Friday, January 30, 2009

Elsewhere, USA

I came across a review of Dalton Conley's book, Elsewhere, USA, in Business Week magazine recently and I'll be looking for it in my local library. Here's the line from the review that caught my eye:

"We are constantly on the lookout for economic opportunities, whether we're at the gym, our kids' school, or out with friends. This collision of worlds has made us buiser, if not downright frenetic. But it has also left us feeling disjointed and dislocated, as if we should always be somewhere else, doing something else."

Does that feel familiar? It sure does to me. For one thing, I look at every incident in my life as possible fodder for my writing; people, places, phrases, conversations. Any of it could lead to a blog entry or a book.

For another thing, social sites like Facebook demand, "What are you doing now?", every time I check in to see what my friends are up to. It's no longer good enough to live my life; now I have to advertise it, too.

A few years back I would get on my computer, check my email and get right to work. Now I get on the computer and negotiate ten or more sites, giving updates, reading messages, hunting for an interesting conversation to chime in on. In any given day I might interact with a few hundred people.

But do any of them give a rat's ass about me?

Isn't this behavior what you'd expect from a lab rat? Press the button, get a treat, press the button, get a treat. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy talking to people all around the world and I love the opportunity it gives me to talk to people I wouldn't normally get to talk to. I've actually had some amazing conversations over the years, and I've definitely been affected by the company I've kept - I hope for the better.

Is it real, though? Would I have been better off pursuing a couple of true, real-life friendships in town? People I can actually see?

I'm not ready to give up on the internet as a tool, but I know I have to change how I use it. I need to make more active choices about how I use it and let it use me less.


L Harris said...

A great reminder, and something I'm working on too. I've cut my yahoogroups by more than half. I cut almost 90% of my newsletters. I just don't want to be sitting here all that much any more. I think there is a time and a place when the internet may be a busy mom's only social "outing" but I'm not there any more and for that i am thankful! I am building IRL friendships.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I recently closed my Facebook because I felt that the way I was using it was causing me to retreat into my shell and just give a facade of a friendship. I love what you say, "It's no longer good enough to live my life; now I have to advertise it, too." Great stuff.

But don't worry, I'm still going to be checking out your blog. :)

Jennifer said...


That's the irony, isn't it?

Here's more irony - this morning I found two people I haven't spoken with since junior high on Facebook. That's pretty neat. Who knows what I might learn from them.

On the other hand, I find that my Facebook connections rarely lead to more than the briefest messages to and from people.

I want a Facebook site that encourages the kind of long, lazy letters about everything that Jane Austen's characters used to write.

The Team at Tucson Websites said...

"But do any of them give a rat's ass about me?"
We do! on you know where

But I know what you mean about the 'friends' made on the net who I've never really met

I frequent maybe five messageboards, and now I have a few blogs (testing to see how well they perform) but I never felt 'comfortable' in my space or facebook.. after reading your post and the other comments, I think that's for the best.. I don't need even more places to 'keep up on' either

Jennifer said...

On the other hand, yesterday I reconnected with a girl I knew in high school and it was so much fun to catch up with her. Facebook is good for that.