Primary Colors: Place des Arts, under construction, April 20, 2010
Well, we finally have a sunny, slightly warmer day here. The snow is gone, and most of the flowers and unfurling leaves don't look much the worse for their brief ice-bath. Back on our bikes, we rode to the studio this morning against a stiff wind, and halfway here I got a flat tire. There's a lot of glass on the roads and though we try to avoid it, you can't always: when we took the tube out of the tire there was a clear puncture, and a hole sliced right through the tire itself. It's just one of the dangers of spring on these streets, and we keep spare tubes on hand because we know we're going to get flats. I'm happy the slush is gone, and that I can be back on my bike.
So it looks like this roller-coaster month of April will exit calmly, after all. It's been an experimental month for me in two ways: the commitment to NaPoWriMo and writing a micropoem every day, and a month-long more-serious engagement with social networking, posting my poems on Identica and Twitter, and trying to give Facebook more of a chance. It's also been a very busy time because of managing the qarrtsiluni chapbook contest, with a lot of responsibilities around the closing deadline of April 15.
My general feeling is that I'll be glad to see April go! I've enjoyed writing the poems, and think that together they form a pretty interesting condensation of my impressions during one month of my life. I'll continue, as I did throughout last year, but loosely. My feelings about the social networks are a lot more complex.
I use Identica and Twitter mostly as places to post poems or short observations; in other words, creatively. I think they offer a lot of possibilities that way, and that few of us are exploiting them fully. But in order to do that you have to be very engaged with the medium and willing to post a number of times per day, and I just can't do that; I do the minimum, to keep my hand in, and to be able to notice what the people I follow are doing.
Facebook is different, and while my instinctive dislike of it has softened during this past month, I still have really big problems with it. At its worst, it reminds me of high school: I've got absolutely no desire to go back to the unhappiest time of my life, when everyone was collecting friends and striving to be noticed while basically swimming in a sea of superficiality. At its best, FB is clearly a fantastic networking tool for organizations, artists, groups and individuals; it's been great for Phoenicia Publishing, and is important for me as an editor at qarrtsiluni too; I've been able to be visible and connected in new ways with our contributors and with other writers, and that's all good.
It's also clearly a way to reach out of one's solitude or boredom during the day and connect with people, or at least feel like other people exist. But I'm not sure how much actual friendship or genuine interest really occurs in these postings and responses; my number of "friends" has approximately tripled during April, but most of these are people I don't know at all, and probably never will. If I made the same kind of effort many people apparently do, I could probably accumulate a thousand FB "friends" - but what would this mean? Of course I'm glad to hear from real friends and make new ones, to read what they're doing and be able to respond, but it's all so fast, and the interaction as slight and fleeting as the hint of breeze on a hot summer day: briefly the skin cools and feels refreshed, but the next moment the discomfort and heat are back again.
What I perceive as the force driving social networking is the basic and universal human hunger for recognition, connection, affirmation, and relief from loneliness. Blogging was/is that way too, but it requires a different level of time commitment and focus. For me, interacting on social networks does very little to address those needs, and actually distracts me from the sort of activity that does make me feel fulfilled -- like trying to write a thoughtful blog post, practicing the piano, making something in the studio, writing a letter to a friend, having someone over for dinner, reading a book, taking a walk, talking to people. I'm sad, actually, that social networking has replaced blogging for so many of us, but I understand why that is. There's only so much time in a day, and everyone calculates their own time-benefit ratio to determine how to use it.
I get a lot less creative or serious work done when I'm active on Facebook or Twitter, and at the end of the day I realize I feel worse, not better. On the other hand, social networking is obviously here to stay, it works for a lot of people, for many it's become their preferred method of communication. I want and need to maintain a presence there, but I also know now that I need to limit my exposure. The privacy issues are another whole subject, and I think they're pretty significant.
So, I'll think I'll continue to post occasional micropoems online, and use FB and Twitter and Identica to help Phoenicia and qarrtsiluni, and check once or twice a day to see what other people are up to, but that's it. I need to focus on my work and on the friendships I already have, and actually to go deeper into my own solitude, both because running from it does no good, and because it's one of my creative and spiritual wells.
What I've said here is personal and not intended to judge anybody else's engagement with different forms of online media. I'd love to hear what you think about this subject.