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The Only Reason Social Media Matters To Me

HotDogDancing

Racism and bigotry are poison.

There’s no other way to say it. There is no problem harder to overcome than bridging the gap between yourself and someone who already thinks they know everything about you because of your color, gender, height, weight, attractiveness, sexual orientation, et cetera.

I think that most of the time, I do a pretty good job of being fair and level-headed.

But always? No. There is some darkness in us all, including me. I am human. Sometimes I hate. We are prone to weakness, appetites, and judgements that are beneath us. Self-scrutiny is rarely comfortable. When you start turning over the rocks, you always find something you would prefer to ignore.

But other people can and should be a joy. They are not something to cope with, but to celebrate.

What is community?

I am helping to write a technology grant for our library. One of the things we’re trying to do is make the library’s website more of a gathering place. Why? Because that is what a library is. Tax dollars pay for a place where everyone can get together.

Everyone? Please. A physical building can only hold so many bodies. A community is much greater than the maximum occupancy number decreed by the fire code. A community is more than a group of factions sharing a spot on a map.

But there are things that people can’t or won’t get over when they are forced to share physical space. This is why I see various groups enter the library as groups, and exit as such. They do not mingle with other groups. They do not create a larger group or a more useful talent pool.

When we keep to our own, whatever that might mean for each of us, we miss the opportunity to enrich the lives of others, and to be enriched ourselves.

How do we hate? Let me count the ways…

Recently I spoke with a woman who said she could never trust me or be my friend because I am a man. “I hate men,” she said, and she meant it. “I hate my boss,” said someone else that week. “Women can’t lead. She’ll ruin this place.” Maybe they each came by their feelings honestly, but it’s ugly stuff.

The gays. The straights. The whites. The blacks. Men. Women. The weak. The strong. The rich. The impoverished. The obese. The homeless. The Right. The Left. The Christians. The Muslims. The atheists. The elderly. The disabled, ad nauseum.

Take your pick.

Wait! There’s good news!

These distinctions become less important in social media. On Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or your blog, when you set up a user profile, do you mark your interests as “hating people?” Do you describe yourself as “judgmental weenie?” Do you broadcast your New Year’s resolution of “I will participate in fewer hate crimes this year?”

No, of course not, because 1) they’re exaggerations, and 2) that’s not how we see ourselves, even if or when there is some truth to it. Online, our words can create positive effects that our physical presence might negate.

For instance, what if that woman who hates men saw one of my tweets and found it very inspiring? Let’s say that my avatar was a dancing hot dog and my username gave no indication of my gender–well, maybe the dancing hot dog would give it away, but pretend.

Would she find it less profound once she found out that a man wrote it? Maybe. But what if she never found out? We could have the seed of a breakthrough. Is that too grandiose? Maybe. But I’m seeing it happen in my own life.

I can’t be the only one.

Real relationships

I’ve met people online who have improved my life in very profound, real ways. I can thank a lot of people online with genuine gratitude. Thank you to:

  • Kelly Diels, for making me grateful with every blog post. Your writing is the equivalent of a blow to the head with a beautiful sledge hammer of truth.
  • Seth Godin, for noticing me. Your email got me a literary agent.
  • Danielle Laporte, for walking into my dream and dumping potato chips on my head (it was a good dream, but not that kind of dream). You have also made me a better public speaker, although you don’t know it.
  • John Chow, for helping me feel better about wanting money and showing me how to get it.
  • Zeenat, for free online counseling and being my fellow Mark Twain addict.
  • David Cain for pretending to be a spammer in my comments and encouraging me from the start.
  • Mike T. Nelson, for fixing all of my injuries by being an affordable genius who gets people out of pain in the blink of an eye.
  • Chris Brogan, for telling me you started out in a library.
  • Lori Franklin, for reaching out to my sister when she was desperate and kicking MS in its ugly teeth.

I could go on forever.

I believe that if we all got together, we could find things to dislike about each other. But so what? We’re not all together. I see the whole social media thingy as one big library without a fire marshal telling us that we’ve exceeded maximum occupancy.

At it’s worst, I see social media as a fun time waster. At its lofty, grandiose best, I see it getting rid of some of the hate in the world. Maybe you couldn’t stand the sight of me if I was in the room with you. But I’m not, and chances are, you’re nodding along with everything I’m saying right now, even though I could be a terrible person.

And if you’re not, well…maybe we can have it both ways.

It’s all just pixels on a screen, right?

