Friday, March 6, 2009

Bloggers and Social Networking

My dear SIL whose blog is a work of art has posted on a topic that has been troubling her; judging from the enthusiastic response she's gotten, I think she's expressing something other people have been struggling with as well:
I feel left behind in this whole social networking craze. I once defended the internet because it was a way to build community where there was none but now, I see many friends I have communicated with in thought and word via blogs turning to social networking and in turn, neglecting their blogs. So I tried popping onto Facebook via my husband's page (which he doesn't ever use) and just couldn't get into it. It was all jumbled up and not very orderly which made me feel like I needed to tidy up and declutter. If I want to feel like that, I just have to walk into my kids' bedrooms! Then, I opened up a Twitter account, tried to pop around and see what people were talking about... and promptly had a panic attack. Seriously. All the chatter, all the conversation, all the virtual noise and I felt my chest tighten up, my heart race and my breathing get shallower and shallower. I felt like Professor X in a New York subway. Thankfully, it was not telepathy induced so I could turn it off before I started hyperventilating.

I don't want to offend anyone who enjoys these communication mediums, but I love blogs! A blog is a beautiful place filled with the character and spirit of the person who owns it. It offers pieces of them and their world. It opens your eyes to places, customs, family situations that you might not get to experience in your own world. Even if a blog is not visually beautiful, it can be intellectually beautiful and carry your mind to the pinnacles of thoughts you never could have imagined yourself. You can follow the conversations of the blog hostess and other readers and you can even choose to engage in those conversations as well. It is a notebook where you can quickly share a small silliness that you will just as quickly forget or a scrapbook to hold those precious things that you want to remember forever. And it can be a lovely place to share yourself with the world and a comfortable parlor to invite guests to come in and sit a spell with you. If blogging is like a home cooked meal, then social networking is fast food. And while fast food can work in a pinch, I'd rather enjoy a succulent pot roast with roasted sweet potatoes on the side.
Do go and read the whole thing.

I share my sister-in-law's perplexity at the sudden popularity of social networking among Catholic homeschooling mommy-bloggers. To be honest, I see these tools as valuable and useful to a few distinct groups of people: businesses, as a source of "free" advertising; high-school/college students, as an outreach of their natural gregariousness and desire to stay best friends forever with people they met six months ago; and the techno-bloggers, who try all the new technology out there so they can stay abreast of current trends and report on them to their audiences.

Now, I could see where you could add "politicians" or "information writers" to the "business" category, and where some large extended families might find something like Facebook an easier way to stay in touch than the old method of calling six people in the family, expecting them to pass on the information you're sharing, and then finding out at the next family gathering that three of them never bothered to share what they assumed everyone knew and the other three distorted what you said and created a lot of false assumptions and hurt feelings among the people they did share your news with.

But I find it harder to imagine how useful Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites are to Catholic homeschooling mommy-bloggers specifically. Sure, some of them use the sites to stay in touch with distant and extended family or scattered friends, but it seems like others are just using the sites to "talk" to each other, the same people they used to "talk" to on forums, blogs, e-mail lists, etc. As my SIL says in her post, this has the effect of moving the conversations to a new platform where only the technologically-savvy will be able to continue participating. Brand new homeschooling moms, those still investigating homeschooling, those needing support in the early years may find that these social networking sites are too hard to use for the purpose of getting help from more seasoned homeschooling moms, and too difficult especially if you need to ask serious, complex questions; the answer to "How do I discern a call to homeschool my children?" will probably take more room to answer than is generally allowed in these brief formats.

