Tag Archives: communication

Talking About Blogging

I figure the best way to end this little “Talking About…” communication series is to get really meta and write about blogging. It’s a form of communication I’ve been quite familiar with for the better part of the last two years, and it’s something I’ve always approached with a critical eye.

In my first blog post back on July 1 2007 (“Welcome to my antiblog”), I laid out a series of “Dos and Don’ts” that would guide my blog from the start. I’ve listed them below, with evaluative comments about how I have or have not stayed true to them.

First, the DON’Ts:

1) No blog entry will detail events, persons, or problems from my personal life, unless used as literary devices or otherwise in service of some more substantial point. In fact, the use of the first-person pronoun in general should be used with discretion.

The first part of this has held true for my blog. I do not get too personal. The voice I use on the blog has been completely honest and I hope even vulnerable at times, but I purposefully have not delved too much into my personal life. As for the first-person pronoun avoidance, this was too much to ask. I started using “I” immediately and frequently in my blogging, and (as you can see), I haven’t stopped.

2) This will not be a “news” site that pointlessly reiterates stories as seen on CNN, TMZ, ESPN, or other such widely seen sites.

I have from time to time fallen prey to this sort of thing, but most of the time I try to offer a different take or a more critical perspective on the news stories currently capturing the public’s attention.

3) No crappy, late-night ramblings or sub-par filler writing. Only high quality and serious interrogations of issues, ideas, art, etc.

It hasn’t always been high quality, and I have definitely indulged in a few late-night ramblings on here, but for the most part I think the tone I have maintained has been one of “serious interrogations of issues, ideas, art…” At least that what I’m always aiming for.

And now, the DOs:

1) Link to the best stuff on the web (articles, mp3s, videos, etc) that might otherwise be lost in the ridiculous glut of information out there.

This is something I have not done very well. I’m not the greatest aggregator and should probably be better about linking to other good stuff beyond my own blog.

2) Write about (and link to other writing about) anything and everything, as long as it is done with an earnest curiosity and minimum of irony. The world needs more earnestness, I think.

I have tried to minimize the irony on this blog, and I think I’ve been successful for the most part. But irony and earnestness are sometimes confused or misconstrued in online forms… so I’m sure there have been times when something I’ve written about in all earnestness has been taken ironically, and vice versa.

3) Provide more questions than answers. There’s a reason the blog’s called “The Search.” It’s always ongoing.

I hope this has been the case. I definitely don’t think of myself or what I’m writing about as being definitive or any sort of answer; rather I am just one among a chorus of voices who hopes to spark dialogue and discussion about important issues that we all think about and deal with.

So, now that I am nearly 2 years in to the blogging world, what are my thoughts? Well, here are a few in no particular order: 1) Blogging is first and foremost valuable to the blogger. Not only does it give you a platform to talk publicly about things you are passionate about, but it forces you to communicate in a lucid, readable, appealing manner. In short: it makes you a better writer and hopefully a better communicator. 2) Blogging has a dangerous lack of accountability. There are no editors, no filters, no advisors looking over your shoulder. But there are commenters. And that keeps you honest and forces you to be careful with what you say. 3) My blog voice is a strange mix of very personal and very impersonal speech. On one hand I am speaking to my community—my family and friends and faithful readers; on another hand I’m speaking to a vast, unknown Internet public who I have no connection to. It’s strange. 4) Blogging is a helpful incubator for ideas that I’m wrestling with. 5) Blogging makes it easy to micromanage my public identity, though it also forces me to be consistent and authentic. And finally, perhaps one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned: 6) Writing about things on a blog and sharing my thoughts with the world is fun, but it can’t compare with being around people in physical presence and just talking to them. Even the best blog can’t compete with that.

Talking About Facebook and Twitter

facebook

I reluctantly joined Facebook back in September. I’ve been on it for like 9 months now, and I suppose you could say I’m a little less antagonistic about it than I once was… like when I wrote this article back in 2007, or even this one back in February. I mean, I still have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but I’m definitely less extreme about it these days.

Facebook is a reality we have to deal with (as well as Twitter… but we’ll get to that in a minute). It’s quickly becoming our preferred mode of communication and a source of many hours of time spent on a weekly and even daily basis. And in keeping with my newly diplomatic approach to Facebook, I have thoughts about both the good and bad aspects of this type of communication.

The Good: Facebook allows you to consolidate a vast majority of friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues in one massive, easy-to-use online Rolodex.

The Bad: Isn’t it a bit strange to reduce all types of “friends” (including best friends, bosses, professors, etc) to just another part of the “friend collection”? Isn’t it strange that everything is so public and shared and mixed… so that my friend from one area of my life can observe and make assumptions about my acquaintances from other areas of my life? Or maybe this is a good thing?

The Good: On Facebook, you can easily share photos, videos, and pretty much anything about yourself that you’d like to share.

The Bad: You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to share. You have complete control over your image, to the point that you can even untag yourself in a photo or remove any comment or unsightly representation of yourself that doesn’t fit with your ideal projection of yourself.

The Good: Facebook is a quick and easy way to schedule events, parties, and social gatherings. It makes it easy to do spontaneous things and allows groups to communicate together more easily.

The Bad: Facebook is too quick and too easy. Whatever happened to the glorious challenge of scheduling, playing phone tag, and figuring out the nuances of group dynamics in a gloriously clunky manner?

