Figuring out Twitter

April 14th, 2011

A while back, I asked folks over on my other blog to talk to me about Twitter. I do use it, but felt I hadn’t quite “gotten” it yet: it continued to feel like an inferior version of Facebook. But I’ve finally figured out the difference: while Facebook is great for following people and maintaining relationships, Twitter is better for following topics and events. Keeping up with news in your field(s) of interest, or tuning in to voices coming out of a scene of revolution or disaster. It’s a news feed, not a community bulletin board or cafe.

Facebook & Twitter

March 14th, 2011

Some musings on communication technologies …

In case anyone missed it, Alison Lebron had a nice piece in Sunday’s magazine about the challenges and dynamics of “migratory friendships” — those that begin online and then transition to in-person friendships.

A not-yet-migrated friend of mine, Chris S., recently wrote this about Facebook:

In my view, Facebook is the cafe down the road where I can go to meet friends, express my opinion (and maybe rant a bit), and get a high-five for my point of view (and maybe some friendly jabs). Thus, I do not apologize for my point of view, nor my expression of how I feel. If you are unable to “entertain an idea without accepting it,” please move on to the next table, cafe, or social platform.

I really liked this, and thought it summarized a good philosophy of when and how to comment, and how to treat the venue overall. (A number of people in Lebron’s article also used the cafe or pub metaphor to describe Facebook.)

Finally, I wrote in my other blog last week about my difficulties figuring out how to optimize Twitter, and there were some thoughtful responses. This piece in the NYT discusses the benefits, and dangers, of Twitter for journalists, although I expect the insights would apply to many different kinds of people who use Twitter professionally.

Finally, thanks for your comments on the new blog design! We’ll be making some tweaks over the next week or so, so please continue to point out if anything isn’t working right. (It is not rude to point out flaws in a person’s appearance, virtual or real, if you are asked to do so.) Merci!

The week in foot-in-mouth

February 18th, 2011

This week has been notable for two amazing career/personal meltdowns: that of journalism professor Nir Rosen, who wrote a series of offensive tweets about Lara Logan, the reporter who was assaulted in Egypt; and that of public information officer Aeron Haworth, who — okay, it’s complicated. Read the article. Point is, he said a lot of things on the internet that he really, really shouldn’t have.

Bad judgment doesn’t usually surprise me. These two cases do, though. Can these men, who are professional communicators, seriously not know that the internet isn’t private? And that nothing on it ever goes away?

Truly, I do not understand.

TIME marches on at my friend’s 30th

November 4th, 2010

Here‘s a six-minute video from TIME magazine about the New Orleans-based rock band Bonerama (also embedded below, and no, their name isn’t gratuitously phallic — they’re fronted by three trombones). Why is this interesting? One, because their music is really good. Two, because of their business model: cultivating a smaller fan base, but one that will pay more for “premium experiences.” Such as having Bonerama play at your 30th birthday party, as my friend LeDiva did — which is reason three to watch the video. (You can see me dancing at 1:47.)

I don’t have any numbers on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, even as the middle class is being eroded in general, there is a healthier middle class among artists/artisans than there was ten or 20 years ago thanks to technological advances. Facebook, MySpace, blogs, Twitter, Etsy — it’s easier than ever for artists to connect directly with fans, customers, and collaborators, not to mention the advances in arts technology itself.

Staying sane on the internets

October 22nd, 2010

Is it me, or are the internets wearing a lot of people out these days? It seems that a number of blogs are shutting down, and I’ve been feeling a lot of angst among my Facebook set as well. Those of us who have computer-centric jobs can feel continuously bombarded with upsetting news, most of which we can’t do anything about. (I don’t know which I find more depressing, really: the opinions of my FB friends whom I disagree with politically, or the constant links to an ongoing litany of outrages shared by those on my side.) All of which led me to post this a few weeks ago on my Facebook page:

A crazy idea: for every one thing you read on the internet that makes you sad or angry, commit one act of love. Sign a petition. Post a funny video to a friend’s wall. E-mail the manager of your local Starbucks and tell them about the excellent service you got. Introduce two people whom you know would enjoy each other. Ask for other people to share their stories on your blog.

I’ve been practicing this without being consciously aware of it for a few weeks now, and it has, I feel, made a huge difference to my head and heart and soul. Try it.

I’ve been keeping it up since then, and it’s continued to work. And then yesterday, I was catching up on some back issues of New Scientist, and read an article about happiness by Dan Jones. Much of what he said I was already familiar with, but I learned about Barbara Frederickson’s “broaden & build” theory of positive emotions for the first time. According to this theory, positive emotions — joy, affection, curiosity, playfulness — lead to a broadening of our ability to imagine different ways of thinking and acting. And the actions that these emotions prompt us to take — expressing kindness to others, getting physical exercise, exploring the environment, learning experientially or through books or dialogue — build long-term health, social, and cognitive benefits.

