I remember my first business website. So new was the idea, that the local newspaper called and asked if they could do a story on my husband and I, posing the questions of whether or not this online advertising and promotion of our business was really going to work. The website was small and clunky and at the moment I had no idea what it could do. We declined the interview. Within a year or two every small business, every large business had their own website. And shortly after that, lots of people who weren’t in business, but who had an axe to grind or a message to impart built websites too.
An episode of the television show Californication addressed blogging, the new venue for published works, albeit smaller, easier to read works than what you would find in print. And thanks to Word Press, blogging began to nibble away at magazines and newspapers who now turned their efforts online, as advertisers fled to what was becoming a larger audience. The greatest loss for me during that time was that my Sundays, which had once been all about lying around with The New York Times and Then Denver Post for hours while I drank tea, began to dwindle. Without realizing that it was happening, I began to read less and less. Eventually I cancelled the newspapers.
Then social media, the double edged sword that swung wildly unabated by any sort of regulation, making me giddy that I could keep up with so many people online. At the same time, Facebook was giving a platform to dark and anonymous voices that had once been relegated to the shadows. What now came to light was foreboding, but I told myself it was just a fringe element. No one is really that mean, ugly-hearted or misinformed.
Like everyone else, my brain chemicals lit up with likes and comments,.so I barely noticed that social media, just like websites and blogging became one more place to advertise, one more place to promote. It wasn’t just businesses advertising, it was individuals advertising themselves. In the business of writing, every agent, publisher and editor wanted to make sure that you had a website and that you were promoting yourself on social media. In the beginning, it wasn’t that hard, but after a short time, I realized that I was competing with virtual assistants or companies that were posting for individuals. No longer a matter of likes and comments, social media was now a matter of whether or not you were an influencer, whether or not you were a brand.
I think about my Catholic upbringing in which the nuns instructed me not to call attention to myself; told me that it was better to give to others selflessly. Is selflessly a word we even use anymore? The whole self-promotion thing has gotten out of hand. I keep track of my social media accounts, a website, a blog, a newsletter, email lists and up until recently, a podcast. I am a full-blown self-promoting business and with that, I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet.
The digital world has overtaken us. Recent reporting tells me that my social media accounts are valuable for the data they collect, plugging me into an algorithm that will assure I see posts and advertising in my feeds that will validate my perception of the world. What could go wrong?
An yet . . . I still enjoy my Facebook interactions with friends and family. Truth is, I like people and I enjoy meeting new friends online. I smile when people I don’t even know proudly post pictures of their grandchildren. It makes me feel like I am part of one big family. Worlds within worlds spin round the day-to-day lives of human beings and that picture of a grand baby connects us to a sweet place that loves babies and the promise of new beginnings. The other side of that double edged sword, however, is the incessant noise about branding and messaging, about influencing and trending.
If I left all of social media behind, I would wonder about those other writers I’ve come to know. I’d wonder if they’d finished writing the novel that they were so passionate about. I’d wonder about friend’s kids and dogs and cats and whether or not Esther’s garden would be bigger this year. I’d miss writing something for my blog or newsletter, and miss seeing pictures of Donna’s dog, Bella, or my great, great niece playing with a doll that I’d sent her. I’d miss sharing my own successes and wins, the sorrow of large and little losses. Still, and I know that it’s somewhat a function of this pandemic, I long for face to face meetings. To look into someone’s eyes and feel the energy of their being is different than seeing a picture on a screen. I miss talking walks with my husband and my friends where one’s attention isn't pulled away by an email that you can now read on your wristwatch.
So, I do the self-promotion dance, like every other writer I know. I try to put out a message that I hope will inspire, uplift or help in some way. I try to keep it emotionally honest. I write blogs like these and marvel that in certain ways we connect more with the written word than ever before. This is probably the greatest time of literacy that the world has ever experienced and a lot of it is due to technology. That is an amazing thing and one that has the potential for great goodness. But there are those days when I wish there weren’t any screens. In what is now known as "the old days," friends would stop by unexpectedly just to say hello and visit, to hang out, to figure out what it meant to be human, and the only interruption was the possibility of a solitary, ringing phone somewhere down the hall.