Tag Archive for: social media

While I was working on a new essay for Demeter Press, I took a quick break and found this. It’s long, but worth the time it takes to read it. I found myself nodding my head over and over again as the author lamented the new “culture of shut up” that has permeated social media.  A bit of a twist on my “sea of unknowing,” but more pop-culture friendly for certain.

The essay I’m working on is for an upcoming anthology on Mothers and Food and as I sat down to take my first stab at it in the unseasonable sunshine in the backyard, I was on fire.  Chronicling my years as a child of the PopTart Generation (my name for the 1970s era of “better living through chemistry”) to my early years as a mother trying to do right by my babies when it came to food, and through our gluten allergy diagnoses, I am writing about the challenges of raising healthy children when you don’t know what information is real.  So many of the things I thought I knew about food have been proven wrong – processed foods aren’t healthy, fertilizers do more harm than good, GMOs are horrifically frightening, rice isn’t a healthy alternative to wheat if you’re gluten intolerant thanks to the arsenic levels, alternative grains aren’t always the best, and on and on….  The whole essay now weighs in at 2500 words and it is decidedly defeatist, so I’ll have to work on finding a way to lighten it up and find the silver lining somewhere.  That said, I do often feel a little undone by the latest food news as it comes my way because it seems to create more work for me as I plan meals and shop and cook for my family.  I come from a Ukrainian great-grandmother who loved nothing more than cooking for friends and family and I inherited her inability to cook for anything less than an army.  I absolutely feel like cooking for others is a way to show them I love them and at our dinner table, the more, the merrier. But I struggle with the fact that eating is hard work these days. And don’t tell me to plant a garden in my backyard because I most certainly did NOT inherit that ability from my Gram.  I’ll go out and support the farmer’s markets, thankyouverymuch, but only if they grow organic produce.

There is so much hoopla around Lance Armstrong today. I will be the first to admit I am curious to see Oprah Winfrey’s interview with him and will probably record it to watch snippets when Bubba isn’t home. That said, the thing that has stood out the most for me this week in the media are headlines like: “Lance Armstrong’s Brand May Be Damaged Forever.”

I know that with the ubiquitous presence of social media in our everyday lives, there is a lot of buzz about one’s ‘personal brand.’ Heck, I’ve even heard Bubba talk about it to the girls, cautioning them that whatever they put out there in cyberspace, via a Facebook page (which neither has) or a text message or a blog (again, blissfully irrelevant here) is not likely to go away. That it could affect their scholarship opportunities or college or job applications. That they ought to consider that they are “building a personal brand” and act accordingly.  I’ve even bought into it to some extent, both for the girls and for myself, certain to only write about or talk about or ‘like’ things after I take a good, long look at how they might be received publicly.  And I’m not a celebrity or a business owner.

But I am curious as to why it seems important that Lance’s “brand” is damaged.  I know he built up a public persona as an athlete and a cancer survivor, as someone who triumphed repeatedly against all odds, and I see how he has traded on that over the years for fame and fortune.  I understand how his teammates could feel cheated or betrayed by him if he did, indeed, take steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs in order to win bike races year after year.  I sympathize even more with those who are angry that he lied about it multiple times as he tried to run from the reality that his drug use may have affected many, many people over a long period of time.  I can see how it would be difficult to trust anything the man says for a good long time.

But when we talk about someone’s “brand” isn’t there a tacit understanding there that what we are talking about isn’t the whole person? Don’t we really get that what we mean by “brand” is the public image this person or corporation chooses to put out into the world? That this is only the part of them that they wish us to see?  And so how many times do we have to be surprised when it turns out that this brand is false?  We have set up a system that values winning and financial compensation more than honesty and fallibility. We have created a place where, in order to do business and succeed financially, an individual or organization must appear to be strong, solid, and perfect. Yes, he was diagnosed with cancer, but because it was seemingly something outside of his control and he didn’t die from it, Lance’s brand became stronger as a result.  When celebrities are revealed to us as actual human beings (Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Mel Gibson…), we are indignant and shocked.  They are absolutely no different than any of the rest of us. Some are bigoted, others are immature, still more fall prey to the lure of money or fame. And yet, we continue to encourage them to project this illusion out into the universe that they are something more so that we can look to them for inspiration.  The sad truth is that a “personal brand” is rarely a true representation of a person or company, it is merely a marketing device that is designed to make us feel better about buying what is being sold.

