I Share Therefore I Am

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 6.32.48 AMFor many people my age, the idea of describing my day to day activities can seem like narcissism  taken to extreme. Did I even want the constant up-to-the-minute updates of what my friends were doing? The hoarding friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, held little appeal to me. That is, until I started tweeting and posting. It wasn’t long before I found the omnipresent knowledge of my friends (and I use that term loosely) lives intriguing and additive. Equally appealing was writing the perfect post that resulted in “likes” before my fingers left the keyboard. Someone just read this, and liked it. It is not lost on me that I’m behind a screen and the connection at most is transitory and perhaps even superficial, but it’s there. And yes, I know there are a billion users.

My number of friends grew quickly and I had people from my elementary school years that I hadn’t seen in 40 years. Then I realized that more friends equaled more stress in some ways. I had to shift through comments and posts and photos of people that I wouldn’t like in “real” life. Why was I spending my morning coffee time on their political rants and raves? I started “unfriending” in earnestness especially during the campaign. Aside from the occasional “Way to Go Obama!” post, I shy away from politics and religion on Facebook. I don’t need mass numbers of friends. I’d rather connect with those I care about.  And my kids have finally “friended” me.  I’d like to think that Facebook and Twitter have made me “cool” and “hip”, but in reality, my kids have gotten older and have less to hide from me.


Master of Your Universe

 

Sifting through the sheer volume of material – good, bad, useless, tasteless, or otherwise – is a daunting task. It is even difficult to keep track of what I post, save, download, and view. Yet the computer is the largest component of my personal learning network. This is part of a trend that began with simple innovations like personalized start pages, RSS aggregation, and customizable widgets, the personal web is a term coined to represent a collection of technologies that confer the ability to reorganize, configure and manage online content rather than just viewing it. It is now easy to create customized, personal web-based learning network — a personal web — that explicitly supports my social, professional, and learning needs. My online material can be saved, tagged, categorized, and repurposed without difficulty and without any special knowledge of how web pages are put together. In fact, the underlying technology that supports the web has all but vanished and all that is necessary is to know is which tools to use, and any task — from creating and distributing content, to organizing one’s personal and professional time, to developing a library of resources that constantly refresh and update themselves —becomes point-and-click trivial. The vast collection of content that makes up the web can be tamed, filtered, and organized, and anyone can publish as much or as little as they wish: the web has become personal. Is this important to me? Yes, because I was not an early adapter. I hobbled into the information age with nothing but a desire to be better connected. It is now possible for those of us who previously had nothing but a library card to be as well-informed as Bill Gates. (On a side note, it’s sad that I can no longer reference Steve Jobs in the present.) I like being able to tame part of the world wide web into my own personal learning network because without a way to control the flow, it can quickly become a beast of technology that is more scary than helpful.


Party of One

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It’s a great time to be an introvert. I can do almost anything from behind my computer screen. What Amazon doesn’t have, I don’t need. There is no need to fight the crowds, germs, and teenagers at the mall. It is my opinion that the mall is in a state of socio-economic decline and those with computer access do not need to spend an afternoon under its artificial lights. I am happy at home and I do not apologize for it.

It hasn’t always been this way though. I haven’t always been comfortable with my introverted self. I knew I was an introvert from a very young age when I was the happiest alone with a book or scribbling in a notepad. In school, I didn’t talk much and became known as “soft-spoken”. (This term is still used to describe me.) High school completely drained me and the thought of extracurricular activities was not an option. I tried to be more outgoing. My best friends were outgoing and they carried the conversations and social obligations. Perhaps, I thought hanging out with extroverts would rub off on me, like it was something I could change about myself, a habit that would become a part of me if practiced on a regular basis. It never happened. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more efficient at adopting an external persona that I use professionally. I have good social skills and I’m not morose or misanthropic. A casual acquaintance may not necessarily view me as an introvert but it lurks behind a tired smile at the end of the day.

Extroverts dominate social and public life though and that tends to make me a little bitter. In our society, being an extrovert is considered desirable and a mark of confidence and leadership. Being a “people person” is a compliment and happiness is too often associated with gregariousness. Extroverts come fully to life around other people. I think about Bill Clinton and his success in politics. The man could talk his way out of anything and make lifelong friends in the process.

So what does it mean to be an introvert? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introversion does not automatically mean that you are shy. It merely means that you find people tiring.

In contrast, other people energize extroverts. My mother is your typical extrovert. If she’s left alone for over ten minutes, she is reaching for her cell phone. I don’t think she’s ever had a thought that she hasn’t shared. I, on the other hand, need time to recharge after being “on”. If I don’t have that time then my body reacts through exhaustion, anxiety, and sleeplessness. And as awesome as it is to be able to order books online, there are plenty of negatives in today’s digitally connected world that makes it difficult to be an introvert. As Nancy Baym writes, “The continuous relational accessibility enabled by mobile phones thus keeps local peers and families more tightly independent, but can also come to feel overwhelming and imprisoning for that very reason.” Between my cell phone, (calls and texting), my iPad (instant messaging), and my laptop (email, work and personal), I am continuously connected. Just knowing that my “alone” time is prone to interruption is not as relaxing as pre-technology days. Yet, I stay connected for my grandmother is 98, my daughter is pregnant, my sister is widowed, my son lives in Florida, the reasons are many for not unplugging. Part of today’s brave new world is learning to balance the good and the bad and finding more time and opportunity for unconnected solitude. And for introverts, this is not a choice but a necessity.


The Past Predicts the Future

Development of Wireless Telegraphy, Scene in Hyde Park. “These two figures are not communicating with one another. The lady is receiving an amatory message, and the gentlemen some racing results. 1906” This steel engraving from 1906 accurately predicts the future by showing a couple using “wireless devices” over 100 years ago. It is amazing how not only science fiction books but even cartoons from the past have correctly predicted the future of technology. The most accurate part of this illustration is the prediction of the people sitting right next to each other but communicating with someone else. Sound familiar? (oddities of life)

In Personal Connections in the Digital Age Nancy Baym writes that communication technologies have long been represented as a source for stress of families. The telephone was first seen for its potential to “enable” the wrong kinds of sociability across age, class, and social lines. It was also feared that the telephone would replace visiting. The television, as well, evoked concerns. A 1962 New Yorker cartoon showed a husband and wife seated across from each other at the dinner table. His face was buried in the newspaper while she watched a television depicting a couple sharing a romantic dinner (pg 35-36).

These concerns are not new nor are they substantiated. Technology will cause our social skills to change but most of us are able to make the new media make sense and use it to enhance our personal and professional lives. New technologies will always bring with it new anxieties but recognizing that the fear of the new is merely masking ago-old concerns, we can move into the future with anticipation.