This isn't to say that Catholic homeschooling moms who find social networking sites fun and enjoyable shouldn't keep using them. It may be easier for some to write a quick sentence saying "At the grocery store. The usual battle about sugar cereals. Why is it so hard to say no when my brain is thinking secret midnight mommy-snack?" than to write a longer post about how our battles with our children so often reflect our own ambivalent feelings about a thousand different aspects of parenting, discipline, limits, self-control and the like. But the quick post or tweet or other brief thought gets swallowed up among the hundreds of similar thoughts scrolling quickly across the page; there's no real opportunity for reflection, for introspection, for examination. If former prolific and thoughtful blog authors eschew blogging altogether, or severely cut back on it, in favor of the briefer and more immediate but less reflective thoughts posted on social networking sites, I think it would be a pity.

Perhaps it will be possible for Catholic homeschooling mommy-bloggers, to balance their use of social networking sites while still providing thoughtful, reflective posts about their vocational lives as devoted wives, loving mothers, dedicated and focused homeschool teachers, skilled and conscientious homemakers, and kind, involved friends. To be perfectly honest, I couldn't do it; there are already enough demands on my time and attention, and having to add the pressure to post five to ten "quick thoughts" detailing the minutiae of my day on top of the blogging and writing I already do (and enjoy very much) is not an appealing thought.


Natalie said...

I'm not a Catholic homeschooling mom, but I am a Catholic stay-at-home mom, and I am right there with you and your SIL. I joined the online world of message boards back when we were waiting to get pregnant with our second son, who is now almost 6. Amazingly, I stayed in touch with the ladies I met on a message board about trying to conceive for quite a few years. As time went on, divisions happened, the crowd dwindled, but I still connect with several of these lovely ladies on a regular basis. I have even met some of them in person.

What some may find strange is that you really can connect and form real friendships with people this way. I'm truly glad I did. I even find myself sad sometimes that the little message board that is left out of that once big group is now very slow, and ladies I came to know and care about have disappeared. It has also been a very valuable source of support and advice for me as I try to raise 4 young children. Sometimes I really don't know what I would have done without those ladies! That's probably part of the reason I started my own blog several months ago.

I'm still working at it and I don't have a lot of readers, but at least it's a place I can get my thoughts out. I don't know all about this Twitter stuff, or Technorati, or whatever else. Frankly, I don't have the desire or the time to figure it out and use it. Writing a thoughtful blog post can take enough time as it is. What I REALLY want to know is how the heck people find the time to do all this stuff, because they can give us an extra hour of daylight, but so far no one has figured out how to give me some actual extra TIME!

Irenaeus said...

I think we gotta be careful that we use tech, and not the other way round. At my college, we're always trying to get students to demediate, and step one is getting rid of the Facebook account. Media are not neutral, not a mere tool. Tech is part and parcel of the human environment, and in many respects dehumanizing.

Marianne said...

I am a very novice blogger, but am already feeling'old school' with all these other communication options about. I love your SIL's description of what a good blog is and how she could walk into her kids bedroom if she wanted clutter. My sentiments exactly!

Charlotte said...

I'm one of those people who can totally agree with what's just been said (by Erin) AND at the same time disagree to some extent.

First, yes, I agree that some bloggers who get onto Facebook do so at the expense of their blog. I can think of one particular Catholic blogger, specifically, to whom this has happened. But I liken that situation to when in high school, we meet a new friend and devote extra time to her to the exclusion of our older friends. Eventually one gets around to being able to handle the friendships of both old and new.

Second, I strongly disagree that Facebook is for the technically saavy. I'd say it's just the opposite - Facebook is way easier to operate and reach out with than a blog for so many reasons I don't even know where to start (so I'm not going to). All Facebook is - is the commbox on a blog entry without the blog entry. The status updates people leave become comment #1, and everyone else leaves comments thereafter. Many Facebook users, like bloggers, DO go back and comment on the comments left for them. Thus, Facebook is just a big commbox. That being said, are the comments being left based on anything worthwhile, of substance? Sometimes, but many times not. I have found that my Facebook use seems to revolve around the folks who leave status updates that are more interesting and clever than the people who leave status updates such as "Cindy is now going to work." I mean, what's there to say about that? Just like a blog, if you don't make Facebook personal and a reflection of your personality - well, then, the number of people who interact with you on Facebook will diminish - and you'll find yourself with a whole list of friends who never even say "boo!" to you. They just start to ignore you. (Which, in my opinion, is more hurtful that on a blog. On a blog, you don't really know who's ignoring what you wrote. But on Facebook, your list of "friends" is there staring you in the face each time you log on. If no one interacts with you on Facebook, you can see the names and faces. More reason to make something out of Facebook or leave it behind.)