I am not a huge cycling fan so I don’t have any particular issue with whether or not Lance used performance enhancing drugs other than a general sense of the fact that it isn’t fair to all of the other athletes who compete on their own physical merits.  To me, this is part of a larger discussion about our current cultural obsession with creating a personal brand that is not indicative of who we truly are or what we believe in.  There are those out there whose intentions may be to craft an authentic brand for themselves or their company, but the waters quickly get murky as soon as you begin trying to sell something based on that brand.  We have all met new people and attempted to “put our best foot forward” in order to make a good impression. We have all told little white lies or omitted certain things in particular settings so that we can fit in.  Ultimately, though, we can’t build meaningful relationships unless we are truly honest about our humanity and vulnerability. We cannot truly have other people in our corner unless they know us and accept us for who we are. I am not suggesting that every public person try to befriend their fans in this intimate way, but I do find it surprising that we as a society continue to act surprised when we discover that each of these individuals is just as human as we are and that the “brand” we bought into wasn’t an accurate representation of the whole person.  It is impossible to build a brand for public consumption that isn’t idealistic and incomplete and until we accept that, we won’t be able to stop expecting perfection from the people behind the brand and feeling disappointed when we find flaws.

I don’t know if Lance can rebuild his brand, but I do hope that he is surrounded by a group of people who know him for who he truly is and can help him through what is likely to be one of the most difficult times of his life.  

Bubba told me when I headed off for a five day trip to New York City to attend the BlogHer Publishing Network’s Annual Convention that day three would be rough.  Even with all of his business travel, he acknowledged that, “Day 3 is the hardest. That’s the day homesickness kicks in. I feel like I ought to be headed home and if I’m not, it sucks.”

I guess I’m an overachiever, because by the evening of Day 2 I was a mess.  Day 3 dawned with a near-panic-attack that I talked myself out of until I hit breakfast.  I filled my plate with the meager offerings for those of us who can’t eat gluten (scrambled eggs and fruit) and scanned the massive ballroom for an open chair.  I am one of the few women who came on my own, not planning to meet other bloggers I know or friends I have known for years.  Spying a spot near the middle of the room, I moved in and set down my plate and stowed my computer bag and purse beneath my seat.  I looked up to see if anyone had noticed my arrival and was met by the sight of eight other women whose faces were glowing.  Literally glowing. Lit by iPads, smart phones and laptops. It’s a theme I’ve noticed throughout this entire event.  Nobody can focus on just one thing. Even if you get lucky enough to meet someone new face-to-face, they are clutching a phone that will instantly alert them if a friend or follower Tweets or texts them.

In a crowd of 4,500 women, I have never felt so alone. I left the room without meeting a soul and went for a long walk in the sticky humidity of the city.  I had to acknowledge that I feel out of place here. A fish out of water. A square peg in a sea of round holes.

I came here not to learn how to use HTML more effectively (although I probably could use some help there).  I didn’t come to learn how to use Twitter to promote my blog or make more money from it. I came to make connections with other writers.  To find out how to build community.  What I’ve learned so far is that this is not how I want to do it.

Thankfully, there is a member of my existing community that happened to be in the city this week.  I walked over twenty blocks to find her.  In the mid-day heat (93 degrees), without walking shoes on, I pounded the hot pavement to find a girlfriend from home – a friendly face.  She is in town for a completely different reason, but when she opened the door and gave me a hug I burst into tears.  She listened as I poured out my frustrations and convinced me to accompany her to Bloomingdale’s for frozen yogurt (yes, Bloomingdale’s apparently does have EVERYTHING).  By the time we had walked the four blocks and ordered our towering sundaes I was feeling centered.  She didn’t pull her phone out once and Tweet something. She didn’t check her email or her Facebook status. She hugged me and met my tearful eyes with her own and cracked jokes and acted horrified at all the right moments.

After a few hours, I headed back to the conference to give it another shot.  And the twenty blocks gave me time to think.  So many of the women who came to this conference came to party. They came in blocks and cliques (mommy bloggers, craft bloggers, food bloggers) and fully embrace technologies that enable them to connect with others digitally.  While their blogs may impart personal information, their Facebook and Twitter accounts are peopled with followers who get superficial bursts of information and are addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with knowing there is a crowd listening to every digital utterance.

I set out to find my people somewhere in this mass of conference-goers.  I realized that I am first a writer and then a blogger.  I needed to discover the writers in the group.  And with that simple shift in intention (to seek instead of flee), a little magic happened.  I discovered the ‘Writing Lab,’ where other writers came to talk about how to do interviews and copyedit and tweak their posts to sell as essays.  I discovered others who are serious about making a difference in the world and are just as afraid of Twitter as I am.  I had passionate conversations about women’s rights and healthcare and clean air and I listened to bloggers who work for philanthropic organizations talk about how to turn ambition in to action.

