In another era, WWF stood for the World Wrestling Federation. Still does, I suppose, although today those initials are more commonly known by online gamers as Word with Friends.
Somewhere around Thanksgiving I got hooked into this addictive game which, along with other games like Hanging with Friends and the (non-interactive) Angry Birds are taking up a lot of people’s times these days.
With its ubiquitous accessibility, via terminal, laptop, notebook, or smart phone, Word with Friends seems, indeed, to be everywhere. And with its links to Facebook, many of the moves you make show up on your wall, thereby advertising its presence to many others and the many others who have befriended those many others.
Who wouldn’t want it known that their best achievement of the day was scoring 131 points by their adroit playing of the word “djebel?”
A domino effect
It’s the well-known domino effect, and it now has more than 3 million Facebook users “liking” this game, and probably wasting a lot of otherwise productive hours playing it.
Those prone to finding their glasses to be half-full as opposed to seriously leaking, would point out that you can increase your vocabulary with such word games as this thinly-veiled version of the classic game of Scrabble.
I suppose my reaction would be, True if you think any of the following kinds of words will be useful for you in the conversations of life:
Qi, qat, xi, vodoun, oedemas, yegg (egg with an extra-large yoke?), quin, jeux, nixe, nae, qua, tael, ratel, eclat, recta (2 rectums?) and quean.
Or how about rec, rem, urd, mae, ecu, kex, kae, and jauk?
All these and many other wonderful words are legitimate parts of the King’s speech, according to your friends at Words with Friends. And of course we use these gems all the time in our everyday chats. These are the words that come tripping off our tongue when we are confronted with six consonants and a vowel (or, worse yet, the opposite). Right?
Well, only right if we are using a handy-dandy word unscrambler. Or is that descrambler? Neither seems to find favor with the text program I’m using now.
These descramblers bring up a serious ethical issue, of course, to players of WWF: Is it cheating to
use a crutch like that? Or is a descrambler really a crutch? Might it merely help you to unclutter all the knowledge of universe you already possess so that you can get right to these words that you already knew so well?
The tree and the thud
And, like the tree no one ever saw or heard falling in the wilderness, does it matter if no one hears it? Would Aristotle or Immanuel Kant insist that you come clean and tell your opponent you’re using a descrambler before starting the match? And if BOTH of you use that aid, does that negate the ethical quandary and create an even and virtuous playing field? Or is it that you are both now cheating?
But if you’re both cheating, why play the game at all?
The game of life
The backers of WWF would say that playing this game allows each of us to come face to face with deep and important ethical principles which can only help us out in the rest of the game of life.
This all, of course, presumes that people are actually playing WWF and not just logging on to use the chat box, which is one great way of getting around paying for a text package on your cell phone, especially since you can access WWF on that very phone and text until your heart’s content — or until you run out of words — for free.
A serious side
Proving once again, however, that there is an upside to everyone wasting time on the Web, consider the following story posted just today by CBS News:
“Beth Legler, of Blue Springs, Missouri, began playing Words with Friends more than two years ago on her cell phone, reports KCTV CBS 5 in Kansas City. That’s when she met an Australian couple named Georgie and Simon Fletcher of Queensland, Australia.
“One day during a game, Georgie told Beth that Simon was feeling under the weather, so Beth asked her to describe his symptoms, since Beth’s own husband, Larry, was a doctor.
“When hearing that Simon was experiencing fatigue so severe that he couldn’t walk to his mailbox and burning in the back of his throat, reports MSNBC, Dr. Legler had some words of advice for his wife’s online friends: get to a doctor immediately.
“Legler thought Simon was experiencing angina, a condition that occurs when your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. That causes pressure or squeezing in the chest, but could cause pain elsewhere in the body like in the shoulders, arms, neck, or back. What usually causes angina? Heart disease.
“Simon was reluctant but went to the doctor, and as it turns out, Dr. Legler was right: Simon had a 99 percent blockage in his artery and was on death’s door.
“Simon had two stents implanted through emergency surgery, and has recovered. ‘I owe Larry everything,’ Simon told KCTV. “I’m really lucky to be here.”
“Said Beth, ‘It’s been a wonderful experience to have had made some great friends and know that Simon is well because of a word game.’”
Wow. I’m speechless. Or is that aphonic?
I say I don’t want or need love in my life. Truth is, I lie to myself because I’m afraid to end up alone. – Anonymous.
There isn’t a time of day I don’t think about killing myself … I try to be the fun-loving, lighthearted nice guy. But who is it I’m trying to deceive? – Anonymous.
Question: What might happen if we were to use the worldwide public stage of the Web, in all its openness, to expose our deepest, innermost secrets? Would anyone actually do that?
Answer: Yes Many Web users are venting their personal longings, embarrassing moments, quirkiness, complaints, fears, and angst on sites designed especially to reveal secrets. The two comments that begin this blog post are two of those actual secrets posted within the past two weeks on sites set up for this purpose.
Anonymity is key
The caveat is that they are revealed under the promise of anonymity.
