Category Archives: Social Networks

How did we manage to live before….

For a couple of years now it’s been my habit to wind down the working day by logging onto all my social media sites at the same time and catching up on everything as I finish my work day.

Online social media has made itself ubiquitous and to some degree almost inescapable in the last 3 or 4 years.  You can log into your social media accounts in so many ways that it almost seems that you can’t get away from it.

If you have some sort of event or some sort of business that is in any way related to the internet it is almost compulsory for you to become involved in social media.  Even if you’re just an individual you are almost obliged to get on and find out what all your friends are doing else you risk falling behind in the latest events and not knowing what is happening in your little social domain.

Lately however it has been become overwhelming.  Disasters, news events, the elections, gossip, they all get bandied about by one contact or another on social media sites.  You see the same piece regurgitated in a seemingly endless stream of story overload.  Then of course comes the incisive commentary from your contact list.  People on the left, on the right, people from one group and another.  Lastly comes all the fighting and bickering.

And of course a friend of a friend (and possibly of a friend) posts about some tragedy in their life.  I want to empathize with their plight but when you have so many people on your news feed demanding your attention it all becomes too much to process and I feel that it actually drains my emotional batteries to the point that I just don’t want to know any more.

I feel like these social media sites aren’t so much communicating with me as they are yelling at me.

So I just left.  At first it was for nothing more than just to get away from it all and take an online vacation.  To let all the cyber babble die down and give my mind a break.

Surprisingly it was easy.  I thought I would want to constantly check and get updates but I found that the first day went off pretty much without any hassle at all.  I can’t say that I found a ton of “extra time” or made great personal discoveries by being by myself.  I didn’t even take time to wonder how easy it had been to not log in. It was just, quiet.

Instead of logging in I read, I watched a couple of movies on Netflix, “The big short”, a highly entertaining and thoughtful movie.  I just went about my daily life without the nagging feeling that I was missing out on something by not checking in.

By day 3 however something curious happened.  Social media missed me.  Not the individual people mind you.  I don’t think they even noticed I was gone honestly.  No, the social media websites themselves started sending me emails and telling me how many new notices and notifications had happened since I had last logged in.  Another website sent me suggestions for new people to follow that I might enjoy reading about.

By day 4 I had accumulated 99 notifications and then the spam emails kept repeating themselves.  Apparently 99 notifications is the upper limit the programmers set.  Perhaps they couldn’t believe that someone would let more than 99 notifications go by without checking in.

The only time I was somewhat tempted to log in and post something was when I went to a cafe on the east side of Houston and I wanted to post a picture of the cafe.  But as I sat in the cafe I began to think about this and wonder.  Does posting about the cafe experience make the experience any better?  Why share everything?

Andes Cafe

Andes Cafe

I had decided somewhere at the beginning of the “experiment” to come back in a week.  A week passed and I found I had absolutely no desire to log back in.  I was somewhat apprehensive to tell the truth.  I finally relented about ten days in and logged back in.

Like someone coming back from vacation that has a mailbox stuffed with letters, I had to wade through all my old notifications and messages.  After about 2 minutes I just hit the “read” button on everything.  Nothing had changed.  I honestly don’t know what I expected to have changed.

Perhaps one thing that has changed is that I no longer feel that having an online presence is as de rigueur as I once thought that it was.  A world without social media is not unimaginable.

I will continue to log in but I no longer feel as invested into the whole social media experience.  I don’t feel that I have to share every moment in my life or react to everyone’s news anymore.

You can live your life off the net quite well and find a satisfying life.  You can leave.

Getting out there

I was chatting about work and life the other day over tea at Starbucks.  The conversation drifted in the direction of business networking.  Not the computer kind of network but the personal type of network.  The type that’s hard for me.

Networking really hasn’t changed at all since the first business office was set up.  Having a wide circle of friends and acquaintances always pays off.  Although we may live in an interconnected world of instantaneous communications we still have to initiate contact with other people in order for it to work.

I don’t mean just send emails back and forth or maybe even have a phone conversation but actually “talk” to the other person.  Whether that person is a client, a colleague or even a competitor at another company.  Being more than just a contact card in an email directory is important.  It means that you’re an actual human being that the other person might think of when it comes time to ask for a job, a business opportunity or an introduction to someone else.

