Once upon a time, there was only dial up. Email was a relatively new thang for folks outside of the military or academia. Then there was compuserve and the lucky few who had the money to afford their own computer and the know how could have their own email address. Their OWN email. That it was a long string of numbers, nearly impossible to remember and that getting online meant knowing how to negotiate DOS, using a modem, tying up your phone line, and hoping not to get disconnected, was besides the point. It was gee-whiz amazing.
Holy early adopters, batman.
I didn't have a compuserve address, but my hubby was a beta tester for one of the first versions of AOL. AOL! Even the name meant something. America On Line. This was nothing short of revolutionary. You could choose a NAME for your email address. A name that would be simple for you to remember and to share with your friends. And AOL made it easier to find other people who you could communicate with through their message boards. You didn't need to know some random string of numbers to find an online community. (Yes, there were online communities in the dark ages of the late 80s, you just had to know the secret handshake.) AOL made it accessible. It was visually stunning, compared to what we had before.
I remember spending guilty and expensive (you had to pay for your phone time, remember?) hours on those message boards. That was where I found my first online poetry community. Do you have any idea how amazing that was? I could talk to poets from around the globe and we could share our words, work together.
And as is wont in anything technological, things accelerated. They evolved. Computers got faster and faster. Programs became more sophisticated and simpler to use at the same time. The web became the infrastructure we never really think about--like the water pipes that lurk under our streets that bring our water to the tap. It is just there. A given.
Now we have facebook, twitter, linkedin, foursquare, google+, etc.
Smart phones and ubiquitous wifi means there's an expectation of always on, instant interconnectivity. We narrate our lives in public.
My kids have grown up taking this landscape for granted. While I am no luddite by any stretch of the imagination, I didn't really have any interest in facebook when it was *the thing* for any teen, but joined so my kids could join. (Friending me was a condition of their accounts.)
I grew to appreciate facebook, and the way I could stay in touch with far-flung friends and relations in a casual, asynchronous way. Then twitter clamored for my attention. And I joined that too, knowing that social media was not optional for writers--even aspiring ones. I then grew to appreciate the way other twitterers had essentially curated the WWW and I could follow fascinating links that I would have otherwise missed.
And now, Google+. A friend who is an earlier adopter than I am sent me an invite. I wanted to claim my user name, so I hopped aboard. There are a lot of very smart features of G+, but that is not what I want to talk about. (Just search for Google+ and you will find a plethora of usability posts.)
What I want to talk about is my sense of overwhelm. Yes, I have met fascinating and lovely people via social networking. Yes, I enjoy being able to talk with folks from around the globe and share their perspectives. Yes, it's fun to participate and to share what I love with like-minded individuals.
Yes to all those things that are part of the social media world.
And yet, I am feeling for the first time the inklings of worry. Can I keep up with the pace? Is the conversation flowing so rapidly that if I don't swim with all my might, I'll be swept away?
There is also a cost to staying in that current. I worry about losing the ability to be in the moment and soak up an experience without feeling the need to interpret or mediate it publicly. Silence and stillness are vital to the creative process. In the background noise of updates and notifications, will I be able to hear myself think? Will talking about writing supplant my actual writing?
I don't have any easy answers to this, but I know I will need to find a balance that will allow me to both stay engaged with a community I have grown to appreciate and find enough private, quiet time to create.
This is not the fault of google+, or any particular social media system, it is only the latest pull on my attention. I suppose that in time, I will integrate g+ into my routine the way I have figured out how to follow blogs by reading my rss feed with my morning coffee.
So far, I have resisted the siren song of a smart phone. It's bad enough that a broadband always on internet connection at home means that I am always once click away from distraction. Some days, I am nostalgic for the inconvenience of a modem and checking my email once a day.