It is ironic that the world’s most public forum which can and often does embarrass people by making private facts public, is also the same forum that people are relying on to keep their identity secret.
Among the web sites that are available for bean-spilling is PostSecret, which seems to have started the trend, or which as least is one of the most popular of the public secret sites. How popular? As of today, more than 1,066,000 Facebook users alone have “liked” this site.
It’s mission, simply put: “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.”
The site administrators do the rest and post the cards.
An artistic element
Alongside the compelling lure of looking in on other people’s secret lives, the various secret-posting sites also offer the artistic element of seeing how well the secrets match the selected visual elements of the e-cards posted on the site. So these are not just secrets, but expressions of art, as well.
Among the secrets posted on this site’s e-cards are the following:
• I slept with someone so they wouldn’t commit suicide.
• I don’t know how to tell you this, but I can’t become a military wife for fear that you will die.
• I loved giving birth, but I hate being a mother.
• Every time I get into a taxi, I check to see if the driver is the man who killed you … I want to ask him how he didn’t see us.
And the secrets go on and on.
Recently, the concept of posting secrets has moved to Facebook, a site where all wall posts come with names and photos of persons posting them, right? Only partially so when it comes to special “postsecret” Facebook group pages. Like any FB page, you have to ask to become a friend and the person running that page can either accept or reject your request. In the case of a “postsecret” page, the site administrator serves as that gatekeeper.
Postsecret sites on Facebook are catching on at a number of institutions, including college campuses. Earlier this month, for example, some students at California’s Azusa Pacific University set up PostSecret Apu. Within the first two weeks, the site had accepted more than 1,750 friend requests. Some 200 secrets have been sent in already.
The administrator of the site is kept anonymous, along with those who choose to create “postcards” and send them in for posting. However, the identity of those individuals commenting on the secrets, is revealed just like on regular Facebook pages.
College students adapt it
Here is how PostSecret Apu describes itself and its mission:
“This is a student project and in no way reflects the direct values or opinions of any faculty or staff of Azusa Pacific University.
“A place to share. A place to be. A place to express the things holding you back. A place to seek help. A place to help get you to a place of freedom.
“You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to Azusa Pacific University’s PostSecret. Secrets can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. This is meant to be an outlet you might not otherwise have.”
Since Azusa Pacific University is a faith-based liberal arts university, the new site is probably more controversial than it would be on a state university campus. There have been some concerns about the kinds of expressions that might come forth and the possible impact these might have on the university and its efforts at creating a community spirit of believers.
Nevertheless, the site administrator has stated that the only caution the school has issued is to not use the APU logo or to state that this is a university-sanctioned site, which it is not. The administrator also advises users not to name any APU employees in their posted secrets.
Wide range of secrets
The secrets posted on this Postsecret Apu page, cover a wide range of personal aspirations, regrets, complaints, and revelations. Some are lighthearted and thankful like the following:
• Not a day goes by that I don’t miss calling you my best friend.
• On most days I’m too lazy to brush my teeth.
• Come friends. It’s not too late to seek a newer world.
But there are many darker secrets, too, like the two at the top of this blog post and the following:
• People assume I dress modestly just because I’m a Christian. The truth is, I’m ashamed of my body.
• I know I’m as worthy of love as anyone else. But after so many years of telling myself otherwise, I don’t know if I’ll ever really believe it.
• I lost 35 pounds in an effort to be healthy and desired. I’ve never felt worse about myself in my entire life. Life was easier when I was fat and guys left me alone. Since then I have been sexually assaulted … Being thin is not worth this hell.
• On most days I feel … so alone.
The poignancy of these secrets is enhanced by the creative visual imagery that serve as the background for these e-cards. The fact there are so many such secrets posted in such a short window of time is an indication of the private world of pain and longing that many college students carry beneath their smiling faces. Happily, others attest to the positive adjustments other students are making in the world as they grow into their early 20s.
Troubled find support
But several of the secrets are dark ones, and the darkest are those that bespeak thoughts of suicide and of those grappling with their own gender identification.
On the up side, most of these expressions garner many comments of support and offers from others to listen and to be friends with those students feeling lost in their pain and confusion.
One of the 16 people who responded to one secret confessing suicidal thoughts said this: I am so sorry you are hurting right now. I’m so sorry that you feel you have to wear a mask when you are in so much pain. Please know that you are not alone in this place, that you are not the only one who has felt this way.
The site administrator has also posted contact information for a local suicide prevention center.
Indelible memories of those innocent years of grade school, awkward years of junior high, the posturing years of high school, and the challenging years of college are found between the covers of your old yearbooks.
You remember: those are the tomes filling that 60-pound box you’ve been hauling around all your life, transferring unopened from one attic the next, defying you to actually set them out on the curb on trash day.
One of the annual rituals of school days was the yearbook signing when you passed the books around to sign and be signed, getting back the most intimate comments from people you didn’t even know you knew, and getting rather bland sentiments from friends you thought were intimates.
