Striking A Proper Real Life-Virtual Life Balance

Lately lots of people have been talking about Pinterest, another new form of social media and on-line interaction.  Pinterest allows participants to explore and develop their interests in different topics — food, home decorating, body art, and the like — by “pinning” news articles, pictures, video, and other items to their “pinboard” for other people to see and comment upon.  Family members and friends have used Pinterest to plan weddings and vacations, share their views on books and TV shows, and find special articles of clothing.

photo-95My Pinterest friends sound like they become almost obsessed with browsing other people’s “pinboards” and filling up their own with interesting and exciting content that reflects well on them.  Similarly, we’ve all got friends who spend a lot of time posting things to Facebook, or blogging (guilty as charged), or playing fantasy sports, or doing the countless other social networking activities you can do on-line.  This shouldn’t be surprising; the internet is a constantly changing, interesting environment that puts the whole world at your fingertips and allows for all kinds of communication.  All of these nifty on-line interaction websites also can allow you to reconnect with high school and college classmates and faraway friends and keep track of how they are doing.  But when does the attraction of the internet pull your home life out of balance, leaving you tapping out a Facebook message or chuckling at a YouTube video while your spouse or girlfriend or children or friends sit idle for hours?  How do you strike a workable real life-virtual life balance?

People have always engaged in solitary activities, like reading a book or playing a musical instrument or jogging, but obsession with on-line activities seems to have special risks.  Studies suggest that people who spend lots of time on-line often struggle with depression and sleep disorders and tend to neglect their need for physical activity and in-person social interaction.  And, of course, the on-line world, with its anonymity and ability to create weird, fake relationships such as the one that has humiliated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, involves all kinds of potential personal, financial, and criminal hazards that would never be presented by reading a library book or knitting on the sofa while your spouse watches a basketball game on TV.

We all need to figure out when to step away from the computer.

Advertisements

Daily No More

By the year after next, don’t expect to see a daily newspaper hitting your doorstep each morning — according to the Nieman Journalism Lab, that is.

The Nieman Journalism Lab looks to future trends in journalism.  Last month, it predicted that the seven-day print newspaper is doomed.  It forecasts that newspapers increasingly will focus on digital publication and that by 2015 less than half of current newspapers will follow the seven-day, home delivery model.  Instead, print newspapers will be reduced to a two or three times a week vestigial option, offered as part of a much broader set of services and benefits available to “members.”

And rather than those irritating paywalls, the digital membership model would be like membership in your local public TV station,  giving you complete access and providing discounts and other benefits (presumably not just the tote bags and coffee mugs you see on every PBS fundraiser, either).  The membership model would allow the newspaper to act as a kind of mini-Google, collecting information about the news stories you access and then delivering targeted advertising based upon your reading pattern — advertising that retailers presumably would pay a premium for, because it is more likely to find a receptive audience than the tire ad on page C-7 of the sports section of your daily newspaper.

The most interesting prediction is that newspapers will focus less on news and more on “jobs to be done.”  The jobs would include reporting news, but also assisting members in making connections to services and groups in their communities, giving recommendations and answering questions, and helping members meet the right people in the right settings.  It sounds something like a combination of Emily’s List and Dear Abby.

I agree that the daily printed newspaper model cannot survive forever; it’s simply too slow, and expensive, to compete with digital delivery of the news.  Readership and ad revenues are ever-declining, too.  I’m a bit skeptical, however, that daily newspapers can successfully morph into quasi-social networking sites and then hold their own in that area, where there also is a lot of competition.  What newspapers do, better than anyone else, is find and report hard news — not opinion, nor advice, but actual facts about events and issues that should be of concern to members of their communities.  If newspapers move away from that area of strength to some more amorphous, soft-side model, they may be losing their identities and digging their own graves.

Is there still a market for hard news — without tote bags, membership benefits, and social networking gloss?  We’ll find out over the next few years.

Dipping My Toe In The Twitterverse

I’ve heard about Twitter for months, but I’ve never been tempted to join in — until now.

Perhaps it’s because I just don’t get it.  With all of the social media, networking, and connectedness that already exists, why is another form of computer/smartphone-based interaction needed?  Haven’t we covered the waterfront already?

Plus, Twitter seems so self-consciously new wave — almost like it’s an inside joke being played on the world.  Tell us where you are and what you’re doing at any given moment, but use only 140 characters!  Follow friends and celebrities as they go about their humdrum lives!  The fact that a Twitter message is called a “tweet” just heightens my lack of enthusiasm.  It’s too painfully cute for my tastes.

But now I’ve learned that some people I actually am interested in following have Twitter accounts and, at least occasionally, may say something worth hearing.  So, I’ve joined Twitter, and I’m going to follow them.  Does that make me a Twit?

Facebook Giveth, And Facebook Taketh Away (II)

Facebook often seems like a double-edged sword, and a sharp one at that.