I found Dr. Frederickson’s link between immediate good feeling and long-term rewards intriguing, because in the past couple of weeks since I’ve been trying my little “use the internet for good instead of evil” routine, I genuinely have felt better — not just cheerier, but more satisfied with life and my place in it, and even more optimistic about human nature.

(Not, of course, so optimistic as to have lost my basic faith in Murphy’s Law. I know this advice is likely to be read and followed most enthusiastically by exactly the sort of person who shouldn’t: the sort who finds LOLcats to be the very apotheosis of internet humor; who considers sending a chronically ill friend a link to a new alternative-medicine treatment a good deed; who assumes that everyone’s spiritual life, and therefore taste in inspirational quotes or art, is more or less identical; who considers availability and heterosexuality the only qualifications required to be a candidate for matchmaking. But what can I do? I seek to empower, and this at times means empowering the clueless as well.)

A proper e-mail

October 7th, 2010

Last week, I received an e-mail from my 10-year-old grandcousin.* The subject line was “Read-a-Thon,” and was sent from my grandcousin to his own e-mail address, with recipients in the BCC. The text was as follows:

Hi!

I am e-mailing you to ask if you will sign up for a fundraiser for [NAME] School called the read-a-thon. It is when I ask you to donate money to my school for every minute I read.

I will let you decide on how much you will pay me per minute. I plan to read 500 to 800 minutes,maybe more. I hope to raise $500. 1c per minute would equal $8.00, and 5c per minute would equal $40.00. Please reply telling me if you would like to participate, and how much money you will give per min. if you will participate.

I will take any contribution, including just an amount no matter how much I read.

I don’t normally do this,so this is new and exciting. Thank You.

Sincerely,
[NAME & ADDRESS]

I thought this was pretty darned good. Informative subject header, recipients kept private, full information (including, usefully, doing the math on an 800-minute commitment), no pressure except to let him know, and appropriate thanks and excitement about the endeavor expressed.

How many e-mails have you gotten from adults that aren’t as concise, respectful, and informative as that? I know I’ve gotten plenty.

And I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon, but I’ve got a new name on my list for people to take over the column if I ever do.

*My cousins’ kid. Technically, he is my first cousin once removed, but I prefer the term “grandcousin.” He was once removed, but after a quick time-out he got his act together again.

Party trick

July 13th, 2010

Oh, goodness, you’re worried about me. That’s so sweet. But I’m fine, really. I’ve just been in an awfully summertime kind of mood and wanting to be irresponsible and not do anything grown-up or difficult at all. And you know, the thing with having as many jobs as I do is that it’s hard to take time off from all of them at once.

Anyway.

I was at a party last weekend and someone pulled out an awfully cool party trick on his iPhone — it’s an app from the Smithsonian, with which you can take your picture, and then see it transformed into an earlier species of human. Then you can have it e-mailed to yourself. This is what the e-mail told me about me-as-homo-floriensis:

Thanks for using MEanderthal from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Your image is attached.

It’s the new, very very old you, Homo floresiensis! You’ve been extinct for 17,000 years.

Your modern relatives didn’t know you existed until 2003, when they found your small skull and skeleton on the island of Flores in Indonesia.

You stood up and walked. You made tools and hunted. You were small, so scientists call you a Hobbit.

Get to know me and all the other early humans on the Smithsonian website

Download the Smithsonian MEanderthal app for iPhone and morph yourself, your friends, or even Fluffy and Rover into early humans.

Here’s what I look like as an early human:

Pretty hot for back in the day, I must say. I would have been quite the rockin’ cavechick. At any rate, if you party with geeks — and I know you do — this is a fun little app to have.

Do you write like a spammer?

October 5th, 2009

This is too funny: blogger FemaleScienceProfessor reports of a phishing scam at her university, in which “an unknown and nefarious person who sent an email to faculty in my department ‘from’ one of our departmental colleagues who had an emergency whilst traveling and needed a quick infusion of cash.”

Turns out, though: said colleague actually is disorganized to get him- or herself into such a situation. The giveaway was that the e-mail was too politely worded and well written to have come from said colleague.

Read, talk, love

September 24th, 2009

David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph — a fan of the Igs and an all-around good guy — has a good question on his blog: have you read a book if you’ve listened to the audio version?

When somebody asks you if you’ve read a certain book, and you’ve only listened to it in audio version, what do you say? “Yes?” “Yes with an asterisk”? “No, but I’ve heard it”? “No”?

What about you?

This reminded me of a similar question: if you have been e-mailing back and forth with someone, or having a dialogue on Facebook, or chatting online, do you say you’ve been “talking” to them? I usually will, unless there’s something specific about the technology that I wanted to make a point of, e.g., “So, I was Facebooking with Mimi, and I noticed she still hasn’t changed her relationship status!” But if I’m just reporting the substance of the conversation, I’ll say “talking.” I suppose it seems weirdly over-specific to fixate on the technology itself, as though the technology were the important thing and not the conversation.

