Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Social Media ~ Peek At A Writer's Life

Recently, I decided to get on twitter (you can follow me here) since that's just one of those things aspiring authors do to prove to prospective agents and editors that we can handle ourselves in the big bad world of social media.

I created my account, found some of my favorite people to follow and started figuring out how I wanted to throw things out into the void of cyberspace. After a few days I decided to toss a comment to one of the people I followed, because that's really what twitter is about - conversations.

That was a few weeks ago and I've been thinking about this brief three minutes of my life off and on ever since. Don't get me wrong, I haven't been obsessing about it or anything, but I've been thinking about it and what I can learn from it. I've learned that there are some really good things about social media and some really bad things.

Here's what happened. 

I follow Jon Acuff. He's an awesome blogger that makes me think and laugh at the same time. If you don't follow him, you should.

He posted an article, you can read it here, mentioning people posting pictures of notes on instagram for the express purpose of guilting people into clicking "like" so the pictures can become popular. They say things such as "Like this post if you want to cure cancer." I whole-heartedly agree with the article. I'm not on instragram, but the Facebook statuses and email forwards with the same type of message irk me.

Later that same day, Jon (Mr. Acuff? Jon Acuff? What's the proper way to respectfully refer to a public person you don't actually know?) liked a post from instagram that was a note. Now, it was not a note guilting anyone into anything. It was a great message. You can see it here.

You can pack a lot of misunderstanding
into 140 characters. 
I found it a bit ironic that he was liking a picture of a note after writing about pictures of notes. It was such a stark contrast to the types of notes he had been talking about that it struck me as funny and I wondered if he thought it was funny too.

So I told him.

He didn't think it was funny. Or he didn't think I thought it was funny. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure someone who hadn't read the article realized there was a difference. You can pack a lot of misunderstanding into 140 characters.  He answered me almost immediately letting me know that he had not been talking about that kind of instagram note in his article.

I responded back that I had not meant it to be derogatory and that was the end of the conversation.

The Good, The Bad, and The Grumpy

The fact that this conversation happened at all is one of the good things about social media. I don't know Jon. I have never met him, and there's little chance I ever will. The opportunity to talk to someone whose work I like and respect is a neat thing about the internet - twitter especially, from what I can tell.

The fact that it was a short back and forth and not a real conversation where people actually discuss things until they both understand each other is the bad thing.

I get really sad when I think I've hurt someone's feelings. I get really grumpy when I feel like I've acted like an idiot. Despite that, I'm really glad this happened. Why? Two reasons:

1. I'll be more careful in the future. I try to be really careful anyway, but I see now I could have said something else to create less confusion. I thought I was being funny the way I worded it. Clearly it didn't work.

2. I'll be a bit more understanding (I hope!) when it's me on the other side. God willing, I will one day have followers I've never met and people messaging me with things that can be taken multiple ways. If I remember this moment, maybe I'll be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You'll notice I'm not siting the actual conversation and I'm posting this three weeks after it happened. Why? Because the conversation isn't what's important. To have everyone else analyzing three little sentences would be pointless and I'm pretty sure I'd come out the bad guy, or at least the wrong guy. The conversation itself is not what this post is about. It's about what I learned about social media from it.

Wrapping It Up

Is all this social media a good thing? I think so. I know I keep in touch with people I otherwise wouldn't. It gives me more direct contact with people I would normally only see once or twice a week. As a writer, it will let me connect with my readers (when I have some!) in ways authors weren't able to before.

I also think it's something we need to be very careful with. A simple misunderstanding can have massive repercussions. In some cases, it can mean the end of a friendship or even a division in a church. In my case it's just a few moments of embarrassment. Unless Jon uses Google Alerts, finds this article, and decides to read it. In which case... Hi, Jon! Hope you enjoyed it.

So think twice before you post. Make sure your meaning is clear. And if you only have 140 characters, try to make sure they're the right ones.

The Silver Lining

The only good thing is that I have since learned that I think I used the @Reply differently than I thought I had, so it's pretty likely that no one but me and Jon saw the conversation. And that is a blessing.

What about you? Have limited space or lack of ability to transmit tone gotten you in trouble on the internet?

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