I won’t say that I still don’t feel overwhelmed by the entire scene. (I get sensory overload at Costco, though, so that isn’t a surprise.) I won’t say that I’ve come around to embracing Twitter and Pinterest and am committed to using them in my own life.  I won’t even be attending the closing night’s party (but my excuse is that I have to fly out early tomorrow to get home).  But I am glad that I stuck it out and managed to connect with other writers and activists who gave me a different perspective than the one I first got.  And I’m certain that my yogurt-loving friend saved me from going stark raving mad simply by reminding me how good it feels to connect on a personal level with someone who cares about the same things I do.

We have rules when it comes to technology. Unfortunately, sometimes just knowing that leads to a bit of complacency on our part (the parents, I mean). And other times, even those limits aren’t enough to spare us some lessons.

Let me just say that we have two daughters, ages 9 and 12. We have one computer that lives in the kitchen where I spend most of my time, at least when the girls are home. There are parental controls on the computer, but they honestly aren’t clever enough to let the girls use certain sites that are perfectly safe, so from time to time I let them use my logon so they can get around the really dorky restrictions. But only when I’m in the kitchen.

Both girls have their own iTouch devices with a free texting app. Lola, my 9 year old, doesn’t have any other friends who have the ability to text, so she’s pretty much out of luck but it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’d rather play iPhyzzle or Angry Birds, anyway. Eve, the 12 year old, texts her friends all the time and knows that either Bubba or I will perform surprise spot-checks to read text messages on a whim. Neither of the girls is allowed to have their iTouch upstairs without express permission since we have wi-fi at home and these devices can let them surf the ‘net. At night, the iTouches live in the “technology box” on the kitchen counter.

So, yeah, I feel fairly secure.
Until now.

Yesterday I had to run downtown to get the dog from the groomer. Both girls had just arrived home from school and Lola was changing for basketball practice. I decided to leave the girls at home to have a snack while I went out to get the dog – I would be gone for 20 minutes, maximum. The rules were this: no screen time (TV, computer, iTouch), no sweets. I was fairly certain that if either of those rules was violated, one of the girls would rat the other one out. As I was opening the garage door, Eve called out, “Mom, can I just check my email really quick? D was supposed to email me about the assignment we’re working on.”

I gave her permission to check her email. But only that. Again, Lola would take immense pleasure in throwing Eve under the bus if she strayed.

So imagine my surprise when, two hours later, Bubba calls and tells me that Eve has joined some social networking site. HUH? When? How?

It turns out that, while checking her email, Eve discovered a message from one of her school friends inviting her to join this group where they can all socialize. Seeing the email addresses of several other classmates, Eve clicks on the link to this site. She swears she didn’t go so far as to sign up, but somehow as soon as she enters the site, her entire email contact list is snagged by this site and emails go out to everyone she knows, telling them she has just joined this site (Zorpia.com) and would they like to, too?

Bubba and I have some questions about whether or not Eve signed up for the site, but that’s not the point. The point for us is that Eve didn’t really understand the implications of what she was doing. Bubba sat with her and showed her around the site, pointing out the advertisements for “Find Hot Local Singles” and “Work from Home” scams. He explained that there are many of these kinds of sites around who use you for your email contact list and are not safe places for kids to build profiles.

Ultimately I am grateful that this happened, if only so that we could refine our guidelines for the girls.
First of all, if you go to a site that asks for your entire birthdate, month/day/year, that’s a red flag.
If, upon determining that you are a minor, it doesn’t tell you to get parental permission, that’s a red flag. (The Terms of Service for this particular site says in teeny tiny letters that you have to be 16 to sign up, but even after Eve’s birth year was entered, it didn’t flag this or disable her account – hmmmm.)
If part of the registration process asks you what your sexual orientation is, that’s a red flag.
If the site offers, as part of its main objectives, matches or dates or connections with people you don’t already know, that’s a red flag.
Before you join any site for any reason, check with Mom and Dad.

Thank goodness this site actually did SPAM all of Eve’s contacts, or Bubba and I might not have discovered what was going on. It’s questionable whether Eve would have actually had the opportunity to use this site anyway, given that the computer is in the kitchen, but I wonder how many of Eve’s classmates have successfully created profiles on this site and opened themselves up to predators of all kinds.