Tag Archives: internet

My virtual life

Something disturbing happened to me earlier today, and I didn’t know how to explain it to my husband without it sounding at best, frivolous, and at worst, narcissistic. Nonetheless, I called him at work and tried not to sound as upset as I was.

“Al,” I said, “I just accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from my Facebook wall.”

There was a silence while Al tried to figure out how to react to this bombshell. “Oh no,” he said. “Sorry?” (He’s pretty good at guessing the right responses to things).

I explained to him that I was so upset about it because I had linked my Twitter account to my Facebook account years ago, which meant that 99% of all content I had ever posted on Facebook had actually been posted via Twitter. Thus, when I accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from Facebook, I deleted a huge online record of my life. And this, it turned out, was upsetting. Al consoled me as best he could, telling me that maybe the posts were salvageable (turns out, they weren’t). After that, there was really nothing more he could say. The record of my online activity was gone, and I had to accept it. Man.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.28.20 PM

After scouring through my Facebook wall, I realized that I had only deleted all of my posts since July 2013 — so, only the last seven months of my online life. But those last seven months had contained so much! My entire time in London: gone. All of the articles and essays that had spoken to me: gone. And, the real tragedy, all of the funny jokes I had made: gone. Gone with the virtual wind!

I felt strangely bereft about this, and then, right on cue, felt guilty for being so self-obsessed. On the surface, losing seven months of one’s searing witticisms (and, more importantly, one’s friends’ reactions to said searing witticisms) should not be a big deal, unless one is a huge, self-involved narcissist. Which I’m totally not, I SWEAR. But I am a writer, and my Twitter feed, which was broadcast to a more personal audience via my Facebook, was, in a way, a body of my written work, however fluffy and silly it was. And, more importantly, it was a conversation between me and people who know me (and who care enough to comment on the stuff I put on social media). Yes, the Twitter feed itself still exists (on Twitter, no less), but the mingling of my Twitter posts with my friends’ reactions on my Facebook wall is gone forever. There were some really good debates, funny back-and-forths, and challenging discussions on that Facebook wall, and now they’re lost. Which begs the question: if a social media exchange falls into the internet hole and no one’s there to re-read it, did it make a sound? Did it ever even happen?

[Side note: I realize that I’m not doing a great job at making the case that I’m not a giant narcissist, but you’ll have to take my word for it. And plus, aren’t we all a bit narcissistic online? Part of the fun of social media is having one’s own wit and good cheer reflected back at one through the validation of one’s social networks. Right? Or is that just me?]

In any case, I’m not sure why I find this experience so unsettling. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, to speak in terribly broad cliches for just a moment, a large chunk of my life really is lived online. I work at home, by myself, and I’m a writer. Throughout the day, I interact with the world by sharing my thoughts (and, if I dare, my feelings) with people online, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I know virtually, and some of whom I know not at all. Those interactions are then preserved in the amber of the internet, most prominently through my Facebook wall. Some people, especially people of my parents’ generation and older, find this concept horrifying, that one’s personal conversations, thoughts, and feelings could be captured on the Internet for all to see, potentially forever (or at least until the grid goes down), but I find it comforting. I can go back to my wall posts from four, five, seven, even ten years ago, and see what my friends and I were talking about, or what movie I had seen, or what book I had read. It’s all there, whether I remember it or not. It’s both a personal reminder of what I’ve gotten up to, and a specimen that’s been polished and presented for public consumption.

Whether all of this archival of my personal life is a good thing or a bad thing is, I suppose, up for debate, but I don’t find that debate to be particularly interesting, mostly because I tend to be, if not judicious, at least mindful about what I post online. If I share a tweet on my Facebook wall, generally, it’s because I think my friends will enjoy it, and I don’t tend to post particularly controversial or revealing things on social media. I’m old enough and (sort of) wise enough — or, at least, experienced enough with social media — at this point not to post anything that will later embarrass me or prevent me from holding public office (I think). And if the NSA wants to read my Facebook wall, I find it hard to get worked up about it. Yes, in theory, it’s scary to think about strangers having access to my social media offerings, but in another way, it’s kind of flattering. I mean, is it so wrong that I hope the NSA thinks I’m funny?