Initiating contact doesn’t have to be a big production involving flowers or lunch or whatever.  You can just initiate contact by asking the other person how they’re doing during the course of your regular work exchange.  Do some “industry gossip”.  Talk about that other third company that has nothing to do with you or speculate on the future of your field.  Ask about their goals and plans.

The main thing is that you become a known quantity, that you have a personality, and that you’re a factor in their life.  Not a giant factor but a factor.  You’ll never expect them to break down and cry on your shoulder and you should not expect them to lend you money but at the very least if things go bad you can send out resumes to them, you can ask them if they know about any open bids, you can query them about some job applicant that they may know.

This is the way that the business world works, folks.  It always has and always will be this way.


Catalysis, the process of accelerating a reaction, mostly associated with chemical reactions, this process can also take place in other situations.  Mainly I’m thinking about human interactions here.

When you get together with other people whether at work or play or in study, something happens just by interacting.  It’s an inevitable result of humans being social animals.  Exchanges are made no matter how careful one or both parties are.  Exchanges of not just physical goods but ideas, notions, and attitudes.

Just the slightest contact is enough to set the human imagination going and from there who knows what can happen.  The best example of this would be the great Columbian exchange where not just plants, animals, technologies, and diseases flowed freely back and forth between the Old and New world.  Ideas and concepts made the journeys as well.  Unforeseen consequences followed but nevertheless the exchange would form and fashion the world for the next 500 years to come.

But even at human scale levels these exchanges can yield extraordinary results.  So many new ideas and concepts have come about from people getting together in coffee houses or in libraries or other public gathering spaces.  Free and unfettered exchanges of ideas are always generating new concepts and pushing the bounds of our civilization.

But beyond this I think these exchanges not only serve to disseminate information but to stir up humanity’s competitive spirit.  I think that when people get together and see what other people in other fields are doing that they themselves feel compelled to make an even greater effort in their own fields.  The Catalysis I mention is not just exposure to new concepts but the exposure to the passion and drive that other people have for their particular field.

It’s one of the reasons I love going to large conventions and to art showings and to book readings.  I find that I leave more energized and determined to do better and to try different things after attending these gatherings.  The energy is infectious and the result is that I want to do more in my own life than I previously did.

you are not the sum of your internet identity

I am seeing more and more people being miserable online.

I don’t know if it’s just the time of year or something that has happened lately or maybe I just didn’t notice it but I am seeing this more and more online.

Not just on Facebook (although that’s the primary source) but on other social channels.  A sense of true dissatisfaction with one’s personal life.  People complaining that they’re going nowhere and not doing what they want to do.

I think it’s the reason why I am paying less and less attention to social media lately.  I still log on but I barely pay attention to the social media tabs anymore.

I asked two people privately why they were feeling so low and their answer was essentially that they saw the good news posted by their friends online and felt that their own accomplishments or lack thereof made them feel inadequate by comparison.  They also felt that if they couldn’t “keep up” or contribute their own accomplishments at a steady rate that they were not living a worthwhile life.


One of the flaws of the internet age is that people project themselves.  Life online and offline can be radically different.  People choose to project themselves in one way or another and it may not reflect reality.

Reminds me of a discussion I had with a high school classmate.  We were discussing going to the 20th high school reunion and he said  he would not go.  I asked him why and he said a lot of people will buy fancy clothes and rent expensive cars to make themselves look more prosperous than they really were.

I think we all do this in a way.  I know that I don’t share all my bad news and I’ve had a good dose of it this year but I don’t like to share it online.  What would be the point to share that with mainly acquaintances?  My friends know my problems already.

What I’d rather do is share positive news and hopefully cheer up or maybe even inspire positive change in people.

But I think even I have to realize that we are not the sum of all these posts online.  We are living, breathing, people.  We have to learn to see beyond the tweets and Facebook posts.

we have to make our real lives more important than our online lives.

Hidden biases and how they may affect others

Most people have by now heard about the racist chant incident at the University of Oklahoma.  They have also probably heard about  the University’s swift response in dealing with the incident.  Most people will leave it there.