Later, as a parent, you were eager to see the book that set you back $25 or more, only to find your Valicia had forgotten to have her class mug shot taken and was seen only once in the book in the blurry background of a pep rally shot.
And, of course, you hoped if young Terrence were voted something like “Most Likely to Succeed,” that he wouldn’t wind up disappointing American society and becoming a Charles Manson later in life.
So school yearbooks can be anxiety-provoking, but they can also be a lot of fun. Sadly, however, yearbooks are also among the victims of shrinking school and family economies. The good news is that help has arrived from the digital era of communications, which we are calling the Virtual Unknown.
At the university where I teach, Indiana’s Ball State, the award-winning Orient yearbook has been gone for several years now. At my former university, California’s Azusa Pacific, the Student Government Association would like it dropped and for student money to go elsewhere. Only a president nostalgic for a past era, is keeping it alive.
For awhile, many schools tried shifting from the expensive hard-cover books to video yearbooks. Some still are using that and publishing books digitally on CDs or DVDs, choosing to forego printed yearbooks altogether. The thought is that videos, sights, and sounds are better — and save more trees — than printed books.
But a lot of schools are taking digital to another level and letting students customize their own books.
Print on demand
Some of these schools, like the Chahta-Ima Elementary School in suburban New Orleans, are going to a new kind of print-on-demand yearbook to save costs. Companies like TreeRing Corp. , based in
Redwood City, California, use Internet-based technology that saves schools money by letting them print only as many copies as needed while letting a wider group of students, faculty and parents collaborate in the process.
Other companies offering these print-on-demand services include ones like Lulu, Ziblio, and Lifetouch.
Casey Gleason, principal of Chahta-Ima told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We wanted the school to be able to have a yearbook for its historical significance,” said Gleason, whose school has served several generations in Lacombe, La. “We wanted to do it at a reasonable cost, but not sacrifice instructional funds for the school.”
TreeRing is a start-up company featuring a publishing model that is catching on in the book industry of printing only the number of books needed by a customer.
It’s too early tell if this model will challenge the traditional school yearbook market, in which publishing companies like Taylor and Jostens dominate. But with more schools abandoning traditional yearbooks, it could.
The publishing of the yearbooks is done entirely online, with students, faculty, and parents able to contribute elements to the book. The class mug-shot pages and student organization pages remain pretty standard, but much of the rest of the book uses the “crowdsourcing” technique of having individuals upload pictures of themselves involved in school or family activities to other pages, for which templates are provided. They can even pop in pictures of news or cultural events during the year that were meaningful for them.
The result is a kind of personalized yearbook that insures your kid doesn’t have to lay out money to buy a book in which he/she is only pictured once or twice. So each book may be somewhat different from the next, but you pay for only your personalized book; not someone else’s. Another plus is that TreeRing pledges to plant one tree for every yearbook printed.
Very Californian and very cool.
No unsold books
It’s also cool for the schools and their budgets, because instead of being stuck with a couple thousand dollars of unsold books at the end of the year, there are no unsold books because a book doesn’t get printed by TreeRing until they receive payment from the student or family. The books are actually printed by an Indiana company contracted by TreeRing. Most of them are done in soft cover and costs can vary from roughly $10 to $15 each, which is cheaper than most traditional hard-cover yearbooks.
With these new publishing options available, yearbooks will hopefully be around for many years to come.
A silent prayer
But you still hope that “most likely to succeed” will refer to your young Terrence doing well in an endeavor that is considered legal and, who knows, maybe even ethical.
In our spotlight-crazy age, it’s hard to imagine an individual relatively unknown to that spotlight engaging an audience as much as a celebrity. But that’s what happened Friday night on the Indiana campus of Ball State University.
The relative unknown was Biz Stone, not exactly a household name but who nonetheless is co-founder and creative director of a Web 2.0 enterprise with a name you may have heard of: Twitter.
The celebrity was David Letterman.
An intimate chat
Ball State’s most famous alum and the boyish-looking Stone were on campus to have an intimate conversation (with some 3,500 students, faculty, and staff listening in) about the impact that the three-year-old Twitter and the rest of the social media are having on all of us. The event was part of the Late Night entertainer-funded program called the David Letterman Distinguished Professional Lecture and Workshop Series.
“We had a vision of a flock of birds grouped around a bird in flight,” Stone, 36, said of his start-up venture Twitter. If you’ve wondered why the Twitter logo is a bird, that’s the reason. It’s an image that mirrors the human essence of that interactive service.
Boredom pays off
“I was working on a different startup at Google,” Stone explained. “I was getting a little bored and we took two weeks off to work on something else.”
That was in 2006, and that something-else evolved into Twitter and grew out of Stone’s focus interest in combining texting into an interactive Web service. Stone, together with friends Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams, worked on the prototype for nine months and realized they were having a lot of fun doing it, so they must be on the right track.
Today Twitter has some 160 million users around the world, and its owners turned down a purchase offer of $500 million for it last year. Stone himself was named one of Vanity Fair’s 10 most influential people and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential.
A site about nothing?