I guess it all boils down to the fact Facebook has been a deeply ingrained part of my life for the last decade (literally). I signed up for Facebook in March 2004, as a senior in college, and I’ve been using it consistently ever since. I’m an active and enthusiastic user, although I’ve adapted and polished the way I use it over the years (for example: I now post far fewer photos than I used to and look at far fewer people’s actual profiles). A large part of Facebook’s role in my life has been as a type of online repository for my memories: an interactive scrapbook filled with photos, videos, discussions, greetings, and jokes. It was always available for me to page back through whenever I was in need of a nostalgia boost. Losing seven months of that scrapbook is not the end of the world, of course, but it’s a little sad. I wish I were one of those aloof, “Oh, I never check Facebook; I’m too busy bicycling around North America” people, but I’m not. I’m someone who enjoys and appreciates social media in my own life and I rely on it to always be available to me. It’s disturbing to see how easily this record of my life online can vanish, and how utterly unable I am to piece it back together without the aid of the internet.

Maybe the solution is that I start writing in a diary, or composing old-fashioned pen-and-ink letters to my friends, or taking photos with a non-digital camera and developing them in a dark room. Or maybe the solution is just to accept that I can’t rely on an external service to preserve my memories for me. Or maybe I just need to take a step back and realize that my stupid tweets are not as interesting or important as I think they are. Or maybe it’s all of the above. For now, though, I’ll stick to shaking my fist at the sky and cursing Mark Zuckerberg, whose fault all of this is, anyway.

Happy tweeting and Facebooking to you all. Hug your tweets close tonight.

 

 

Hate reads and inspiration

I have a confession: I read a lot of blogs that make me angry. And here’s another confession: I don’t plan on stopping. But not for the reason you might think.

First of all, let’s talk about hate reading. I have a theory that anyone who spends a lot of time on the internet (yours truly included) will eventually accumulate a couple of hate reads along the way. This is a documented phenomenon. Last year, Jezebel (the notorious comments sections of which may themselves serve as a hate read, in a pinch) posted an article called “The Art of Hate Reading,” in which the author discusses the habit of “visiting a website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page for the express purpose of ridiculing — or indulging your disdain for —the author and/or content.” I do this. Oh, do I do this. I have a whole section set up on my Feedly reader devoted to these so-called hate reads, and they’re the first blogs I read every morning. They get the blood pumping, you see.

My Feedly reader - note categories for Hate Reads and Love Reads. I've already read the Hate Reads.

My Feedly reader – note separate categories for Hate Reads and Love Reads. I’ve already read the Hate Reads.

But I don’t like the term “hate read,” because I don’t really hate these blogs. Hate is a strong word, right? Hate should be reserved for murderous dictators and people who club baby seals and the CEO of American Apparel, and so on. But blogs? This stuff doesn’t really matter. You can’t allow yourself to feel real bile when reading a blog because people say all sorts of ignorant and/or provocative things on the internet, and if you went around reacting emotionally to every instance of stupidity, I’m convinced you’d drive yourself batty. So I don’t hate these blogs that I read, but I do find them baffling, crazy-making, and frustrating. Often, I want to reach through my computer screen and shake whatever ignorant sod pecked out the words that I’m reading, but I never feel actual hatred. What’s the point? Haters gonna hate. (Science has proven it.)

The flip side of hate reading is that if you stick around long enough, you’ll get exposed to communities and ways of thinking that you’ve never before encountered, up close and personal. This can be off-putting, but also fascinating. I think of reading these blogs as a type of amateur anthropological study. Consequently, the exposure to communities of crazies on the internet has informed my thinking and, more importantly, my fiction writing. After all, it’s the extreme examples of weirdness that I find on the internet that provide fodder for some of my more interesting characters. If you spend enough time on blogs, reading posts and comments, you start to get a real sense of how certain people — people you’d never meet in real life — think and talk. And that’s a pretty valuable resource for a writer. You know that old chestnut “write what you know?” If you stick to only writing about people you know in your own life, the landscape of characters in your fiction might start to get a bit dull. Of course, it’s not that everyone I know in real life comes from the same background or holds the same beliefs, but generally, there’s some truth to the saying that birds-of-a-feather flock together (and I don’t mean that in some weird, covertly racist way). The fact is, the majority of my close friends are American, around my age (late 20s, early 30s), highly educated, politically moderate, agnostic, or liberal, and non-religious and/or non-devout (or, if they are religious, I’m not aware of it). Trust me, they’re all fascinating, wonderful people and they make my life infinitely better. But you don’t come across a lot of surprises when you hang out with people with similar backgrounds and beliefs to yours. That’s where the internet comes in.

