by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author
There’s little doubt that despite all our faults, jealousies, fanaticism and foibles, we humans are social creatures. When we live and work together, we are capable of amazing inventiveness and accomplishments. But at what point does sociability stop serving a purpose and start becoming an annoyance, or worse, a danger to ourselves and even our way of life? When does it go beyond the boundaries of the unwritten social contracts that provide order to a chaotic world?
For me, the rise of the Internet and social media has brought these questions to the forefront of my thoughts on an almost daily basis. Just as the various social media platforms have sorted themselves out in the past few years, users have gravitated to one or several depending on their comfort level and reason for using social media in the first place.
Authors, I think, have found social media both advantageous and liberating on one hand, and aggravating on another. Authors make up an interesting breed. We work in isolation, but tend to be very sociable people. Before the Internet and social media, conferences and book tours comprised an author’s outlet for his or her social side. Readers and fans seemed content with that.
But in the digital age, we are on and available 24/7. We’re connected to each other by text, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and other channels. Our thoughts, impulses, follies and achievements—from major life moments to mundane daily activities—are captured and broadcast to the world with the click of a mouse. And, like hitting “Reply All” when we meant to send a private message, sometimes we put things out there without thinking first.
Authors, since we are communicators, have eagerly taken to digital media as a way of building networks of readers and fans, extending networks of friends and resources of knowledge and expressing themselves in ways they can’t through their novels. But some early adopters of digital media have pulled back from many of these platforms, concentrating on those that either afford them the greatest degree of comfort or the most visibility. I think that’s a good thing.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: the problem with social media is that it’s a little like telephone party lines (which I remember), and even more like CB radio (a fad in the 70s)—a whole lot of people are talking at the same time, but only a few people are listening. So it’s difficult to pick up a conversation and contribute in a meaningful way.
To its credit, social media involves the written word, so it’s possible to track the history of a conversation and find out the side roads and digressions it’s taken over the course of a day or two. That wasn’t possible with CB radio. But, like CB, the Internet is largely anonymous, and it’s too easy for people to “speak” before they think, resulting in a lot of vitriol and nastiness.
Worse, society has grown more casual in the several decades between the two technologies, less bound by the unspoken social contracts I grew up with. Manners and courtesy are no longer common. With CB radio, users politely asked if they could break into a conversation, and waited until they received an invite. Today, we type whatever comes to mind and hit “send.”
Why do we do it? Why do we feel compelled to share so much, not only with our friends and family, but with a world of complete strangers? When my mother died last fall, a family member posted the news before my wife and I had a chance to call and tell all our kids that their grandmother had passed away. They learned about it on Facebook.
Isn’t it time we all took a step back and really thought about the ways in which we communicate and with whom we communicate? Doesn’t it make more sense to pick up the phone and talk with the people whose friendship we truly value and save the inanities that pass for great literature on Twitter for our once-a-year holiday cards to acquaintances? Do you, readers and fans, really need to have Instagram documentation of what I had for breakfast?
There are days when I want to completely unplug from social media. Is social media worth my 15 minutes of fame? How much is too much? How much is too little? What’s my obligation to you, my readers and fans, and what do I keep to myself?
No matter what I decide, could we all remember to say “please” and “thank you” a little more often? Please?
Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.
He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at www.michaelwsherer.com or you can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thrillerauthor and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.