I would like to believe that the incident was an anomaly.  A fluke that only existed in a single chapter of a fraternity and that it wasn’t representative of a hidden problem throughout the Greek system.

It’s difficult to tell as the national organizations that coordinate the Greek system don’t carry statistics on the racial make up of these frats.  By accident or by design we are left in the dark as to how integrated these groups are.

Why does it matter?  It matters because first and foremost these frats (and sororities) are networking clubs.  Social connections that help bind future business, political, and military leaders of tomorrow.  The people who help set the agenda for the rest of the population may be found in some of these groups.

Secondly, the opinions, attitudes, lessons, and biases that they receive while they’re in these frats may affect these individuals hiring practices, social attitudes, and thinking patterns well into adult life.

Lastly, the fact that these groups are exclusionary and in some cases may be deliberately excluding people based on some arbitrary standard means that some groups may be denied the opportunities to rise that these frat members enjoy.

Look, I’m not saying that every frat in America and every frat member is a bigot of some sort.  Far from it. Many fraternities are very community minded groups that really do take to heart the ideals that they espouse.  They help to mold young college students into the future leaders of America.  While all that is true however I think there is also no denying that some individuals and even chapters out there are trapped in outdated and bigoted mindsets.  Mindsets that purposefully try to exclude others for a variety of reasons.

It’s long past the time that these type of ideas are allowed to exist, even unofficially, in these type of groups.  The Greek system owes it to the nation as well as to itself to root out these attitudes and clean its house of this hidden cancer.  If fraternities an sororities want to stay relevant or even just exist in the 21st century then they must leave the 19th century behind.


to share is to care?

I recently attended a sci-fi convention over the memorial day weekend.  Comicpalooza took place last weekend and it was a major success.  My next blog post will be partly a summary about that and about conventions in general but I wanted to address a side issue about this last convention before that.

I posted a lot of my activities and a lot of the sights and sounds from the convention to my social circle on Facebook.  At one point I thought to myself that I was posting too much.  I have seen people become obnoxious on social media and post every passing thought and every event that takes place in their lives.  One of my peeves about Twitter is that it seems to encourage that sort of thing.  Not so much on Facebook but it still happens.

Apart from this I have noticed that some people really don’t like it when you post good news or life events.  They tend to feel sadder and find their lives less satisfying. I have a couple of friends that always detail the latest tragedies in their lives and how much worse that they are doing in comparison to everyone else.

When I think about these two categories of people I get self-conscious posting about the good things in my life.  I want to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is having a good time like I am yet I don’t want to limit myself either.  I thought about this a lot on the first day of the convention and decided I would go ahead and post my updates and here is my reasoning.

Firstly, I post the positive, the good and the interesting things that happen in my life.  I very rarely post the bad.  Now that doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen in my life.  They do.  In fact bad things have happen to me all the time but they never get mentioned on Facebook.  I don’t really see the point in posting these “micro tragedies”.  Apart from people telling my how sorry they are, they really can’t do much to alleviate the situation.  So I really don’t see the point in doing that.  If it’s something big I will post about it but otherwise it doesn’t get mentioned.

Secondly, posting about things that I do, see, hear, experience lets people who might be far away share a little of that.  If they were curious about a movie, or about steampunk, or rock climbing, or about night life in Houston then they might learn a bit from me.  Maybe they wanted to ask about something but didn’t know how to broach the subject, or they might become emboldened to try something new.  You can never tell what one little thing can lead to.

Lastly, sharing my news encourages others to do the same and lets them explore their own interests.  Marianne Williamson’s quote from “A return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles” is quite pertinent to this point.

“There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you… As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I know that people brag.  I acknowledge that they sometimes get carried away.  We should all strive to be a little more humble in our daily lives.  But at the same time, being a shrinking violet and refusing to share is just as bad if not worse than being a braggart.  In this life we should look to each other and support each other in whatever way we can.

I say that part of that is sharing your gifts, talents, interests, and even good news with each other.

Social network pluses and minuses

So there I am sitting in the Commons lobby at Texas A&M in 1989.  My friend Lynn, a computer major, says “come on bill, let’s go check out the new VAX terminals”.  They had just installed a new computing center in the commons lobby for students to use the shared VAX terminals on campus.