What about you?

The politics of deafness

August 16th, 2009

The Globe reports on the increased use of cochlear implants in children under three. Medical stories don’t tend to grab me, but identity, communication, and politics do, and there are serious ramifications to “fixing” deaf children at such an early age:

Before implants, deaf children learned American Sign Language or lip reading. Most fared well, although many could not speak. Like the De Laras, however, many families whose children receive implants today are dissuaded from learning sign language, a trend that will bear repercussions for the entire deaf community and that some specialists fear is a mistake.

Tyler’s generation, hearing specialists say, will redefine what it means to be deaf.

“I describe it as a revolution,’’ Schorr says. “It’s close to a miracle, what this technology has made possible.’’

I’m not so sure the Deaf community would define it as a “miracle,” although “revolution” they would certainly agree with. “Deaf” with a capital D is used not to define a physical condition, but a culture, a culture based to great extent around American Sign Language and the constraints and opportunities it affords. The “Deaf culture” view of deafness is contrasted with the “pathological” view of deafness, i.e., the view that being deaf is a disability and nothing more. (One can find both hearing and deaf individuals in both camps. For a good overview of Deaf culture, including some basic etiquette tips for hearing folks, go here. For a thoughtful argument for the pathological view, go here.) If cochlear implants are used at such an early age, the hearing parents of deaf children may, understandably, have little motivation to learn ASL or have it taught to their children. Without the next generation of signers, what will happen to Deaf culture?

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve met the writer, and if you are interested in cochlear implants–or science fiction!–check out Michael Chorost’s Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human. Michael was hard of hearing from early childhood, received cochlear implants in his 30s when he went completely deaf, and is enough of a scientific and literary geek (in the best sense!) to have truly made the most of becoming a cyborg. (He is also an attractive man who bears some resemblance to Brent Spiner, the actor who played Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and we both agreed that it was a shame that Mr. Spiner would be too old to play him, should a film ever be made of Michael’s life. Who better to play a cyborg than the actor best known for playing an android?) His speech at Gallaudet University is a must-read.

Commenting

June 8th, 2009

Let’s talk commenting.

This is about the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. One thing I love about blogging is the fact that it’s a continuous work-in-progress. Blogs are never all set. A blog is always still working on it.

I’m trying to decide what kind of commenting policy I want to have on my blogs. When done well, the comments section can be as powerful, entertaining, and educational as the blog itself. When not … oy. We all know what that’s like.

The price of a good commenting community is, unfortunately, eternal and unpaid vigilance on the part of the blogger. You have to moderate, and you have to moderate aggressively and consistently. This article in Slate describes, admiringly, the draconian moderation at Television Without Pity, which did not change after the site was bought out. TWOP moderators don’t just enforce civility and keep the spam out, they make sure you are bringing your A-game. No “Hah hah ITA Zak Quinto is soooooo hawt” on the TWOP boards, no sir. Ta-Nehesi Coates described his commenting policy as, “Don’t be boring, and don’t be an ass,” which I think sums it up pretty well. That’s what everyone wants for the comments on their site: interesting, insightful, on-topic.

So how to achieve that? Philosophically, I’d rather err on the side of deleting an “innocent” comment than publishing a “guilty” one. In practice, however, I do tend to let stuff through. The software on the Miss Conduct blog isn’t really the best for moderation. And certain posts, like the Monday question (check it out and weigh in on today’s, eh?), get linked to on the boston.com home page, which means that a bunch of newbies show up who aren’t necessarily followers of the Miss Conduct Way.

I guess what particularly bothers me is that when things have gotten a bit heated over at the other ranch, invariably someone pulls the “I can’t believe that on an etiquette blog …” card. This bugs me. It’s like the Susan Boyle phenomenon: we should treat all frumpy middle-aged women with respect and dignity, not just the ones who can sing. I don’t want you to not be an asshole on my blog because it’s an etiquette blog, I want you not to be an asshole on my blog because it’s not cool to be an asshole. Just because you’re commenting on RSVPs or wedding presents doesn’t mean you have to type with your pinkies in the air.

Okay. Enough of my maundering. Let’s air your dirty maundry. What do you think? If you’re a frequenter of the Miss Conduct blog, what have you liked and not liked about commenting there? Have there been comments that you think I should have deleted? (A note: I grade pass/fail. I’m not going to edit a comment, that’s too time-consuming. If there’s any inappropriate content, it gets dumped, even if the rest of it is good.) What blogs do you think handle moderation well, or have good comment policies?

More questions … Should comments be deleted if their only offense is lack of content (e.g., a comment consisting solely of “LOL!”)? Do you like it when the blogger participates in the comment thread, dislike it, or are indifferent? Is it annoying that I don’t open all posts up for comments? How much does threadjacking and topic drift bother you?

Comment away!