The Good: Facebook is an efficient means of promoting yourself or something you like. It allows you to inform vast numbers of people about things that you want them to read, or see, or listen to, and it gives you the opportunity to keep people in the loop as to your life’s important goings on.

The Bad: Do we really need to be tempted to think that our life’s goings on are important and worthy enough to be trumpeted to the entire Facebook world?

The Ugly: Might Facebook be turning us into more prideful narcissists, overly obsessed with our publicized Facebook identity and prone to narrate our lives via mass-transmitted status updates?

Which brings me to Twitter. OH, TWITTER. This is something I have a hard time finding much good in at all. Okay, that’s not true. As a marketing or PR device, or an impersonal means of alerting large groups of people about something important, Twitter is a good tool. But in my experience the majority of people use Twitter as a nauseatingly indulgent means of self branding and pat-on-the-back public self actualization. People love using Twitter to subtly announce their importance (“over 100 emails on my blackberry this morning!”) or suggest something about class distinction (“Oh dang, I just remembered I have to take a Redeye tonight to New York!”). Occasionally someone will tweet an interesting link or thoughtful observation about something, but 90% of them are just shameless self-promotion.

My over-arching concern about all of this stuff is that it is pushing us farther into our own worlds and making us even more individualistic and self-obsessed. There’s a reason why it is FACE-book or MY-Space… these things are all about ME.

In my article, “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter” (Relevant, Jan/Feb 2009), I wrote:

I think that contemporary technologies are nurturing the part of our humanity that strives to be the master of our domain, the sole creator of identity. In former eras and communication environments, our human longing for community and connectivity and the shared creation of meaning was foregrounded. But these days, it seems that everything technology-related is pushing us inward, to the “i” world of iPod, iPhones, iMacs, etc. Under the guise of increasing our levels of connectivity, these technologies are ultimately just tools to help us isolate, insulate, and unshackle from the outmoded constraints of having to answer to anyone other than ourselves.

That remains my concern with these online “extensions of ourselves.” Though they can and are used to cultivate community and interpersonal relationships, they are also tools to aid us in our never-ending quest to be in complete control of our identities. And I’m not sure we need any more help in this quest.

Coming next in the Communication series: Talking About Blogging.

Talking About Online Chatting

Since some time in the late 90s, online chatting has been a popular form of communication among people below a certain age. Whether AIM, gmail chat, facebook chat, ichat, or whatever other mode of usage, the online ping pong form of communication is something most of us have participated in or do participate in on a daily basis.

And as with most forms of communication, I have mixed feelings about it.

On one hand, I really enjoy the way that online chatting allows for more thoughtful back-and-forth. Certainly it doesn’t always happen, but at least the form lends itself to more thought-through responses. In face-to-face communication, if you pause for too long or look nervous trying to come up with something to say, it makes the situation awkward. Online, it’s accepted. You can take all the time you want to craft a message before you hit “send,” and both parties accept that this is how it should happen. Face-to-face, we often fill awkward silences with rushed statements or uncomfortable silence-fillers. Online, we can go about it slower and more methodically, crafting just the right response to communicate exactly the right thing.

I also like the way that online chatting preserves (or can preserve) a record of the conversation. You can scroll up to reference something that was previously said, or archive entire conversations to reference in the future. You can keep tabs on the tone, history and direction of the conversation. Finally, I think it is definitely the case that there are things—important things—that can be said much more readily and clearly in a written online chat than a face-to-face in-person chat. Like it or not, there is something about physical proximity and eye-to-eye connection that makes it hard to say things we might want to say or need to say. Online, it is easier. Alas, this is both a good and a bad thing… which leads me to some of my “on the other hand” qualms…

Is making the “hard stuff” easier really a good thing? This is my first question about online chat. I know for myself and many people I associate with, it is often the case that we opt for a chat message or email rather than face-to-face because it is convenient. Certainly when I want to chat with someone in Japan or something, online is a great option. But we also sometimes forgo face-to-face because of the awkward or dangerous aspect of it. Online chatting is much more controlled, after all.

But is “controlled” necessarily a good thing? Do we really get to know people—the real people—through controlled circumstances and “safe” methods of communication? I think it’s definitely possible that we can, because I do think I’ve gotten to know people better through online chatting, and I’m very thankful for that. But I also think that there is an implied distance and convenient removal to the whole thing. With every medium there is an implicit message, as McLuhan would say, and with the medium of online chatting it might be this: communication through this form is chiefly about efficiency, speed, convenience, and the absence of all face-to-face baggage.

One thing that I come back to in thinking about online chatting is the fact that it is just “one among many windows” on a personal computer screen. Typically while I am chatting with someone online, I am doing any number of the following things: checking or writing emails, writing something else, watching something online, eating, cooking, cleaning, buying plane tickets, listening to music, and/or chatting with a handful of other people simultaneously. What does this chaotic multi-tasking situation do to the meaning of a “conversation,” if only on a symbolic level? What message are we sending to one another with our laissez faire “brb” approach to starting and stopping and resuming-when-convenient communication patterns?

Don’t get me wrong. I love online chatting. I do it every day—with friends from across the world and coworkers a cubicle away. I have great, meaningful conversations. I schedule things and get important work done. I learn about people and they me. It’s a totally valid communication form, and it’s changed a lot of our communication patterns in the 21st century. For better, definitely; and also for worse.

Coming next in the Communication series: Talking About Facebook and Twitter.