Laurel Saville's Blog

Looking Out Over the Mohawk

Laurel Saville

Laurel Saville
Location
Little Falls, New York, United States
Birthday
September 30
Company
Self
Bio
I am, and always have been, first and foremost, a writer. Which means I am and always have been also a reader, walker, seeker of solitude, and ponder-er, all qualities essential, I believe, to effective writing. I write [and have published] books, articles, essays, short stories, and a broad range of corporate communications pieces. I live and work in a 100-year-old, four story, brick building perched on the bank of the Mohawk River, looking over the Erie Canal, in a small, post-industrial town, in the middle of New York State. I am hemmed in by hills, mill buildings, train tracks, and bucolic, rolling farmlands. My primary companions are my husband, a small and insistent orange cat, a large and regal Maine Coon cat, and a sweet, gimpy, half-blind border collie. www.LaurelSaville.com www.PostmortemTheBook.com

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 24, 2011 10:33AM

Why New Media is Old Fashioned

Rate: 4 Flag

Why New Media is Old Fashioned

My first experience with social media was way back before they even called it social media. Back when getting a digital picture involved bringing film to a store and asking them to put the pictures on a CD. Now, almost a decade later, I continue to be deeply, richly, intensely happily married to the result of that first foray into human connection via bits and bytes.

Let me be clear, I am a Luddite at heart. I am a lover of books, weather, water, mountains, dirt, calluses, bruises, broken nails, things handmade the long and hard way. But I registered my personal name as a domain name almost a dozen years ago. I recently hired a specialist to help me develop and implement a Twitter strategy. I just bought a Droid. I did all this because I recognize something about these technologies: new media is where the people are.

This is what led me to Match.com. I wanted to meet people – well, male people – that I wasn’t finding in my so-called “real” life. Since the dissolution of my first marriage, I’d dated steadily, but was running out of eligible bachelors. Match.com was a means to open up completely new populations of potential mates. As the online male universe was enormous, I focused on looking for men with three prime qualities: athletic, educated, and extremely passionate about something, either work- or creative-related. I was not disappointed. Within 8 weeks, I met more interesting, accomplished, highly educated men then I had in the previous 8 years. I eventually married the one who was the most of all these things, as well as handsome, kind, funny, generous, entrepreneurial, and creative, to boot.

  Besides unearthing this trove of undiscovered male bounty, what struck me most about the Match.com experience is what strikes me still about Facebook and Twitter: It’s so old fashioned. Yes, I mean that seriously. Think about it. On Match.com you get to know people by writing letters. Sure, you’re using a keyboard instead of ink and onionskin, but what’s more quaint than penning letters to one another? The careful crafting of phrases, the wondering if the other person will understand the implied humor, the anticipation of waiting for a response, the obsessive checking of your mailbox…it’s positively Victorian. I’d met plenty of men in bars, at dinner parties, on snowboards and bikes. But what was so delightful about Match.com was the feeling of being courted. Slowly. Over weeks, not hours. With engaging words, not seductive looks.

I feel the same way about Facebook. Unlike the let-it-all-hang-out, confessional culture of television, Facebook lets you get to know someone slowly, bit by bit. You learn that they have a rescued dog, tend toward clumsiness, love to crochet, take archery lessons on Friday nights, have talents with jewelry making, are unabashedly right wing, or are as crush-worthy at 47 as they were when you last saw them in 8th grade. Facebook is like a virtual Main Street where most of the information shared between people is of a disposable nature: the weather, small snippets of news, a joke, updates on health, work and travel. But if something pops up in these quotidian interactions that shows a small sparkle of self – an interesting hobby mentioned, a shared interest revealed, a crisis or circumstance that requires aid – then a deeper engagement may ensue. On Main Street, you’d suggest sharing a cup of coffee; on FB, you’d drop them a personal note via email.

