Putting away the iPhone and stepping away from the laptop.

In my book,  I wrote a main character who is addicted to her iPhone. The character’s cell phone addiction was meant to be a commentary on all the people I saw hunched over their iPhone displays, gabbing about apps and texting their ways through life, rather than living it. I wrote the book before I actually had an iPhone, * but this may or may not have been hypocritical on my part anyhow, since at the time I rewrote Beware the Hawk, I possessed what my husband referred to as a Crackberry.

Smartphones have been making me dumber for years.

But I hardly used the browser. I didn’t play Blackberry games. I only communicated with one person (my editor, actually) over the messenger. Then my Blackberry died, and I got an iPhone.

All of a sudden, I understood. There were no tiny keys to wrestle with! The camera was not as good as the Blackberry camera, but I could have more fun with the photos! The touchscreen was so big that tweeting and Facebooking from my phone were a pleasure! I could play Words with Friends! I suddenly had GPS! Now I could see what all the Angry Birds fuss was about!

I know. That’s a lot of exclamation points, but I think that’s what the i in iPhone is. Turn it upside down and flip it around and what you get it is “Phone!” And that’s the iPhone. It’s not a phone. It’s a Phone! And it’s addictive.

Now I’m trying to break myself of the cycle of obsessively checking my phone, which is as rude as it is worthless. I’m pretty sure that having a smartphone is making me dumber. Here are some examples:

  • Having email on my phone has actually made me worse at correspondence. (“Oh, I’ll just email that person back when I’m at my laptop.”)
  • Having the calendar on it has made me worse at scheduling. (“Oh no, an event I’m supposed to be at is happening a state away in five minutes!”)
  • I can’t remember phone numbers anymore because they’re all programmed into my phone. (“Sure, Officer, let me just grab my phone and look up my husband’s phone number for you.”)

So, I’m stepping away from the phone and, to some extent the Internet, this summer. I’m not “quitting Facebook” or giving up my phone or anything dramatic, but I am going to set some limits.

Right now, my iPhone is hidden under a pillow in another room so I won’t hear it buzzing. I have disabled all Push notifications for my social networks. I will not pick it up until I have written a required number of words. I am checking email only a few times a day. I’ve put all my appointments onto an actual desk calendar that I can see. Who knows? Later I may make myself write my husband’s phone number on a piece of paper 50 times the way my fourth grade teacher made me do with multiplication tables when I was being punished for something.

*In all honesty, I wrote the first drafts before iPhones were invented. The original phones were just regular 2001 phones. I was all kinds of excited to add iPhones last year and write the scenes as an indictment of iPhone users. I think this is called Karma.

In which the author is confused by Linkedin

Early this morning, I got my latest invitation to join Linkedin.

I get a lot of these, because I’m not on Linkedin. The very first request came a few years ago, when I was working at a newspaper and an old source sent me monthly requests to join Linkedin. I got one every month for at least a year before either he stopped trying to invite me or I left my job and lost access to that email account. I can’t remember which happened first. Anyhow, since then, I’ve received Linkedin requests from all sorts of people: former co-workers, current co-workers, students, family members, people I’ve met once, people I haven’t seen in years and friends of my family.

It seems like everyone’s on LinkedIn, and since I’m a sucker for groupthink, I’m beginning to wonder: Do I need to be on Linkedin? And if so, why?

I have checked out the site. It looks like a non-scandalous, grown-up version of Facebook, where people use phrases like “communication skills” and “can-do attitude” in lieu of “OMG” or “LOL.”

And although I realize the site is used to network professionals, I can’t figure out if it is useful or not.

It’s not as if I don’t love social media. Those who suffer my Facebook status updates and my Twitter feed can attest to the fact that I love The Network. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been waiting for it all my life:  I write words and people react to (or fail to react to) those words almost instantly. It’s instant gratification. Sometimes it’s instant mortification. And it’s done wonders for my writing — Facebook has honed my comedic skills by teaching me that 80 percent of everything I say is not funny.

Same thing with Twitter, which has allowed me to gradually connect with other writers, and which has also taught me how to craft very, very short sentences while including hashtags and replies.  And these two sites are really just the latest in a series of social media innovations that I’ve loved and abused. Before Facebook, I was on Myspace. Before that, Livejournal. Before that, I was on Friendster. And before that, there were various messaging and file-sharing groups that I can barely remember. ICQ and Hotwire (I think it was called HotWire. It could have been HotLine. Livewire? I don’t know. The software I’m talking about is from 1995. It’s been lost in the mists of time.) Also, AIM and unsupervised chat rooms, and even the old Apple chat software Broadcast.

All of them were useful in their own way, just as Facebook and Twitter are useful to me now, as I build a reader base and follow what’s going on with my friends and in the world. But LinkedIn? How is that useful? Isn’t it just a way to get my resumé online?

And so, because I have no answers of my own, I end this blog with an obnoxious crowd-sourcing series of questions. Are you on Linkedin? Is it useful? How? Have you obtained a job or gained contacts by being on Linkedin? Please, corporate types. Help a sister out.


