18 years!

September marks the 18th birthday of this site.

If this is your first time here, welcome! (Actually, if this is your 1000th time here, also welcome!) I usually use this annual post to tell you a little bit about myself and what you’ll find here.

I write a weekly column for The Saturday Evening Post (every Friday morning), and I also write for Vulture.com and Esquire. In 2002 I created the pop culture magazine/blog Professor Barnhardt’s Journal, and I update that once a week or so (or whenever I have something new). In 2003 I released a collection of essays and short humor titled Book, with Words and Pages, which I then put online for free.

I also do a monthly snail mail publication called The Letter., where I send handwritten or typewritten letters to subscribers. You can subscribe to it or donate to the site by hitting the Donate button over there on the right. (And thanks!). You can also sign up for my mailing list on the right and I’ll send you an e-mail whenever I post something new on the site.

Social media? Well, you can read my thoughts on that here.

I have more stuff in the works: more books, more fiction, and also a podcast that I had hoped to launch this summer but has now been pushed back a bit. Any questions or kudos or complaints, send me an e-mail or leave a comment below.

Have a great weekend! Supposed to be cooler.

Five more things about media and technology right now

A follow-up to this post.

1. Please note the word “self” in the word “selfie.” That means you have to actually take a picture of yourself with your own hands for it to be considered this. If someone else takes a picture of you, even if they put it on social media and it has a hashtag, it’s not a “selfie.” This is called “taking a picture.”

(Side note: let’s stop using the word “selfie.”)

2. Someone asked me what my favorite app is and I said “pen and paper.”

3. If you complain about clickbait or gossipy headlines or “you won’t believe!” links, and then you actually click on them, then it’s your fault we have them in the first place. That’s how it works. The more we click on them the more popular they’ll be and the more we’ll see.

4. Weather is the clickbait of television. Unless there’s a massive snowstorm/hurricane/power outage, the weather should never, ever be one of the top three stories on the news. But now it’s always one of the top stories on each of the local newscasts, even if it’s 70 degrees and partly sunny. Yes, yes, they do it to get viewer attention at the top and to compete with other stations and other reasons, but it has gotten insane. For every half hour local newscast, weather takes up several minutes of airtime and three different segments of the show: at the top, during the regular weather segment in the middle of the show, and then “one last look at the weather!” at the end of the show. (And the rest of the half hour is taken up by viral videos and promos for what’s coming up later on the news. Oh and some news too.)

5. It’s spelled W-H-O-A. Not “woah” and certainly not “woha.”

Suddenly, it’s summer

Happy Labor Day. And Happy Summer, apparently.

I just put my fan away for the year, just in time for the atmosphere to turn into hot soup (Chunky style). It’s the type of humidity where you sit on the couch and you try not to move at all, and you sweat anyway. You can feel it forming on your face and body, and there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no air, no relief, no happiness.. It really hasn’t been that bad this year though. There have been very few days where I thought oh my God another hot day I can’t wait until Labor Day is here please please please. But the past couple of days and the week to come are making up for that. I don’t have to go into all of the details because longtime readers know this already but I’ll summarize my thoughts the same way I did in my Saturday Evening Post column a few days ago:

I hate summer.

 

Thoughts on social media

(Originally posted in October 2011 and May 2013 but updated today.)

I think I’m 99% done with social media.

I’m using Twitter and Facebook way too much. There are days when I keep clicking the “New Tweets” link over and over and over again, which can be time-consuming, considering new tweets show up every four seconds. I keep clicking on the “Connect” button, because I MUST KNOW WHO HAS MENTIONED ME OR RETWEETED ME OR LINKED TO ME, AND I HAVE TO KNOW IT NOW. I check Facebook 30 times a day to see who has Liked something I’ve posted or who has sent me a friend request or who has written a post I just HAVE to comment on. I hate to think about all of the hours I’ve wasted just playing a hashtag game, trying to come up with a clever entry, actually doing a search on Twitter to make sure no one already tweeted it. How did it come to this?