Not bad for the co-founder of a service that many discount as meaningless and who are confounded about its popularity. Even Stone acknowledges that.
“Twitter has been called the Seinfeld of the Internet,” Stone said, referring to the immensely popular TV series of the 90s with little plot structure but great characterizations. “It’s about nothing. Right on!”
About nothing? Really? If so, then how do you explain Stone’s assertion about how helpful it has been to people around the world?
Not about technology
“Twitter is not about a triumph of technology,” Stone said. “It’s a triumph of humanity.” He told Letterman, “In Silicon Valley there is this thinking that technology is a solution to all our problems. But it’s not. It really has to do with what people are going to do with technology.”
Stone added meat to that appetizer by noting that, “People have used Twitter in ways we never anticipated.” For example:
• In the earthquake that rocked Haiti, the only communication many people had with victims in that country, and vice versa, was through Twitter. It helped greatly in getting news in and out of the island nation about who was alive, who was missing, who was dead, and what was needed.
• People from around the world were tweeting messages like, “Keep hope alive,” to the victims in the devastated areas.
• The same has been true with the more recent flooding of Pakistan.
• Last fall, when the world was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Germans established a “Twitter Wall” where people from around the world could post tweets about other walls of oppression that still need to fall. Many Chinese were the first to post such Tweets, before the Chinese government blocked access by their people to that site.
• Some of the 2008 presidential debates incorporated real-time tweets from the public in a crawl along the bottom of the screen, showing what America was thinking about the give-and-take of the candidates.
When Twitter is used to aid disaster victims, it may be showing its most valuable feature, Stone believes.
“We get in touch with our empathy … and think of ourselves as global citizens who care about others,” he said.
Nevertheless, the amount of time people spend on Twitter on a day-to-day basis causes many critics to wonder if all the short blurbs about who is doing what when, is really necessary or just a waste of time.
In his on-stage conversation with Stone, Letterman admitted he does not tweet, nor is he sure he understands why he should.
“I would be tweeting but I feel I don’t have anything to say,” Letterman said. “Moreover, why should I care that Justin Bieber is at the 7-Eleven right now?”
Find your own interest
Stone replied that people don’t need to tweet to get value out of Twitter. He suggested using it to get the information that is relevant to you. If you’re interested in baseball or, more specifically, the Red Sox, dig out those tweets to see what people have to say about your team.
“Twitter is not a social network,” Stone said. “It’s an information network.”
Stone also surprised the audience by noting that 90 percent of all tweets are accessible by the public and that all tweets are archived by the Library of Congress. Other stats he revealed are that 78 percent of all Twitter usage is through Twitter.com, while the other 22 percent come through mobile phone usage. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered why Twitter messages are kept to 140 characters, it is to keep it within the 160-character maximum length of cell phone text messages, allowing for the adding of a username.
Although Letterman couldn’t resist being Dave – he once noted he was wearing socks he had borrowed from the husband of BSU President Jo Ann Gora and took them off on-stage at the end of the program – he did turn serious in displaying his interest over Twitter.
Damage to language?
One of his more serious questions to Stone was asking whether such heavy usage of Twitter would affect people’s use of the English language and subtract for their ability to write well.
Stone responded, “When you’re given less to work with, you often have to be more creative.” He noted that Twitter forces users to come to the point and be concise in their writing. He also noted that many people provide links in their tweets to longer-form messages.
No boredom here
As interesting as the on-stage conversation was, however, it was just as fascinating to watch how the audience of young people responded. It is rare that a speaker event on campus doesn’t result in scattered groups of students talking among themselves and seeing several of them get bored and leave before the end.
But few did that on Friday night, and the silence during the program and standing ovation welcoming Stone and Letterman to the stage showed the degree of interest college students have in the social media phenomenon.
As a writer, I often find it easier to communicate via the written word than orally, so I tend to write long. I want to be sure my meaning comes through as I plan it. That works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when I give thought to an e-mail and produce one that runs a few paragraphs, then get back a quick one-liner in response, I wonder, What’s up with that? Isn’t this guy treating my thoughts seriously? Is he angry with me for some reason? Or am I just being paranoid?
Apparently others are in the same boat, too. A few months ago I posted an entry that drew some discussion about the shortcomings of e-mails, text messages, and Facebook messages in conveying true meanings of the senders. I cautioned against trying to resolve disputes via e-mails, for example, because of this very problem.
So I wasn’t too surprised this week when I picked up a copy of the Ball State Daily News and found an interesting, albeit disturbing article from Kelly Dickey, about how serious electronic messaging can be.
Lost in translation
Entitled, “Conversations being lost in translation,” the article quoted students and counselors about the damaging effect these kinds of messages can have on individuals.
For example, one victims advocate noted: “From what I’ve seen and experienced, technology can be a wonderful resource to connect but, on the flip side, it can be a communication gap. If you’re texting back and forth via e-mail and Facebook, (the other person) may not know how to take what you’re saying.”