So:

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  • Jenny November 10, 2009, 5:29 am

    First, I love the dancing hot dog. Anything that can make me giggle at 6:24 a.m. is good stuff. Next, awesome points! So true about the online community. It breaks down the barriers that stand between us so often in “real life.” My friends think I’m crazy for being on the computer all the time talking to these imaginary people, but Twitter may have just landed me a lunch with one of my favorite authors/cartoonists… so I’m not complaining. I was actually thinking about it yesterday and I don’t think I’ve ever met/seen anyone with Tourette’s, so in addition to the good book recs, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the disease and how people can still lead normal (extraordinary lives) with it.

  • Ben (from TIC) November 10, 2009, 6:47 am

    I see social media as a pertinent place for self-reflection. After a year of writing a response to the question “What are you doing” one could have a decent log to peruse. At the end of a length of time the question morphs into “What have I done?”

  • Heather November 10, 2009, 7:57 am

    Josh, this is awesome. Usually I’ll admit my mistakes and my faults (because God knows I’ve got a ton of ’em) but personal prejudices are tough to admit to. REAL tough. A good, solid, thought-provoking post (as always). Thanks!

  • Beth November 10, 2009, 8:23 am

    What a terrific post, Josh. I’ll be turning these ideas over in my mind for a while. It really is difficult to escape our judgments. Thanks for these reminders.

  • Michele | aka Raw Juice Girl November 10, 2009, 9:55 am

    Very touching post, Josh. And it’s all so true.

    I’ll admit to having a little hate in me, too. Yeah. Crazy, huh? Okay, not crazy, but you know…

    For the LONGEST time, I hated men. All men. I allowed domestic violence to make me a bitter, hateful person. And I hated every single man on the planet. I was labeled as a “man basher” and everyone knew “not to get me started.”

    I’m so glad I’ve found healing and am beyond that now. I realize all men aren’t bad just because one beat my brains out over and over. It just takes time. I can relate with that woman you mention. I wonder if she was a survivor of abuse?

    Anyway, I’m so glad you shared your thoughts here. And, yes, social media is a wonderful way to allow our hearts to bleed through the barriers that would be present if we were in person. See, social media is such a fantabulous thing. Who could think that’s a waste of time??!! 😉

    Great job, Josh!!!

    *smiles*
    Michele

  • Gayze November 10, 2009, 10:18 am

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve become friends with a Who over the internet, only to discover they were not the What I thought they were … and then rejoiced even more in the Who, because I simply love surprises.

    Wonderful post, Josh!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2009, 12:25 pm

      @Gayze: Glad to hear it.

      @Michele: I’ve seen a lot of abuse in my life, but never been on the end of it. I certainly can’t blame the people who never fully recover, but I’m glad you have been able to heal yourself. But I stand by my statement that this can be a real waste of time:) I certainly spend a lot of time playing around up here.

      @Beth: You’re welcome. I think that as long as we keep asking ourselves the questions, we’ll be making worthwhile progress.

      @Heather: You’re welcome, glad you liked it. But really, you have a TON of faults? Faults only weigh one ounce. That’s a lot of faults.

      @Ben: well said.

      @Jenny: What’s not to love about a dancing hot dog? Amen to that.

  • Lori November 10, 2009, 12:40 pm

    Josh, I’d pay you at least $5 to use the dancing hot dog as your new Twitter badge. I love it!

    This post was so you, Josh, rocking the *normal* to get us right to the edge. I have to admit, the square glasses initially reminded me of Sarah Palin – but I’m over it now.
    (ha – jk)

    Thanks for being who you are. You are a classic example of perceptions being rocked once you get to know the person. And, by that, I mean your writing and candor initially can come across that you’re just this happy-go-lucky guy without a care in the world (well, sometimes anyway), but when I dug deeper, I saw the incredible challenges you face with such grace and power.

    That, my friend, is inspiring and lovely.

    Thanks for this post and for becoming a friend of mine – no pixels for me.

    P.S. Your sister rocks – I’m blessed to know her! Honestly, I think she’s helped me more than I helped her. 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2009, 12:59 pm

      Dear diary, today my appearance was compared to Sarah Palin…

      I could use $5. We’ll see. Would a dancing hot dog in square glasses also remind you of Sarah?

      • Lori November 10, 2009, 1:24 pm

        Strangely, yes it would.

        Switch out your badge, send your paypal account link, and I’ll deposit my cash. Terms: you have to leave it up for 24 hrs.

  • Oleg Mokhov November 10, 2009, 1:12 pm

    Hey Josh,

    The internet has the potential to bring out the best in people.

    When you eliminate the physical (and even gender/nationality) presence of a person, than someone consumes only their ideas and content.