This is probably a failing on my part. A person can always “just say no” to social media when they have to get work done, but these things are so seductive and needed and they’re only a click away that they grab hold of you. You go to check Facebook for just five minutes and before you know it an hour has gone by. You realize that you’ve tweeted more words that day than you’ve written. I have to plug my stuff! I have to retweet this! I have to comment on this post so people know my opinions! I have to congratulate this person on their promotion/birth/great post! I have to make sure I don’t miss anything! I have to plug my stuff again! Ooo, maybe this celebrity will interact with me! I need to take this quiz to find out what kind of doughnut I am! Here’s video of a cat dancing! Hey, look, 9 ways you’re eating salad wrong! What’s happening now? How about now? And right now?

Sometimes it seems like people on social media can’t go a day without posting something. They can’t let a thought go by, and they have to get it up as quick as possible. (Sometimes I’ll enjoy a TV show or a movie or a song, and then I’ll go on Twitter and see everyone dumping on it and realize, oh, that’s what I’m supposed to think!). Hey, I love posting and reading things on social media, but there has to be a common sense limit. If I’m to be honest – and if a lot of people were to be honest – a lot of our posts have an agenda behind them. If we’re not plugging and promoting our stuff (which is fine, I do it too), we’re commenting on something that someone else has posted, which is really just another way of promoting ourselves. I see so many people on social media who will congratulate someone on a new job they got or a new baby – even if they don’t know them personally – and at first I thought it was nice but then I got to thinking: why not just contact that person directly for something like that, via a DM or an e-mail?

You know why: if it’s someone they know it’s purely a speed/convenience thing. If it’s someone in their own industry it’s to get in good with them for a future purpose. If it’s someone like a celebrity, they do it hoping that the celebrity will see it and reply back to them or Like/Favorite what they said.

For a writer, social media (and the web in general) can be an amazing distraction. I envy the writers who can tweet or post on Facebook 10 times a day and still get work done. I’m not one of them. The great thing about social media – that there’s always something new and interesting to see – also happens to be what’s bad about it. Some people say that we’ve always had to deal with distractions. No way. Not at this level, everywhere, all the time.

I know a lot of great writers on social media and they seem to get a lot of writing done while still tweeting. Some writers use it perfectly. That’s great for them. But I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend: writers who have actually given up on their web sites and their blogs because they now use social media exclusively. This strikes me as odd. Sure, clever tweets are a gas, but stopping the longer writing on your site so you can post on Twitter and Facebook more? I can’t imagine doing that. I still go directly to web sites and blogs to read what people have to say (if you still have a site or blog, that is).

Also as a writer I feel like I’m using a lot of ideas and lines that I should use in a story or an article. Sometimes I’ll think of something and think, “I should post that on Twitter.” But shouldn’t my thought be “I should write about that?” There’s nothing wrong with posting something on Twitter or Facebook, but sometimes I feel like I’m wasting something that should go some place more permanent. Let’s face it, our tweets and Facebook posts are here today and pretty much vanish into the ether a day later.

And doesn’t it seem like everything gets diluted on social media? The same news and pictures and links and quizzes repeated again and again and again by your friends to the point where they’re not special anymore and become exhausting and predictable.

Social media is especially bad when there’s a huge news event, like the death of a celebrity. Your feeds become overwhelming. Hundreds of people posting the same thing. Remember the days when we didn’t know everything, when we had some separation between the news and our own lives, and we didn’t have a machine in our hands where we could know everything instantly? I actually miss that. There’s no mental breathing room anymore.

I remember being at the mall with my mother and sister 40 years ago, Christmas shopping. When we got home there was a note from my brother on the kitchen table that said “Bobby Darin died.” We didn’t know about it because we were at the mall and it was 1973 and no one could get that information until they got home. And we didn’t know what killed him or what people thought of him until we watched the evening news that night, or read about it the next day in the paper. I’m not saying I necessarily want to go back to those days, but there’s something to be said about not having this constant bombardment of news, information, and entertainment coming at you.