A loss of humanity
Therein lies the rub. The victims advocate, Michele Cole, said a decrease in human connection takes place when two people communicate through technology, and it can definitely have negative effects on relationships. One reason is the oft-stated fact that most electronic communication is devoid of that all-important nonverbal communication.
Cole continued that, in the Ball State University Counseling Center, “We strive for better communication with partners and conduct programming on healthy relationships. We focus on interaction. The nonverbals are such a large component of our everyday communication that, if you’re trying to just text back, and forth there’s that communication gap.
You don’t have to have counseling credentials to recognize the problem. Sophomore speech pathology major Laura Albers sees it, too.
“There’s a disconnect, and it’s just going to get worse,” Albers said. “You can be in a room with your friends, and there’s no point being there because they just text other people.”
Another student, Freshman Jordan Oppelt said she’s bothered by this, too.
“When that happens I just think, ‘What? You don’t want to hang out with me? I’m not good enough?” she said.
Another vexing issue concerning the flood of Facebook and Twitter communications is the public exposure or private matters involving the sender or other individuals. This comes under the heading of, “When does interpersonal communication become mass communication? When it goes on Facebook or Twitter.”
The domino effect of Facebook message distribution thrusts a knife into the heart of one-on-one messaging. There is an illusion that you are only communicating to a few close friends about yourself or someone else, but the audience is often much larger than you anticipate.
Even a simple act by one person of expressing her love for a guy she’s dating, can be very embarrassing for the guy if she hasn’t asked him first if it’s okay that she posts that message on Facebook. Suppose he doesn’t feel the same way but just hasn’t told her yet? Or suppose she hasn’t even told him yet, but thought it would be less stressful on her to pop it onto his Facebook page rather than telling him face to face?
Before Facebook, this act would be like hiring a pilot and his plane to trail a huge banner across the sky over the neighborhood where the guy lives.
Michele Cole of Ball State notes a lot of people assume a false sense of security when they send messages via text on or on Facebook.
“It goes back to, ‘I would text it but wouldn’t say it to your face.’ You get that false sense of courage.”
I’ve been teaching at the university level for many years, and it has been interesting to watch the evolution of students’ feelings regarding their privacy. As late as a year or two ago, many of my students didn’t seem to care if they were abandoning their privacy by posting private facts about themselves or others on the social media.
But lately I’ve been seeing the opposite: more and more students are thinking less and less about rushing onto Facebook with a revealing personal message unless they convince themselves they know who is receiving that message.
And that, by the way, is harder and harder for any of us to control in this age of the virtual unknown.
I wonder how the late great singer Jim Croce would have titled his “Operator” song today about a love-starved guy trying to reach out and touch someone. Keying in a URL on the Web doesn’t capture the same angst as confiding in an unknown telephone operator, does it?
In last week’s post I made mention of a stat I found somewhat hard to believe: that one out of eight couples who were married over the last year first met online.
And that doubt comes from a guy who met his own wife online just over a decade ago when this idea was seen as crazy by most friends of Anne and me.
In truth, the percentage of marrieds who met online may be higher and the time frame wider.
The London Daily Mirror reported in its online site on Aug. 14, 2008, “Single men and women are more likely to find true love on the internet than at work or at a party – especially if they are over 45. A poll of 10,000 married couples in 2006-2007 found 19 percent met online compared with 17 percent who got together at work and 17 percent who paired up through pals.”
And that was four years ago. With the rush to the social media increasing geometrically, those numbers are likely up from that today.
But there’s more: Of those surveyed, those between 45-54 were even more likely to meet online. In fact, the survey showed 31 percent of these couples met online. And it doesn’t stop there as many seniors are turning to the Web to find a new lease on love as the above picture of Glen and Dorothy shows.
In grad school I was taught to always check the source of surveys, and it’s not surprising that this one apparently came from Internet dating giant eHarmony, although that fact is somewhat fuzzy in the Mirror story which quotes a eHarmony exec who made the following analogy:
“Wanting to get married and not going online will soon be seen as equivalent to trying to find an address by driving around randomly rather than using a map.”
A different kind of map
Given that most guys prefer getting lost to using maps, it is ironic that surveys show men go fishing online even more than women do.
In any event, here are some stats (with obligatory author observation in italics) regarding online dating and marriages that ensue from them, and they come from a nicely-sourced site called Dating Sites Reviews.com :
• There are about 1,400 online dating sites in North America. I think there were maybe five when I was surfing for love.
• Married couples who met online had an average courtship period of 18.5 months. Married couples who met offline had average courtships lasting 42 months. Not ones to procrastinate, Anne and I were at the altar six months after our pixels met. We take pride in the fact our marriage has outlasted the dating site in which our worlds collided.
• The Better Business Bureau in the U.S. said in 2009 they received 2,660 complaints about dating services. That number is up from 824 in 2004. But so are the numbers of online daters. Complaints? How about the Knoxville woman who sent me a key to her condo before she even met me. Then, when she offered me a guest bedroom after an eight-hour drive, she slept on the floor outside my door (which I locked) daring me to leave unexpectedly. I just stepped over her as she snored.