    In an ideal world, something like this shouldn’t be needed, but the reality is–like the example you have–some have a strong discrimination that makes sense to their reality. They’ll disregard a certain gender, race, or nationality, even if that person can bring them great value.

    But when only the idea or content is present, the person delivering it goes out the picture, and this discriminating person can freely take it in. Even if they never find out the identity, at least their life became a bit better at that moment for taking in value they otherwise would’ve blocked out. At its best, by finding out who is behind the idea or content, that person could begin to open their mind and melt their discriminations.

    Obviously, I’m not going into the negative aspects of an internet community (the Penny Arcade internet F-wad theory: A normal person + anonymity + an audience = total F-wad). But there’s no denying the positive potential of the internet opening people up, and bringing them together. And there’s been a lot of that, even if more attention is brought to the lame flaming comments and whatnot.

    Great thought-provoking article, and why an internet community and social media can be so powerful in spreading ideas in a heavily-discriminatory world,
    Oleg

    PS. Typo on Chris G’s last name: *Guillebeau (I remember he wrote that he admits to a tough-to-spell name 🙂 )

  • Srinivas Rao November 10, 2009, 2:02 pm

    Josh,

    I think social media is really going to change the way we all work together. I’ve found my own blogging experience has given me an opportunity to collaborate with people who I’ve never met. All of us willing to help each other out when we’ve never met in person is a pretty awesome thing about the blogosphere. Enjoying all of your posts.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2009, 3:55 pm

      Very true, Senor surf. Envisioning the virtual network of everyone at that awards dinner I went to was pretty staggering. That said, there are still plenty of people I hope to meet in person.

  • Patty - Why Not Start Now? November 10, 2009, 3:02 pm

    Hi Josh – I agree that social media has a great potential to transcend hatred and polarization. And I think people are so tired of the polarization, and there’s such a pang for community and belonging. A yearning for it, really. I can’t speak to facebook or twitter, but I do see the power of blogging to create community. When I first started out I just concentrated on the writing – developing a practice and getting into a rhythm. But I always knew I would eventually put my toe in the waters of the blogosphere. When I did that for the first time last month I was amazed to discover the abundance of community; I’d thought it was more like a free for all. And this experience has helped me to define a vision for my blog, as a place where people can come, bloggers and non-bloggers alike, to share experiences that foster collectivity and community. Just last week I asked people to share a story of a time when they were moved by a work of art, and although my comments are few right now, the stories themselves were priceless. So I have a lot of optimism about the power of a blog to create community. Thanks so much for writing about this.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2009, 3:56 pm

      You’re welcome, Patty. As big as the web is, I am always surprised to see so many familiar faces (or gravatars) on the blogs I read. One big fat clan.

  • Daisy November 10, 2009, 6:56 pm

    I enjoy social media for so many reasons. On Twitter I connect with other parents of children with autism, with blind adults who help shape my perspective of who my son might be some day. On Plurk, most of my connections are teachers. It’s a Plurk Teacher Network on my laptop!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2009, 8:01 pm

      I just heard about Plurk for the first time yesterday. I’m resisting the urge to go check it out.

  • Kami Lee November 10, 2009, 10:00 pm

    Nice one, Joshua. Really.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 10, 2009, 10:06 pm

      Thanks Kami. when do we get to see you guys again? come over on my birthday!

  • Kelly Diels November 11, 2009, 11:33 am

    Josh, I was on board, completely digging your post…and then…WOW. you mentioned me. Thank you so much. I’m touched and honoured.

    Back to the real stuff. I wrote some skeptical words about twitter as a social revolution couple of months ago – when we were all tinting our avatars green – but I am eating them now.

    Social media is a tool that HAS transformed my life. Now, instead of watching TV all night, I connect with people. People like me. People unlike me. People, who, if I met on the street, I might think “those square glasses remind me of Sarah Palin so we can’t be friends”, but with whom I deeply identify when we meet online, without those identifiers.

    And with them, too. I think social media has made me open and loving because I can connect with people via their ideas and their experiences. And that is transformative.

    PS keep on rockin’ the free world.
    xoxoxoxo

  • Josh Hanagarne November 11, 2009, 11:49 am

    Kelly, I still think there are plenty of things about FB and Twitter that suck. But thanks for everything, today and always.

  • Beth L. Gainer November 12, 2009, 1:12 pm

    Josh,

    I think that social media could be used for evil, but it also has been used for good. I choose the latter, as do you. Social media has helped me meet very interesting people that I otherwise would not have connected with (including you!). Do FB and Twitter depersonalize relationships?

    I think not!!