Becoming a Fan

I know I am often far too persnickety about how I think Facebook and other social media sites should/shouldn’t be used. I sent someone a scathing email the other day because they sent me a friend request for their business. “That’s what fan pages are for!” I said. I also don’t care for people leaving personal notes on my wall when a private message would be be more appropriate. But I understand that not everybody has such rigid feelings about these things, and I try to let it go most of the time.

But about Fan pages… I would like to think that when you become a fan of something, you are actually committing to it in some way. You are saying, “yes, I want to see updates about this thing in my newsfeed, I want to interact with other fans of this thing, and I want to publicly declare that I am a fan of this thing, and you too should become a fan of this thing.” To me, it is not just a matter of clicking a button, giggling, and moving on. But I know I take all this too seriously. As my friend Angie says, “The internets, they are silly.”

Still I am perplexed that 26 of my Facebook friends have become “fans” of a dill pickle purely for the purposes of delivering a wry dis to the band Nickleback. Sure, I agree that Nickleback sucks. But they are so not even on my radar, I can’t really get worked up about them sucking.  If this pickle does indeed achieve its goal of getting more fans than Nickleback, will that be newsworthy? Will anyone tell Nickleback that this has happened?

This just in: apparently such things are newsworthy, as this Mashable article reports. According to this, an onion ring was able to get more fans than Justin Bieber (whom I’ve never even heard of, but I am fairly isolated from much of pop culture). And this meme, “Can this (random  object) Get More Fans than (some famous person)” has become pervasive. I can’t say that I’m really bothered by all this. I’m not that much a curmudgeon. I just wonder if there is a deeper meaning or lesson about human nature in it, and I suspect, disappointingly, that there is not.

But if you like being fans of things, here are three pages I recommend:

M. David Hornbuckle (where I try to do the bulk of my self-promotion)

PopCanon (my longest lasting and probably most beloved former band–and I didn’t start this page myself, though I’m an admin)

Southside Fiction Writing Workshop (more on this another post soon)

Facebook Holiday Project Postmortem

The main idea of this project was very simple: to send a personalized message to each of my 600+ Facebook friends between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The reason for doing this was because, for me at least, Facebook had started off as a really useful and interesting way to reconnect with old friends and stay connected to people who live far away, and have real time conversations with friends from all over. While that is still possible, my friend list had grown to a size that was overwhelming, and I no longer even knew who all my Facebook friends were. It was starting to become solipsistic and not at all “social” for me. In addition, because I was using Facebook also to promote my book, I felt like I needed to counteract the marketing efforts with something that kept me in personal contact with my friends, so my profile page didn’t just become a huge neon sign flashing “Buy My Book” over and over again.

And I want to say something additional about why this was so important to me because I don’t think it is at all obvious from my previous posts on the subject. Being a person who is not “religious” in a traditional sense (and that’s putting it VERY delicately, as some of you know), finding a sense of spirituality in the material world is, for me, deeply connected to how I relate to other people in the world around me. Spiritual grounding in this case means that I am not absorbed in my own path through life, and that I am conscious of the context, the people, and the world around me and how those things are affected by my actions. And because I also happen to be by nature both shy and a little cranky, none of that comes easily to me. Feeling connected, feeling grounded, is a constant struggle and is the primary challenge of my role as a human being.

I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense to anyone else, but maybe that helps a little to illustrate why I had become so frustrated and disappointed in what I was seeing every time I logged into Facebook. It was like 600 people were talking AT me but not TO me, and I was doing the same with all of them.

So I took about an hour every morning, and I sent messages to between 15 and 20 people. If they were people I didn’t actually know well, I scoured their profiles looking for something interesting to talk about. In a few cases, there wasn’t much information, and all I could really do was ask them what they have been doing in the x years since I last talked to them.

I guess the question is: well, did it work? Did I manage to make Facebook into a more personal experience? The project did give me the opportunity to connect in a deeper way with a small number of people, and I think that as a result, my Facebook experience has been enriched. On the other side of the spectrum, I also think that at this point I can safely and guiltlessly unfriend a few people with whom I have nothing in common and nothing to say. For the vast majority of my Facebook friends who fell somewhere in the middle, I at least had the virtual equivalent of a handshake and the kind of conversation you might have with a distant cousin at a wedding as you both sidle up to the bar.You might think that those kinds of interactions don’t particularly further my spiritual quest, but actually, they do. A little. And there’s always the potential for there to be more, but you never know what will happen until you make that effort.

The effort has extended beyond Facebook as well. Since I have been on the road since December 1, visiting people in different cities, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with an extraordinary number of old friends in person. Even before I started the trip, I found myself getting beyond my usual comfort zone and actually introducing myself to people I had seen around for years and never spoken to. The exercise has increased my boldness and made me just a little more confident when I am out and about in the world.