Making money with love
• The online dating industry is now worth $4 billion worldwide.
• This year, 17 percent of couples who married met on a dating site. That is more than one in eight, and the source is Match.com.
• One in five singles have dated someone they met on a dating site. And one in two have regretted at least one of those dates. In my case, it was the Knoxville lass.
• For singles who use dating sites, 33 percent form a relationship, 33 percent do not, and 33 percent give up on dating online. All of which adds up to 100 percent smiles or headaches, or both.
• The mobile phone dating market was worth $330 million in 2007, $550 million in 208, and is predicted to double by 2013 to $1.3 billion annually.
Sex, love, and the Web
• Adult dating sites are cited by some for causing the $1.2 billion sex industry to drop $74 million in revenue in 2009 alone. Does this mean we’re taking sex out of the fantasy realm and inserting it into reality?
* 30 percent of women who met men online had sex on their first date, with 77 percent not requiring a condom to be used. I rest my case.
• Singles who are more likely to use dating sites are ones who are more sociable and have high self-esteem. They also put more value in romantic relationships. So much for the idea that only pet-shop Adrians (Remember Rocky?) are regulars on dating sites.
• With free dating sites, it is estimated that at least 10 percent of new accounts created each day are from scammers.
About that last stat, I can warn you with a special degree of certainty to beware of Russian women named Tanya who post pictures looking like Julia Roberts and who say their dream is to come to America and find a man who looks just like you.
Shall we save the topic of Internet dating scams for another session? I think so.
If Narcissus had tweaked one of Socrates’ famous teachings just a tad, he could have come up with a pretty good one-liner carrying a double meaning. It would, of course, be simply:
The more time I spend on Facebook, the more I wonder about narcissism. There seems to be a lot of talking and not all that much listening, and so much of the talk centers on what the poster
is up to or what great thought she/he just had. My own posts are usually no different. I recently concluded a cross-country road trip from California to Ohio and felt duty-bound to publicly journal it on FB all the way.
Self-love to the max
Narcissism is defined variously as “self-love,” or “an exceptional interest in and admiration of yourself.” One definition notes that it is “self-love that shuts out everyone else.”
Giving myself and a lot of other FB posters the benefit of a doubt, I don’t think we’re there, at least not yet, because there is a lot of interacting with others that takes place on the site. There are a lot of congratulatory messages, notes of concern and support, a lot of happy birthdays and happy anniversaries. I’ve even got at least one FB friend who uses her posts to extol the virtues of God. And it’s only natural that we post what we know best, and that is often news about ourselves.
But there are times when you see nothing but photo slide shows of individuals that look like they were taken at a Glamour Shots studio over at the mall and, when you compare them with the snapshots taken from every unflattering angle possible, you wonder if you are looking at the borderline between narcissists and everyday people.
Or could it be some of us just remember what Mom advised: “Always look your best!” I mean, have you never asked for a second or third click for your driver’s license or school I.D.? And how may people are ever even going to see that mug shot?
This subject of self-love and the social media has not escaped the attention of psychologists, and I came across an interesting study the other day that looks at it. The researchers are Laura Buffardi, a grad student in psychology, and W. Keith Campbell, professor of psychology, both at the University of Georgia. Their work appears in the October issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (http://psp.sagepub.com)
Buffardi says narcissism is not just drawing attention to oneself or wanting to be liked. Clearly a lot of us fall into those parameters. Instead, she and Campbell say it is more severe than that and is characterized by an inability to form healthy, longterm relationships.
In the way it’s used
Buffardi noted, “Not everyone who uses Facebook is a narcissist. We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in self-promoting way that can be identified by others.”
So the two researchers gave questionnaires to 130 FB users, analyzed the content of the pages and had untrained strangers view the pages and rate their impression of the owner’s level of narcissism.
The team discovered, after analyzing the results, that the correlates of narcissism are the number of FB friends and wallposts that individual have on their pfile pages. Buffardi feels this is similar to how narcissists behave the in the real world, accumulating many relationships, most of which are very shallow.
And to my question about the kind of pictures FB users post of themselves, the researchers offer this: “Narcissists are also more likely to choose glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photos, while others are more likely to use snapshots.”
Hmmm … better re-evaluate my own profile picture, shot one evening in the Austrian Alps. Too much?
Impressions of impressions
Back to the Buffardi/Campbell study where they write, “Untrained observers were able to detect the narcissists also. Observers used three characteristics (quantity of social interaction, attractiveness of the individual, and the degree of self-promotion in the main photo) to form an impression of the individual’s personality.”
The study seems to find what we would think to be true: Some FB users use the site in narcissistic ways, while others just use it to stay in touch with friends and keep them informed about their lives.
Says Campbell, “Nearly all of our students use Facebook, and it seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions. It just turns out that narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships: for self-promotoion with an emphasis on quantity over quality.”
Couldn’t it be that some people are just more extroverted than others and choose to have larger circles of friends? Just because you fall into that category doesn’t make you a follower of Narcissus.