Twitter failures/Twitter ninjas

A few months ago, I began spending a lot of  time on Twitter.

Part of the reason for this was that my mother joined Facebook, and I started being a little more careful about my posts there. (Sorry, Mom.) Part of it was that I’d attended a conference that made great use of the micro-blogging site, and I wanted to explore the many uses of Twitter. Part of it was that Facebook was beginning to annoy me. Why? The Oatmeal has a great cartoon, How to Suck at Facebook, about that.  I thought Twitter might be less abrasive. I was wrong. You can suck at Twitter, in 140 characters or less.

All kinds of folks are bad at Twitter. Random people who take part in giant, misspelled hashtag-driven conversations like #thatswhyyourmyex.  Celebrities who use the medium to feed their own bloated egos, and who use the RT feature to trash the fans who disapprove. People who blatantly use the medium to promote their businesses without giving their followers anything extra for following them. People who have decided to start repeating their tweets, just in case we missed them the first time.

I was tempted to prepare a list of actual people who are failing at Twitter, but that’s not fair, or helpful, to anyone. So I thought it might be better to point to five people (and organizations) who are really skilled at using the site. These tweeps are advancing their personal agendas, of course. But they are also giving an added value to their followers. I enjoy following these people because I feel like I’m getting something out of their tweets. Either I’m getting to know them, or I’m laughing, or I’m learning something. And because they clearly care enough to put some thought into their tweets, I care about reading them. Is this a complete list of all the talented Twitterers out there? No. This is a list of five users I admire.

NASA – NASA has many, many Twitter accounts. The Mars rovers are each on Twitter. The Cassini mission is on Twitter. The Hubble Space telescope is on Twitter and I get something from following each of them. I get updates on the space program. I get pictures from Saturn. Several months ago, when the current Mars rover was still operational, I got updates from the surface of Mars every day. That’s just awesome.

Kevin Smokler – I don’t know exactly why I enjoy following the founder of BookTour on Twitter. I just do. It could be the fact that he seems to be on Twitter 24 hours a day. It could be that he’s always sharing some fascinating piece of information (Bob Marley has 106,000 followers on Ping; more than half the houses in Venice, Italy aren’t occupied; there is an iPhone app that reminds men to groom themselves. What doesn’t the man know?) Or it could be that every tweet is written with such a genuine voice that I can’t help but read his feed. Follow him (@Weegee). It’s worth it.

Electric Literature – Electric Literature had me at “Rick Moody.” Last year in an experiment that I don’t think they have ever repeated, Electric Literature spent a week tweeting 140-character installments of a short story Moody had written for them. Every few minutes, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. , for five days, someone tweeted part of the story. I’ll be honest. It wasn’t a great story. And I can see how tweeting a whole short story can be wildly impractical and labor intensive. But the experiment made me so happy. I had something to look forward to every few minutes. I was able to read short installments  when I was stuck in traffic or at work. It was like being on a morphine drip, except instead of getting morphine, I was getting original fiction. So even though the editors may never do it again, and although the magazine’s feed has not been very exciting of late, I’m including Electric Literature on this list.

George Takei – Who is better than George Takei? And what’s better than a 73-year-old man who wields Twitter as Mr. Sulu once wielded his fencing foil? Sure, George is using Twitter to advance multiple agendas: Gay marriage equality, an end to bullying, aid for Japan, and, of course, his own career. But he’s not an agenda-advancing machine. He also uses Twitter to get his fans to send thousands of Valentines to little old ladies, and he’s just funny. George, I will read whatever you tweet. Even the shameless self-promotion posted below. And not just because I had a crush on Mr. Sulu as a kid. (File that one under the hastag #brokengaydar.)

Susan Orlean – I think, for an aspiring writer, author Susan Orlean is the most inspiring person I follow on Twitter. She’s also funny, personable and uses hashtags the way some writers use parentheses. In the last year, I’ve read her tweets as she worked on her book about Rin Tin Tin.  We’ve never communicated directly, yet I’ve felt united with her as we’ve tried to make our daily word counts. I’ve watched her procrastinate online, take pictures of her pets instead of writing, and finally finish her manuscript. And I’ve identified with her every tweet. Well, except for the tweets about chickens. Apparently she shares her home with chickens and the occasional waterfowl.

Why I Tweet

It seems like every time Twitter comes up in conversation, at least one person wants to know what it is and why it’s important to be Twitter-literate (Twitliterate? Twiterate?)

Why, when there are so many ways to communicate, would you join a service that allows you to write only 140 characters worth of text at a time? My husband, who is new to the Internet, has referred to it as “texting the world.” Who wants to do that?

I’ve had some doubts of my own lately. But then the last two weeks happened and I witnessed a variety of things take place on Twitter. These events ranged from the historic (the unrest in Egypt) to the adorable (watching Rupaul learn to tweet) to the personally relevant (The Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington D.C.) After all that, I’m in love with Twitter again. Continue reading