Being a freshman I had no clue what to do but Lynn set up my account and pointed me to the talk function.  Soon I was chatting away with strangers from other universities around the country and around the world.  This was my first exposure to the social side of the internet.

This was quickly followed up by the USENET newsgroups.  Basically forums on the early internet where people talked about particular subjects.  Over time I developed friends and enemies on these groups.  Discussions became quite heated and on more than one occasion I would get carried away.  These were the legendary flame wars of the 1990s.  The passion of youth I suppose.

Years passed and the World Wide Web arose.  Social media got more sophisticated with the advent of the chat room.  Dozens and sometimes hundreds of people chatting at once, making little cliques, building friendships, just hanging out together.  In time advertisers learned about these and over time began to infiltrate bots into the rooms.  These were automated programs posing as real humans meant to advertise and sell things.  These along with the ever-present cyber bullies spelled the end of the chat rooms.

Along came the MMO.  the Massively Multiplayer Online game.  Now you not only had a name tag you had a body as well and a shared activity.  We lived lifetimes online.  We also died together and we built up close bonds.  But over time people drifted off and my time on those came to an end.

And now comes social media fully matured and developed in the form of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

A few things I’ve noticed during all my travels online:

  • All of these communities have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • While we are in those communities we can’t fathom ever leaving
  • The end comes abruptly and almost unexpectedly
  • When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

I don’t know if it’s time to leave these current communities.  I will be totally honest.  I don’t get Twitter.  I’ve tried for a year and it just doesn’t click with me.  To me it’s a technology that’s at least 5 years old and very limiting.  Facebook I understand and enjoy more.  It’s pretty well-developed and has many features.  Google+…..  I looked at once and left.  I don’t doubt it’s well done but it came too late to the party.  The others rule the social media roost.

Yet, more and more often I am coming down with social media fatigue and a feeling of deja vu as if I’m just repeating the same things over and over again.  I’ve explored all aspects of these sites and I don’t see anything new to capture my attention.

It’s gotten to the point that on a whim I looked up the steps for erasing my profiles on these social media sites.  So far I don’t have any plans to carry this out but I do think that it’s telling that I looked into this.

I don’t yet see the next big thing on the net, though I don’t doubt that it’s coming.  I will probably hop on when it does arrive.  Or maybe I will go totally offline and go back to living a life without the net.

I am part of the last generation that started life in the analog world and had to adapt to life in the digital age.  The Millennials that came after me have no clue about life without the video monitor or the computer.  This is their world and it’s the world of the generations to come.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the old analog world.  After all, I lived there once before and I can do it again.

Social Networks, social responsibility, so what

This last week the main topics that everyone discussed were Ben Affleck landing the role of Batman in an upcoming movie and the Miley Cyrus performance at the video music awards.

Neither topic really affects me in any way and normally I would not even comment on them except to make a joke or two here and there.

What was of interest to me were some of the reactions to the discussions.  Some folks were genuinely put off by everyone being somewhat obsessed by these events while other things such as the chemical gas attack in Syria get little to no regard by the average tweeter or facebooker.

I suppose some folks see social networks as a way to affect change and make the world a better place.  Laudable in its own way but let’s take a hard look at what we’re dealing with here.  These are networks that were made to get people chatting on their off time, to connect to friends, to allow groups to share common interests together despite geographical distance, and of course to make money.  Granted that these networks have considerable political and social interest groups in them but it’s really not their main function.

I suppose that people in this country are looking for an “Arab Spring” or “Iranian election” moment where people in other countries used these networks to organize and affect change in their regions.

Really I don’t see that happening here in the US.  In those regions news and information is so heavily restricted that the advent of these networks were very welcome and embraced enthusiastically.  Finally you could get unfiltered news and in real-time,

We on the other hand have such a cacophony of information screaming and yelling at us from so many different directions that no additional prodding from a social network will help that much.  What we need are more filters not more news sources.

You can argue that these networks have a responsibility almost akin to that of a public utility to keep the greater good in mind.  I would argue that we as individuals have that responsibility.  We all need to decide thoughtfully what we will and won’t listen to.

After all, just because they talk about inane subjects doesn’t mean you need to listen.