So all this is interesting to speculate about but, of course, if we start focusing too much on ourselves and how we look to others on Facebook, aren’t we in a de facto way becoming narcissistic?
There is a scene from the romantic comedy classic, You’ve Got Mail, when Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is trying to soothe hurt feelings with Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and finds himself with writer’s block. At this point, he does what seems rational and starts quoting lines from The Godfather about the schism between business and personal relationships.
“It’s not personal, it’s business,” he writes.
On the receiving end, Kathleen screws up her nose wondering what the heck Joe is talking about and how he means it. Things between them get more complicated from there.
The lack of nonverbal assets is a well known problem with e-mailing and texting. The words are there, they convey their dictionary (denotative) meanings, but that’s pretty much all.
And it’s not enough. Not by the longest shot.
It’s especially not enough when we use e-mails as a default means of winning arguments or defending ourselves through reasoning when everyone involved is upset because of emotional hurt.
That’s where the need for nonverbals comes in, loud and clear.
A soft voice. A kind look. A reassuring touch.
Words aren’t enough
With e-mails and texting, you get only words when feelings and eye contact are needed.
Nonverbal communication is generally understood as the process of sending and receiving wordless messages. Smiley faces and other “emoticons” aside, you cannot do that either in e-mails or in texting.
The language of nonverbal communication can be body language, spatial distance, clothing, hairstyles, symbols, music, and art. Within speech itself, there are also nonverbal elements such as voice intonation, rhythm, pitch, and stress. Even within written text there are a couple nonverbal elements, but one is handwriting style which – of course – you can’t have with e-mails unless you scan in a handwritten letter. The other is the emoticon which is better than nothing, but well … does that really do the job?
We’ve all been involved in those oops-moments when we have spoken before thinking, causing blunt-force trauma to our relationship with the target of our misstatement. And most of us have tried to soothe the hurt feelings by way of an e-mail or text message. Maybe we’ve even tried to explain or justify our statement in what we thought was a rationally written message.
And, finally, most of us have seen how ineffective that venue is for healing injured feelings.
One reason is that when we compose a written message — as I am doing now — we are engaging in exclusive, one-way communication. We may think we are talking with another person, but essentially we are having a converation with ourselves. Why? Because we’re the only one listening (reading) as we write. The other individual has no chance to hear us as we compose our message, nor to interrupt us and offer a course correction.
Not so interactive
So this vaunted form of “interactive” communication — this great online venue of chatting — is only interactive after we hit the send button. And by then, again as most of us know, it can be too late. Have you ever wanted to reach out and grab a message back that you just sent on its merry way? If so, you’re only one of tens of millions who have experienced that moment.
The moral? If the relationship you have just dented is that important to you, get up, go over to that person’s office or home, and tell them face-to-face you are sorry things got screwed up.
A couple years ago, an honor student at a conservative private college in Kentucky decided to do what a growing number of students are doing these days: use his Facebook account to come out of the closet and tell others he is gay.
For his openness, he was expelled from this college which had a policy of not accepting gay students.
At another university, a sophomore posted pictures of himself getting plastered at a weekend party. That would have been okay had it not been for the fact he was under the legal drinking age in Ohio and the school did not allow students to hold leadership positions on campus if they were drinking illegally.
He never became editor.
These are just two of many examples of young people who have chosen to live their lives out loud. Throwing caution to the wind, the typical 20-something who has grown up in the age of chatrooms and interactive media has embraced social media sites like Facebook to disclose just about everything they think is either shocking, amusing, or titillating about himself or herself.
And this phenomenon starts early, as the tragic cases of teen suicide over the practice of “sexting” have shown the past couple of years.
I began discovering this lack of concern about privacy a few years ago and have been asking my own college students about it ever since. Originally I asked it in the context of a class I teach on communication ethics. We deal with a section on individual privacy vs. government surveillance, which is a topic that I find somewhat scary because I’ve always wondered how widespread the misuse of government surveillance might be on Americans.
Too many blank stares
Citing some examples of such abuse, I ask my students if they aren’t a bit concerned, too. In return, I usually get silence and some blank stares. So I’m thinking that these are the same students who are willingly giving up their own privacy by self-disclosing about themselves to virtual strangers online, so why should they feel concerned about someone else invading their privacy? And apparently that is true. They aren’t.
So then I ask them if they aren’t concerned about disclosing too much information about themselves in Facebook. Again, a lot of blank stares and silence. I infer from this reaction that either they haven’t ever thought about this as a problem, or they think I’m out of a prehistoric generation that keeps too many secrets about themselves.
A third possibility is that they trust the privacy filters on Facebook as much as they seem to trust faceless government officials who controls the means to surveillance.
Who’s to blame
When I tell them about what happened to the Kentucky student or the kid at the Ohio university, they seem shocked. They usually get on the case of the administrations at these two schools, debating their policies they think got the students into trouble. I remind them, however, it was the students, who knew these policies, who got themselves into trouble by living their lives out loud.
Because of these encounters with my own students, I was surprised to see a story in the New York Times recently that revealed the results of a survey done by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley showing this thinking may be shifting among young people.