  The connections I make online are mostly trivial, to be sure. However, it is clear to me that these sustained and continuous light touches can add up to much more. There is my husband, of course, as object lesson number one. More recently, there has been the support – and sales – for a book I wrote about my mother, released just over a year ago. The “atta girls,” and purchases have been great, but even more so are the gratifying letters I have received from real readers. Technology allows us to find each other in a way never before possible. Overlapping that happy news was my much less fun, 10-month battle with breast cancer. My husband and I posted our progress on Facebook and a blog, and the sustenance we received in both venues was beyond sustaining. In my most frightened moments, my weakest days, times when I wanted to be physically alone, I still sought out the online comments of friends and family for cheer and strength. In addition, our friends, family, and many, many people I never met wrote that they were deeply grateful for the opportunity to share in and learn from an experience that would otherwise have been completely off limits to them. We had more than 8,000 visits to our blog – there is nowhere in the so-called real, physical world I could have accommodated that kind of support.

  When I hear people bash Facebook and blame it for a universe of evils, I am reminded of the wise words a river guide once said to me. During a trip to the Galapagos, I asked our guide, a world-class kayaker, if there was something wrong with our boats, as one, very experienced member of our group was complaining about their performance. Which seemed fine to me, a relative novice. He smiled and said, “It’s a poor carpenter who blames his tools.” To me, the online world is simply this, a tool, in the most venerable sense of the word. If you use a hammer to break things, don’t blame the hammer. If you use it to build things, well, do credit the carpenter. Twitter gives you 140 characters. Well used, that’s an entire world of opportunity to build something beautiful to share with the world. 

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I couldn't agree more! At this sunset time of my life, when reaching out to new people seems logistically impossible, because of health and financial issues, not to mention a really bad geographical choice, I always have the friends I've made online. They've saved my life more than once.
Thanks Carol. I was amazed at how lovely so many of my online-only friendships have turned out to be.
This is all fine and well when one is an adult having adult friendships online. But there is another side to social media.

I have a niece that was beat up at school because 2 girls thought it would be funny to put it on facebook. I watched another young girl I care about get stalked on social media sites by a guy she didn't want to go out with.

They aren't alone. The news is filled with young kids traumatized by social media. For the parents of those kids, social media very well might feel like a universe of evils.

Yes, it's the carpenters, not the tools. But not everyone uses social media to share something beautiful.
Dear Ranting Boomer, First of all, I am so sorry to hear about the bullying of your loved ones. It seems that kids will use any means at their disposal to be cruel. Sadly, it has forever been so. I think that we are actually in complete agreement: the internet is a powerful tool and you should never put such a powerful tool into the hands of the young with supervision, direction, boundaries and rules, lest they use it to hurt themselves or others.

And Bonnie, the same holds true with your comment. Of course there are jerks, evil people, lunatics, and all kinds of scum in the world who will use whatever means they have. But social media did not make them so. And if they didn't have Facebook or Match.com, they'd still be out there trying to wreak havoc in other ways.
the above should have read "without supervision" not "with". sorry.
I too remember back in the days when you went to Office Depot or some place to have them scan a photo for you onto a disk so that you could use it online. Then we transitioned into scanners being affordable for home use. Since those days the technology that allows not only photo but video to be shared within seconds of being captured with all your friends and family has been hard to keep up with. As earlier commentator's have already said there is a portion of the population that will seek out ways in which to take advantage of these tools to do harm. That is not new to social media. That fight between correct and harmful uses of new technology has always been the case.

Copy machines, Fax machines, e-mail in the 90's, and updates in audio recording technology each had to work through growing pains when they were introduced. Aside from technology there is the "is this good for America" argument that comes up with each new advancement. From Rock and Roll, to the Civil Rights fights there is always a segment of the population that is afraid of new things happening. These people get comfortable in the way things are, or were and instead of embracing change become scared.

Just like other advancements in time social media will seem no different to us than hearing Foo Fighters or Elvis Presley on the radio is.