My husband thinks it’s bizarre that I read blogs that have no actual relevance to my life, but I’ve been doing it for years, and I’m not about to stop now, no matter how awful the content. This morning, for example, I read this comment on a blog that I peruse occasionally:

When you say your friend mouthed off about homosexuality, do you know exactly what he said, and how he said it? 

I ask because while I agree with your observations that freedom of speech should be sacrosanct and that Catholics have the right to believe (and, in my view, should proclaim) that homosexuality is an evil perversion, I also believe that we should not pour vitriol on those who are tempted into such a life, but rather should help them repent from it.

It seems to me that it is all too easy to forget one half of the maxim ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’, and easier still to express one sentiment in a way that crowds out the other.

If your friend was among the homosexuals at the perversely-named ‘pride’ event, trying to befriend them and at the same time enlighten them about the immoral and destructive nature of their activities, I salute him, and condemn those who set out to silence him with their drugs. I pray they didn’t sodomise him while he was under the influence, and if they did, that the does not now have HIV as a consequence.

I think if I had read this almost comically ignorant comment a few years ago, before I was an old pro at hate reading, I would have choked on my morning hardboiled egg/done a coffee spit-take/slammed my forehead on the keyboard repeatedly, etc. But now, I just find it fascinating! I mean, if I ever need to create a well-meaning but outrageously homophobic character in a book, I know exactly how he’ll talk and exactly how he’ll spell the word “sodomise” (the British way, apparently). You can’t make this stuff up… but you can learn from it and use it in your fiction.

So, to my fellow hate readers, I say go forth and hate read. And then take all of your frustration and pour it into great writing. That’s what I’m trying to do.

[By the way, I don’t want to name names regarding the blogs I read, mostly because I don’t want to drive traffic to their websites (however modest that traffic may be), but also because I’d feel bad calling out specific blogs, no matter how insane their authors are. But let me direct you to a meta-hate-read, the wonderful website Get Off My Internets (GOMI), where hate-readers come together in actual forums to discuss the bloggers that most irk them. The phrase “get off my internets” (as opposed to “stay on my internets”) is directed toward bloggers who have crossed the line from entertaining to obnoxious — but really, we don’t want these people to get off our internets, because then what would we hate read with our morning coffee? I’ll give you a hint: I spend some time in one of these forums. Not saying which one. I don’t write anything, but I lurk, and read what other people have to say about a certain irritating, self-promoting blogger I follow. There’s something validating about finding out that others are irritated by the same behavior on the internet. Don’t judge me.]

Facebook etiquette

The other day, someone I know posted this blog post on her Facebook page, exhorting her Facebook friends to keep in mind seven basic rules of Facebook etiquette. The post’s title, “7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Facebook,” initially grabbed me, because, hey, I hate seeing updates on So-and-So’s progress in Farmville as much as the next person. In fact, I’ve spent a not insignificant chunk of time over the years building a mental list of some of the most obnoxious behaviors on Facebook, including, but not limited to, “liking” every “Happy Birthday” post on one’s wall; inviting one’s Facebook friends to join one’s inane online game of choice; whining about one’s job incessantly; starting any post with the word “Dear,” and then writing a hackneyed “open letter” addressed to, for example, the weather; writing status updates in the third person; posting “chain statuses,” especially ones that contain inaccuracies, misquotes, and/or urban legends; and, my personal least-favorite, spreading the news of a death before family members have had a chance to receive the news via non-Facebook means (this happened to me, by the way: this is how I found out my grandfather passed away. Not kidding, unfortunately).