Does Facebook feel cluttery? Sometimes. But I maintain that the clutter is really in the newsfeed of what's going on with everyone else (which is NOT your Facebook page - it's just a running feed of what's being posted on OTHER people's pages). Thus, you still have control, to an extent, of what's on your own personal page by the quality and frequency of your status updates. Is ther extraneous clutter? Yes. I CAN'T STAND all the little "gifts" Facebook allows and encourages people to pass out - virtual drinks, teddy bears, hugs, movie quizzes....the list goes on and on. I ignore most of them, rather than "accept" them, and thus I hope that over time people will come to see that I only want to interact and not get involved with the messy business of feeling as if I have to give something to be an acceptable friend.

And quantity of status updates? Facebook isn't asking people to post updates 6-8 times a day. In fact, I would emphatically state that if a person is putting up more than 2 updates a day, that's too many. People only want to know what the more interesting, challenging thing you face or feel each day is. Beyond that, it all becomes mundane. You start to look like a person who needs attention or a person who has no life.

Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with cousins that I never had any real contact with before. That being said, I'm dissapointed to discover that some of my cousins are near alcoholics, based upon their status updates and the comments left for them that I read. On the other hand, I have reconnected with 2 friends from high school that I had left off badly with - friendships that ended and that I always felt a vacuum of hurt about. Now that we're all grown up, we are able to be friends again (from a distance, which is all I want) and it feels good to celebrate their happy and sad days with them, and to see pictures of their kids.

My overall attitude about Facebook has been slowly morphing and evolving. What Erin has written here is just another piece of the puzzle (which I'm grateful for) that helps me to further sharpen and define my viewpoint on this. It helps me to analyze and discipline my own Facebook use. But for the time being, people, Facebook is here in a big way and it's here to stay. I won't go so far as to say that those who don't participate are being left out. Not at all. (In fact, I admire those who have the sense to not get involved.) All I'm saying is that more and more, just as it was when email started to become popular and eventually we all had to get it and use it, people will start to expect that Facebook be used to communicate with one another, at least within the social vortex. (And when I say this, I'm not kidding. I know grown women in their 30s and 40s who check Facebook before email to to know what's going on or what people need/want.)

Set your own boundaries and be real.

Anonymous said...

I'm a non-homeschooler Catholic mother of four children. I'm 42. I recently discovered Facebook and have been having a great time with reconnecting with old friends from my grade school, high school and college days. In fact, we had a little real life reunion a few weeks ago. It was wonderful. I also met up with a dear friend from college whom I lost touch with over the years, we had lunch and I met her children. I also discovered that a friend in our college gang passed away earlier this year from ALS. I've been praying for his family.

I like how some of my Catholic blog friends have links to their stories on Facebook. It's easy to just click on and read and comment. I also like to see pictures of old acquaintences and their families. I think facebook is great.

Tim J. said...

I can't much get into Facebook or Twitter, either.

What's funny is that in a few years, "traditional" blogging may be the equivalent of what dead tree publishing is now... you know, staid and respectable, with it's quaint use of complete sentences, punctuation, paragraph breaks, and the like.

The popularity of these networking sites seems like further evidence of how great an ADHD culture we have become.

I mean, who has time to read an entire paragraph?

Charlotte said...

Leonie said...

I'm into Facebook and blogging. They provide different ways of keeping in touch, of getting ideas across. Although I blog more than FB. But that could be because I am more opinionated. And I see blogging as our memory book, our montage of our life. FB is my comments and my friends.