There are some people you wish you hadn’t lost touch with, but — due to laziness or disorganization or the demands of your current life — you did.  Friday night Kish and I got together with an old friend we hadn’t seen him in years and had a wonderful time.  (Thanks, Action!)  It would not have happened without Facebook; that’s where we reconnected and communicated about getting together.

But there are negatives, too.  Sometimes Facebook causes you to learn more about people than you really want to know.  Perhaps their posted political, religious, or social views deeply offend you, and then you have to decide whether the situation merits “de-friending” the person.  People really seem to struggle with that decision — and when you think about it, it’s really a new kind of social decision.

In the past you might never have learned that your co-worker or second cousin harbored beliefs that you find upsetting.  Your interactions may never have gotten beyond superficial talk about sports or TV shows.  Ignorance was bliss!  But now, thanks to their airing of views on Facebook, you know.

To be sure, in days of yore people obviously made decisions not to pursue certain friendships.  That process typically involved just avoiding the offending person and letting time and distance work their magic.  With Facebook, that approach no longer works, because exposure to those offensive views is unaffected by physical distance.

The “de-friending” process also has a formality and finality to it that old-fashioned avoidance did not.  If you were the unlucky object of an avoidance campaign, you could always rationalize that you lost touch with someone purely by happenstance and not because they can’t bear the sight of you.  With “de-friending,” however, you know for certain.  Once you were a “friend,” now you’re not — and if the list of the de-friender’s remaining friends is long, getting cut from the roster has a special sting.

People who announce de-friending decisions seem to treat the decisions as momentous ones.  I don’t blame them.  In the old days, you typically had to make public breaks only with unsuccessful boyfriends and girlfriends, and you had to cope with the hurt feelings only from those people.  Now, the “de-friended” person may be a co-worker or family member, and you’ve got to deal with the fallout from your decision in a totally different context.

Manners and etiquette developed to help people deal in an appropriate way with standardized social situations.  I won’t be surprised if the Facebook generation’s version of Emily Post comes up with the proper etiquette for handling a “de-friending” incident.

There’s a lot of social change rolled up into that one website.

Facebook Giveth, And Facebook Taketh Away

I’m sure that sociologists and psychologists are studying the impact of Facebook and will do so for years to come.  There are big effects — like the stories about so-called “Facebook divorces” — but I think the website also has altered our interactions with family, friends, and acquaintances in less noticeable, but perhaps more profound, ways.

Never before have so many people stayed in regular touch with so many other people.  Isn’t it great to have so many friends, and in such a quantifiable way!

From the perspective of those us who grew up well before Facebook was developed, however, the website seems to have produced a curious phenomenon.  We went to high school and college, moved on, and lost touch with high school and college friends.  We took initial jobs, went to grad school, or lived in a particular place, moved on, and lost touch with people we knew in those contexts.  In short, we have a past, with past friends.

If you grew up with Facebook, you may never have a past in the same sense.  Instead, you’ll just have one long present, with a constantly accumulating list of present friends.  You’ll always be in touch with that kid from eighth grade, or the woman who was on the high school newspaper with you, or that odd guy you worked with at your first job.

There is value in having a past, and leaving behind the people who remember all too well what a jerk you were in high school.  The members of the Facebook generation may never really know the relief of seeing those awkward or embarrassing past incidents recede into life’s rear view mirror.  What does it mean to always be in touch with people whose main connection is that they shared goofy behavior with you when you were a kid?  Are you less likely to really grow up, or will you at some point feel hopelessly weighted down by your long roster of friends and want to sweep the slate clean?  What will that constant, ongoing connectedness mean for the Facebook generation?

Caving In And Setting Up A Facebook Page

On several occasions, Richard has suggested that I set up a Facebook page.  I have resisted doing so — until now.

I haven’t joined the Facebook brigade because Facebook just seems weird to me.  The whole concept of “social networking” and having a wall that anyone can write on is odd.  I don’t know how accessible I want to be to people from my past.  I’ve also thought that there is something kind of pathetic about people who aren’t in their teens reaching out to others and asking them to be a “friend.”  It’s like high school all over again!  I’ve been afraid that, if I join Facebook and have to wrestle with awkward social issues like “friending,” I’ll probably suffer some kind of sympathetic acne breakout, too.  And, unlike, say, Bob Dole, I’ve never made a practice of referring to myself in the third person — and Facebook seems to be filled with breathless, third-party references.

Why have I reconsidered?  Many of my contemporaries (i.e., 50-somethings) have Facebook pages and have said it is a good way of keeping in touch with family and friends.  Richard also points out that it may well allow more people to check out the family blog.  So, I am willing to give Facebook a shot, for now.  If it turns out to be too weird, I’ll just end it and retreat back to my prior state of unconnected, aging “friend”lessness.