Let’s face it: there are a lot of ways to be inconsiderate, boring, and/or irritating on Facebook. So I went into this post, from the blog wait but why, anticipating that I’d be totally on board with whatever behaviors this blogger (who I’ll refer to as WBW, since I don’t know his real name) was calling out. The post started off strong, ridiculing a horrifically self-aggrandizing status update that WBW had run across. I’ll reproduce the status update below; hopefully we can all agree that it is, in a word, ghastly.

2012 was a biggg year for me. I left my amazing job at NBC to move back to Chicago. I started dating my angel, Jaime Holland. I started yoga (thanks Jake Fisher & Jonah Perlstein!). I wrote an album with Matthew Johannson. Wrote another album I’m proud of. I got to hang with Owen Wilson, and worked with Will Ferrell on an amazing project. Had a conversation about Barack Obama with David Gregory. Danced. Joined a kickball team. Won a couple awards. Helped my sister plan her summer trip. Swam a lot. Golfed a little. Cried more than you would think. Read The World According to Garp. Saw Apocolypse Now. Went to Miami for the NBA Finals. Drank the best orange juice I’ve ever had with Davey Welch. Tweeted. Went to amazing weddings in Upstate New York. Drank a ridiculous amount of milk. Learned how to make sand art. Saw a great light show. Saw the Angels and Lakers. Fell in love with Jawbone Up. Cooked with Jaime. Gardened with Jaime. Watched Homeland with Jaime. Wrestled with Jaime. Laughed for hours with Jaime. Fell in love with Jaime’s family. Worked on a play. Played World of Warcraft. Did some improv. Played a ton of the guitar. Really just had a wild, amazing year. What a world.

So, yeah, this is bad. It’s really bad, and on so many levels. The humble bragging. The non-humble bragging. The name dropping. The misspellings. The inanities and mundanities. The repeated use of the word “amazing.” The casual references to guitar playing. I mean, there’s a lot to hate here. So I was on board with WBW for calling this out, because surely, everyone in the world except the author of this terrible status update should be able to agree that this type of unabashed self-promotion-disguised-as-gratitude should be illegal and potentially carry a prison sentence.

But then, WBW lost me when he started listing his seven rules that we all should adhere to on Facebook.

WBW’s basic message is that one should not post anything on Facebook that “primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.” Okay. This seems like a reasonable framework to start from. After all, who wants to wade through a bunch of self-involved, uninteresting Facebook statuses on one’s Newsfeed? Not I. But when WBW went on to elaborate all of the behaviors he finds unacceptable on Facebook, I balked. In most cases, the rules he sets out are based on some general principle that I might agree with (for instance: don’t brag), but the rules as he states them are far too broad to be workable or even desirable. Indeed, the guidelines WBW lays out are so sweeping as to ban most behavior on Facebook.

First, WBW says that one shouldn’t boast on Facebook. Fair enough: no one likes an online braggart. But WBW defines bragging as the sharing of any positive news about one’s life. He writes that if something exciting happens in your life, “the only people it’s okay to brag to in life are your close friends, significant other, and family members—and that’s what email, texting, phone calls, and live talking are for. Your moment of self-satisfaction is profoundly annoying to people you’re not that close with, and they make up the vast majority of people who will be subjected to the status.” So if you get married, don’t mention it. You just got into med school? Keep it to yourself. First-born child? Shush. Don’t annoy others with your joy. Maybe WBW finds other people’s happy news “profoundly annoying,” but I’d venture a guess that most people on social media don’t feel that way; otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be on social media. I enjoy seeing wedding pictures, even if I haven’t spoken to the bride or groom since high school. I also don’t mind when someone shares excited or happy news about school or a job. It’s a natural human reaction to want to shout it from the rooftops when something exciting or wonderful happens. Why quash that?

I also disagree with the basic premise  that the sharing of all positive news is necessarily bragging. Anyone who’s read a truly braggy, self-promoting Facebook status can tell the difference between that (“I got to hang out with Owen Wilson”) and a genuinely heartfelt sharing of personal news (“Yay, I finally got accepted to law school”). It’s all about intent. Sharing happy news because you’re excited about said news is a different beast than “image crafting,” “attention craving,” or “jealousy inducing” posts, but WBW seems to lump these together. Any sharing of positive news must have an ulterior motive, in his eyes; and even if it doesn’t, it still shouldn’t be allowed because it might make someone else feel bad. He thus outlaws all statuses referring to vacations, social events, and loved ones, because these might induce feelings of envy in the reader. Also: no photos. Don’t ever post photos. So, according to WBW’s first rule alone, most Facebook statuses would be deemed “annoying” and therefore unacceptable. (Anyone else getting kind of a Taliban-y vibe from this?)

