I am a social media experiment. No, Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t plastered electrodes to my head to test my brainwaves while I look at adorable, spelling-deficient baby animals on Facebook, although his calls are getting more insistent and frankly, a little disturbing. I think somewhere in the depths of his underground California lair, he’s training newborn badgers to sing Justin Bieber tunes. But I could be wrong. Since I read it on Wikipedia.
No, every two years, someone from the USC Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism inquires about my Internet behavior. This started about fifteen years ago, when a polite young man called asking for my help with a school project. Yeah, I know. It always starts that way. Then you end up in an embarrassing video on YouTube. But eager to lend a hand to educate the youth of America, and as a former advertising major sympathetic to those whose semester grades hinge on cold-calling people about their favorite brand of mayonnaise (I had to do this once), I fielded his questions. Yes, I have access to the Internet. No, we have just the one computer, the one phone line with its dial-up modem, and the many arguments about who is doing what on it when. Do I “know” anyone online I’ve never met in person? One or two people, but it’s sort of intriguing, like a blind date that never happens. Then they sent me a check for ten bucks.
I still get ten bucks a pop, which now that I’m an indie author, I blow on silly things like food. Although the questions have changed slightly over the years, and I now fill out an online survey instead of answering a call, the intent is the same: to measure the impact the Internet is having on peoples’ lives. In the past fifteen years, Husband and I have accumulated more devices that can access the Internet. A cable connection and two Macs reduced the arguments. Gone are the daily newspapers and most of the print magazines; we listen to radio stations through our computers. Both of us working from home means many Internet hours logged.
But the people? YOU people? Halle-freakin’-luiah. Normally an introvert with a history of isolation, I now have friends at other the end of my keyboard. Lots and lots of friends. Where previously I could have easily rattled off the names of my Web buds for the USC undergrads, the quantity of my online colleagues, friends, and acquaintances has grown from “countable on both hands and feet” to “a couple dozen,” to “are you kidding me?”
And I LOVE it! Well, most of the time. You guys are pretty cool. I love your support and knowledge and jokes and friendship; I love that any time of the day or night I can go online and “reach out and touch someone” anywhere in the world.
But I just completed this year’s survey, and it gave me pause. In particular, one of the questions: Has your participation in online communities decreased your involvement with offline communities?
Uh…yeah. To an embarrassing degree. Sure, I tried to rationalize the heck out of having so many virtual friends and communities. But I’m a writer! I plant my butt in a chair and draw support and companionship from other writers, with their butts planted in their chairs!
Although I love my online communities, I think I’ve forgotten about balance. I want to fix that. Oh, I don’t plan on going the full Hemingway or anything. No running with bulls or signing on with mercenaries or piloting riverboats. I just don’t want to wait for a power failure or a life-changing event to see my neighbors. Maybe I’ll take the ten bucks from this year’s survey and have an experience. Outside. Then I’ll put it on Facebook, in between photos of Mark’s Bieberwauling badgers.
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Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She is the author of two novels, The Joke’s on Me and Drawing Breath. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley with her very patient husband, Paul Blumstein, a commercial illustrator. Learn more about Laurie at http://laurieboris.com and her Amazon author page.