That being said, at this point, I have been spending many more hours per week on Facebook than is really healthy for anybody, so I am going to make an effort to subdue that a little. I’ll still be around, but it might start taking me a day or two before I respond to any messages for the next few weeks.

Holiday Project Update 2

Since I started the project, my friend list has gone up modestly from 626 to 632–still well within the scope of possibility. I believe I’ve sent messages to about 360 people, and many, many of them have written back. Some people have asked me what interesting things I’ve learned about my “friends” from this, and although people have told me some fun facts about themselves and some wacky anecdotes, the real value is not something reportable; it’s the connection itself. It isn’t about what I’ve learned so much as it’s about what I’ve felt, and it varies from person to person because each contact is different and has its own flavor.

The Internet makes some people extra protective of their personal boundaries, just as it reduces boundaries for others. Some people reply but with a tone that essentially says, “Thanks for sharing, but I know you about as well as I want to already” and that’s fine. Others have been very open, and we’ve talked about life and love and things that matter to us. This has been especially wonderful with people with whom I was once close but haven’t seen in a very long time.

So I’m not going to fill this blog with lists of “cool” things that I’ve learned about people, though when it’s all done, I may have some things I’ve learned about myself.

Facebook Holiday Project Update 1

At this point, I’ve contacted about 200 of my 629 Facebook friends. I looked at each person’s profile, looking for some information I didn’t know or could ask them about. Or I tried to focus on how I met the person, or if I hadn’t met the person, how we came to be Facebook friends. In any case, I tried to come up with at least one or two things I could say in a personal message. I also attached a blurb and link to my original blog post about the project as follows:

So I have this project for the holidays–really it is a sort of crusade to reach out personally to people on Facebook and make it more the kind of social outlet that it was when I first started using it. I hope to hear back from you. And if you think this is a good idea, please pass along the blog post.

Of the roughly 200 people I’ve contacted so far, I’d say about 60% have written back to me. In a lot of cases, one or two messages back and forth have been all I needed to feel like the connection was satisfied for a while. Some of these people told me they actually don’t use Facebook much, or that they really joined it for professional reasons. For folks like this, there isn’t much to talk about besides just saying hello. In other cases, conversations have continued for days–about old memories, family, friends, past and current creative activities. A lot of the connections have turned out to be very interesting and satisfying.

There are some days when I really don’t feel like doing it, or I’m pressed for time. I’m afraid that a few of my outgoing messages have been “phoned in,” especially when it was a person I didn’t actually know well. But even so, I have to say that the experiment has been more successful than I imagined it would be in the sense that more people have written back than I expected. Also, while I can’t say that the whole thing has gone “viral” I have seen that my blog post was re-posted by some people I knew and re-posted again by friends of theirs that I did  NOT know. So people seem to like the idea and are passing it around.

So far so good. I’ll continue to post updates as it goes on.

Project for the Holidays – Make Facebook Personal Again

When I first joined Facebook in the early summer of 2007, only a handful of people I knew were using it. Unlike Myspace or Friendster (remember Friendster?) I was really impressed with the ways it actually could be used as a social tool. I found people I hadn’t talked to since high school or college, and I had meaningful communications with them on a regular basis. I was able to keep in touch with people I rarely saw as if we still lived on the same block, and to me that is the entire purpose of social networking. The “networking” aspect is misleading.  The “social” part is what I think is most important.

For that reason, at first I vowed to keep my FB “friends” only to people I was actually friends with, or at least had been at one time. But then something happened later that Fall that sort of ruined that. I published a book. Now that I had a product to push, I was willing to friend anybody and everybody on the offhand chance that I’d make another two dollars of royalties as  result. It’s ludicrous. I probably set status updates for 75% of them to “ignore” so I wouldn’t have to look at pictures of their babies or whatever else they had to say that had nothing to do with me.

I could still use Facebook to keep up with the people that mattered most to me. I made “friend groups” so I could filter status updates based on who I was interested in hearing from or interacting with at any given time. This is useful, but it’s gradually gotten so it’s hard to tell if anyone is really paying attention to anything anybody else does on there. I know I’m missing a lot of interesting things that other people post because it’s harder and harder to sift out the content. So mostly I either feel like I’m missing something or I’m speaking into a vacuum.

So this is what I’m proposing–between now and Christmas, I plan to leave a personal message for each of the 626 (and growing) friends I have on Facebook. Just a quick connection, which I hope will spur a lasting conversation. If it’s somebody I don’t really know, I hope to learn something interesting about them. If it’s someone I rarely see or talk to, I hope to reconnect in some meaningful way. If it’s someone I see all the time anyway, no harm in saying hello.

I guess I will approach this systematically, contacting my friends in alphabetical order. I’ll need to contact about 15 people a day to finish by Dec. 25. I don’t know if I’ll use the wall or send private messages. That may depend on the person. Anyway, I hope that this will catch on and others will have a desire to make Facebook about positive social interaction.