We don’t have to be connected all day, every day, just because we can be. It begins to affect our minds and our lives. When I logged out of Facebook recently the screen had a notice about their mobile app that said, “Heading Out? Stay Connected.” No Facebook, I don’t want to stay connected, BECAUSE I’M HEADING OUT. I’m sure a lot of younger people can’t understand that. They don’t remember the days when we didn’t carry around our phones, our mail, our encyclopedias, our photo albums, our televisions 24/7/365. I do, and it was glorious. There’s something to be said about having that separation. I don’t have to know about a celebrity’s death this very second, 99% of e-mails can wait, and I don’t have to reply to a tweet instantly (if ever). I’m going to enjoy a movie/dinner at a restaurant without having to take a pic or post a tweet about it. The web will still be there when I get home, and if you need to get in touch with me, leave a message at the beep (on my landlineI rarely use my cell).

I have a web site, e-mail, a comments section, a phone, snail mail, a web magazine, several magazines and sites that I write for (and they each have their own Facebook/Twitter pages), and a monthly Letter. Isn’t that enough contact/interaction? Do we  – even if we’re writers or editors or media people or tech people – have to do everything that comes along online?

I love the web and gadgets and it’s amazing we can do what we do. I’ve used computers since the mid-80s and I’ve been online for almost 19 years. But there is such a thing as too much. I think we all have ADD now. Everything is faster, faster, now, now, now. We all have to be connected all the time, everywhere. There’s no downtime anymore, and it’s weird. Hey, I’m eating dinner! Here’s a picture of that dinner! I feel happy! I feel sad! I went to the movies! Like me, share me, comment on my post! Selfie! Hashtag!

It’s so easy to friend or follow someone. To hit “Like” or “Favorite” instead of talking to someone in person or over the phone. Social media has made is soooo easy to “keep in touch” with people, but it’s a bit of an illusion. Real friendship takes a more work, a little more time.

It’s weird we know what all of our friends are doing without even ever talking to them. I know what they had for breakfast (and if they take a pic, what it looked like). I know how the traffic is on the way to work, I know what happened at Starbucks, I know where they’re going for lunch, I know where they vacation, I know what movies they’re watching, and I know what time they go to bed because they’ll say “goodnight, tweeps” or something similar. What the hell do people talk about now when they actually get together? There’s no mystery or spontaneity anymore.

I don’t particularly like Facebook’s attitude toward the web – from the design to the ads to the crazy friend recommendations to their algorithm that chooses what we see and certainly the privacy issues (I’m also not thrilled with sites where you can’t even log in or leave a comment without having a Facebook account). I like Twitter more but it has become too much, and I don’t know why I spend so much time there. Adding my opinion to the endless stream? Getting more followers? Fear Of Missing Out? I’ve decided to fight against all of this in my own small way.

I’m going to delete my Facebook account. I’m going to step away from Twitter too but keep my account there (that’s why I said 99% above – I want to keep my username just in case I need it). The web was a better place before social media, and I’m going to try using the web the way we used to use it: by going directly to sites that I’ve bookmarked, using RSS to keep track of what’s new, and making sure the web is a destination, not where I live. I don’t know if a writer can get by these days without using social media, but I’m going to give it a shot.

It’s going to be good to get back to not doing things on social media time.

(Update: when I deleted my Facebook account a page filled with pictures of my Facebook friends popped up with the line “your 119 friends won’t be able to keep in touch with you.” Wow.)

We now return you to your regularly scheduled letters

There’s a nasty rumor going around, started by me, saying that I had stopped The Letter. Nothing could be further than the truth.

Well, OK, I did stop it. But I think it was a decision brought on by summer heat and humidity, a temporary craziness that made me stop something I really enjoy doing (summer just zaps all energy and ambition out of me). But I’ve started it up again. What I’ll do is mail out a summer Letter later this month and then get back to regular monthly Letters in September.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about…