I admit it: I’m an alta kocker who is loathe to learn new tricks, especially social media. Towson University professor, Andrew Reiner, expresses my sentiments exactly in the March/April 2011 edition of AARP Magazine. (I told you, I’m an old fart.) Reiner fears obsolescence in the digitized world and he mistrusts media in which people continuously hawk “brand Me” online. Like Reiner, I don’t want to spend every waking moment updating “umpteen profiles” and alerting all “to every minor accomplishment.” Indeed, this is the darker side of social media.
And yet, as a newbie to this brave virtual world, I realize some genuine advantages to it, especially for me and my cohorts of a certain age. We Baby Boomers know people. Over the years, we’ve collected circles of friends. We have connections, many of which have deep roots, even if we’ve lost touch over time. Many of these people have gone on to do interesting and varied things professionally, and many are willing to share and share alike. Because these people have known us over time, they have a genuine appreciation and understanding of our truest strengths. In social media, unlike organizational life, we get to pick and choose our interlocutors, so even where the well water might have once been poisoned and we left a job or program on less than the best of terms; online we can still gather our allies from different contexts and soldier on.
Until recently, I have hid behind the doorway of social media, peering into the Facebook pages of old beaux and thinking to myself, “Good thing I didn’t marry him.” I’ve enjoyed these voyeuristic excursions, running reconnaissance, incognito. But I do have bigger fish to fry. Like Reiner, I detest hype, yet I see how social media can be used in sincere, mutually beneficial ways. I know what you have to offer; you know what I have to offer; and the next time I come across someone who needs what you have, I’ll put you two in touch; and vice versa. In the meantime, I’ll share an interesting article I read or a joke I heard.
At best, these new fangled features can help us engage in a more civil society where public spaces are radically redefined, yet rooted in the face-to-face interactions that we Boomers grew up on. At best, it can offer the pleasures of human interaction described by Katherine Mansfield in The Garden Party: “Ah, what happiness it is to be with people . . . to press hands, press cheeks, smile into eyes,” without, of course, the physical contact. Social media create the opportunity to share, impart and proffer whatever wares we have to peddle—be they material or intellectual—to an interested and supportive circle.
Lately, I’ve reconnected with several old friends from graduate school. Dan French, a stand-up comedian and comedy writer, uses Facebook to post daily tidbits, which allow him to develop his shtick, while getting feedback from his audience (the men are charmed, the women are annoyed, but that’s Dan!). Every day he’s writing, creating material, and eliciting responses. Granted, he works in the genre of the one-liner, but the man has a Ph.D., i.e., he’s very capable of sustained thought, and he knows that I’m capable of sustained thought, too. So . . . I’ll continue to follow what he’s doing, and I hope he’ll follow what I’m doing, and someday I might have a referral for Dr. Dan, and perhaps he’ll have one for me, Dr. Ruth.
The process is subtle and incremental. I like that. It’s not the blaring, bleeping, meaningless messaging aspect of social media that Reiner and I both despise. It’s a brave new world, and I think there’s a comfortable seat at the table for us alta kockers.