But WBW’s not done. One must also never post about what one is actually doing that day (Rule 3); write on anyone else’s wall (Rule 4); tag anyone else in a status or photo (Rule 4); express gratitude (Rule 5); express an opinion on a current event (Rule 6); or quote a great thinker or anyone else (Rule 7). The only one of WBW’s seven rules that I unequivocally agree with is Rule 2, which bans “cliffhanger” statuses, also known as “vaguebooking,” where one posts a cryptic status that invites curiosity from readers but then plays coy and refuses to provide further detail. That’s super annoying and needs to stop. But the rest of these rules go too far; they suck the fun and life out of Facebook.

All of this begs the question: what would be okay to post on Facebook, according to WBW? I am wracking my brain trying to craft a hypothetical status that would not run afoul of any of these rules, and it’s tough. WBW says in the beginning that jokes that uplift the reader are acceptable; so unless you treat Facebook as a Twitter feed exclusively for fun jokes, you’re going to break one of WBW’s rules at some point.

My Facebook page today: undoubtedly super annoying to WBW

My Facebook page today: undoubtedly super annoying to WBW – look at all the photos! The horror!

These rules are bunk and should be rejected for two reasons. First, if you outlaw the expression of all human emotion on Facebook, you deprive Facebook of its purpose. People use the service to interact with people they know, care about, and/or are interested in. If the only allowable use of Facebook is to share jokes, then you might as well shut down your account and switch to Twitter, which is a much more streamlined vehicle for writing and reading jokes. Second, WBW has basic Facebook etiquette backwards. If you’re irritated by someone’s postings on Facebook, the burden is on you, the reader, to filter that person’s posts out. We all have different sensitivities and proclivities. As someone posting on Facebook, I cannot tailor my status updates or photos to suit the individual needs of all several hundred people who might be seeing them; I might as well not post at all. The only workable system is for users of Facebook to decide what they want to see and what they want to be hidden; this is easily accomplished through Facebook’s Newsfeed controls. If someone always posts annoying statuses, hide him. Or even unfriend him, if it’s that bad. But you must not demand that everyone in your social media universe conforms to your individual and highly specific sensitivities.

With that, go forth and post on Facebook!*

*(For actual guidance on what’s obnoxious, please refer to my first paragraph, above.)

Sexism and trolling

I wrote a piece yesterday reacting to what struck me as a completely bogus op-ed in the Wall Street Journal hypothesizing that women at Harvard Law School (“HLS”) don’t perform as well as men because Harvard has lower admission standards for women. I am not going to link to that crackpot article again because I don’t want to give the author any more page views than I already have. It occurred to me after I wrote the piece that by responding to the WSJ article, I was feeding into exactly what the author wanted: attention. I reacted to a patently outrageous statement he made, thereby bringing traffic to his site. The author, my friends, is a classic troll.

For those of you who are new to the Internets, a “troll,” according to Wikipedia, is “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” The author of the WSJ post is undeniably a troll. And so are his many readers who flocked to my blog to tell me that I am stupid and wrong and a woman and stupid and wrong. Oh yes, the trolls were out in full force yesterday. So let’s talk trolling, shall we?

No, not this kind.

No, not this kind.

I woke up this morning, read through several insulting comments I received on my blog, perused an article written by a woman I’ve never met impugning my analytical skills (yet offering zero analysis of what I had said in my piece), and felt deflated. It wasn’t that the trolls had convinced me that I was, in fact, stupid, but it was just the fact that there are so many people out there whose first reaction to a piece that they don’t agree with is to launch ad hominem attacks on its author. Rather than engaging with my piece on its level, these people chose to attack me – my intellect, my work ethic, my understanding of statistics, my imagined political agenda – and that’s disappointing. I don’t know why I expect better from strangers on the internet, but I do, perhaps because I wouldn’t dream of going on someone’s personal blog and calling them an idiot because I didn’t agree with something they said. I also would never presume to know about someone’s personal experience if I hadn’t lived it myself.

