intent either here on LJ or Idol. You were very upfront about it. I think it took some people aback, though, because nobody that even I can think of had ever stated such an intention AND successfully followed/had the goods to follow through with it.

You're a performer IRL, so it naturally follows suit that you "perform" online (i.e., the persona aspect discussed upthread). We all do, though. We dinosaurs here at LJ may bemoan about the days where everybody was "real", but really, we were ever? The minute you post something, you have a persona. Some are more developed than others. Some people may vehemently deny they have one. My persona? Who knows? LOL. It's something I don't consciously think about.

I'm going to have to return to this later, seeing the time. The other observation I have is that, for such a loaded topic, I would have thought there would have been many more comments here. I know the outage had a lot to do with it, but it just goes to show you just how slow LJ has become.



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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 11:54 am (UTC)
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Thanks - you make great points! I think also, for me, one of the issues is, how many people do I really have time to be besties with, and how many people am I interested in in passing, but want to maintain a connection so that I get the moments with them that we're both really excited about?

And I wrote today's post about being one's real self, curious to see what you think :)

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Shadow Wolf Byrd

(no subject)

from: shadowwolf13
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
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Hi! I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know that people were saying nice things about you.

http://shadowwolf13.livejournal.com/1074041.html?thread=7120249

Please feel free to stop by and read the comments, add your love to others, or spread the word to your friends. You might want to track your thread so you’ll know when new comments come in for you as this continues to grow. Help spread the word and let your friends know about the post too. The more love the more fun we’ll have!

Blessings,
Shadow

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 11:54 am (UTC)
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Thank you so much for doing this, it's awesome!!!!

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
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A good rundown on community and privacy. I think you nail it on the head.

I love your bonus analogies, too! Hilarious! :D

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 11:54 am (UTC)
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Thanks :)

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