Not only did these commenters jump on me, but they did it in a particularly gendered way, which is heaped in several layers of irony, given that I had written a post about my experiences as a woman at Harvard Law School, and the principal reaction from the trolls seemed to be: a) sexism doesn’t exist, b) you’re clearly hysterical for even suggesting that it does, and c) you need to accept that women are dumber than men, and any disagreement with that proposition signals that you’re a dumb broad who needs to be shut up. Here are some actual comments I received (not all of them appear on the blog because I started trashing comments that were insulting to me):

“You have a lot of passion, which is commendable, but passion without control and diligence is blind.”

“I was unsure about the WSJ piece before reading your response, but now I’m much more confident admissions standards are lower for women.”

“Sadly, Ms. Green’s response does little to bolster anyone’s opinion of the analytical skills possessed by at least one female HLS grad.”

“You are countering all logic with hyper-emotional political correctness (and when that political correctness fails to win an argument, you are countering it with the old ‘not sure how that’s relevant’). Good grief.”

“Perhaps there would be more female cum laudes and Supreme Court clerks if HLS made more of an effort to screen out students such as yourself who look good on paper but aren’t willing to put in the proverbial 110%?”

These comments all fall into one of the three buckets I mentioned above, but can basically be summarized as: “YOU’RE HYSTERICAL.”

Regarding the first comment, in particular, which contends that I have “passion without control and diligence,” my clever friend Seth responded with the following: “He/she may have a good point. I mean, how have you really demonstrated control and diligence? Merely by high achievements in high school leading to an offer from a college with a low acceptance rate, excelling there and on a difficult standardized test where you most likely were >2 sd above the mean, and then completing three rigorous years at a world-renowned law school which prompted this whole conversation? I mean, I think it’s gonna take a *-*little*-* more than 20+ years of academic excellence to really rate a high score on what, i’m sure, is a very well validated and unbiased instrument to assess control and diligence that the commentator/commentatrix (it’s a word, shut-up) is using.”

Ha!

I really don’t feel the need to justify myself or my choices to these people. They’re trolls. They live under dark Internet bridges and dance for joy when people like me come down to play with them, and I’m not doing it. But, as a human being with emotions, it is a bit of a shock to the system to read one insult after another from complete strangers. But what can you do? Some people are asshats and will always be asshats, and there’s nothing I can say or do to change that. C’est la vie.

I will say, though, that the older I get, and the more bull-crap like this that I encounter on the Internet, the more of a feminist I become. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where I never thought much about my gender or how it related to my performance in school or my career options. Both of my parents are successful, educated people and they never made a big deal out of my gender. They just believed in me, encouraged me, and pushed me to do my best. And I did. It wasn’t until adulthood, when I started encountering jerks like the author of the WSJ piece and his minions, that I realized that gender discrimination actually is a problem that I should be concerned with, because there are so many people who genuinely believe that women are less capable or less intelligent than men. Honestly, I never thought that people thought this way until they started coming out of the woodworks to let me know how stupid they think I am. The realization that there are people who think I’m dumb, no matter how many prestigious schools I attend or degrees I rack up, was shocking at first, but now I’ve come to accept it as reality. As I’ve engaged more and more with the Internet over the years, blogging and posting on social media, I’ve been subjected to more and more attacks on my intellect by virtue of my gender (remember this?). It’s eye-opening, to say the least.

I suspect that a man who goes out of his way to travel to someone’s personal blog to post uninformed personal attacks on the author is broadcasting more about himself and his own insecurities than he is about the author. Someone who is secure in his own intellect does not feel the need to denigrate someone else’s intelligence. The tired lament that men are somehow subjugated by women’s success – or women’s desire for success – is pitiful, really. What kind of man whines that he is being disadvantaged by women wanting to do better? Pathetic! So I suppose we should all feel sorry for these guys and send them positive, healing vibes through the Internet tubes… But in the meantime, I’m going to keep trashing their comments.

Suck it, trolls.