The study, funded by the Pew Internet Project, found that over half of these young adults surveyed are now more worried about their own privacy they were in 2005. That figures is about equal of the number of people their parents’ age or older who are concerned about their privacy.
Just as surprising is people in their 20s are taking more control over their “digital reputations” than are their older counterparts. They delete threatening posts and are starting to limit information about themselves. This finding could, however, be the result of younger people knowing how to engage those digital filters more than older adults who spend less time with the social media.
Possibly because many Facebook users are finding the built-in filters aren’t foolproof, many young people are all of a sudden worried about those party pix or those tell-all announcements of their sexual orientation.
Young people are also hearing, from older people like me, about how college administrators and employers are tracking Facebook and MySpace to find out more information about individuals applying for leadership posts in college or jobs beyond graduation. So that’s starting to give them pause.
Learning to distrust filters
The Times article, written by Laura M. Holson, talks about Sam Jackson, a junior at Yale who began a blog when he was 15 and who has already interned at Google. Jackson said he had learned not to trust any social network to keep his information private.
“If I go back and look, there are things four years ago I would not say today,” he told the Times. “I am much more self-censoring. I’ll try to be honest and forthright, but I am conscious now who I am talking to.”
Says Holson, “He has learned to live out loud mostly by trial and error and has come up with his own theory: concentric layers of sharing. His Facebook account, which he has had since 2005, is strictly personal. “
“I don’t want people to know what my movie rentals are,” Jackson said. “If I am sharing something, I want to know what’s being shared with others.”
So there you are, sitting alone in the late-night hours of your home where the silence may be deafening if you’re living alone or your spouse has long since gone to bed.
It’s been awhile since you’ve heard from anyone via e-mail or phone call, and the thought occurs to you: Does anyone still know I exist?
- Turn on the radio, the thing that’s been collecting dust ever since the computer came to live with you, and call in to a late-night talk show. At least that guy/woman may listen to you, and you can have at least the appearance of interacting with another human being.
- Log on to your computer and head to Facebook (everyone has at least a few friends active, even though most of the chatter is people talking about themselves), or head to a chatroom. Maybe even give the new and daring Chatroulette a try. Randomness dictates you will find chat partners there.
- You can go wake up your spouse, if you have one, or your kid, if you have one, and demand they engage you in conversation over hot chocolate. Good luck with that.
As an absolute last resort, you can call the person who absolutely has to talk with you, and that would be your mother. When a woman gives birth to a new kid, there’s a contract that comes attached like a toe tag to the baby: You must love this person at all times, and listen when it calls you out of loneliness at 3 a.m.
And that shows … what?
But what does it prove that your mom loves you? Is that a big surprise?
So most of us choose Option No. 2 these days because of its ease and because there is a ready supply of people out there like us doing the same thing, even at 3 a.m. All time zones are not created equal, especially when you toss in the hundreds of millions who live beyond American borders. And, you fantasize, there’s always that lonely girl or guy over in Uzbekistan who may be Webbing tonight.
The question is this: How many of us are taking that practice and moving it into daytime hours and prime-time evening hours as well?
How many of us are opting out of interacting with real flesh-and-blood people – who can sometimes be prickly and tough to interact with – and choosing instead to take ourselves into the world of the virtual unknown?
An isolating experience?
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Internet is, in fact, causing such isolation and withdrawal. There are also some studies that have suggested this, but then they have been contradicted by other studies.
Isn’t research great?
For example, a CNN.com health report from a decade ago noted, “A growing body of research suggests that excessive Internet use carries some of the same risks as gambling: It can lead to social isolation, depression and failure at work or school.”
The article, by Barbara Jamison of WebMD, continues, “Some people – particularly those who were isolated to begin with – have forged healthy friendships by meeting kindred souls online. But using the Internet too much can hurt face-to-face relationships. And psychologists say an increasing number of people are using the Internet so obsessively that they are ruining their marriages and careers.”
A kind of addiction
The data comes from a 1999 survey of 1,700 Internet users which was presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association. Six percent of those surveyed met the criteria for addiction, Jamison said. “They felt a building tension before the act, a rush of relief afterwards, and distorting of mood and bingeing.”
The heavy use of the Web has even spawned a cottage industry within psychology: the Internet addiction specialist, a therapist who often prescribes antidepressant medication and putting your computer out on the curb for the trash haulers to pick up.
More recently, however, a 2009 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported somewhat the opposite of the 1999 survey, although it included mobile phone use as well as Internet use. The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication.
“People who use modern information and communication technologies have larger and more diverse social networks, according to new national survey findings,” the Pew press release states. “These new findings challenge fears that use of new technologies has contributed to a long-term increase in social isolation in the United States.”
Among this study’s findings:
- On average, the size of people’s discussion networks is 12 percent larger among mobile phone users, 9 percent larger for those who share photos online, and 9 percent bigger for those who use instant messaging.
- The diversity of people’s core networks – their closest and most significant confidants – tends to be 25 percent larger for mobile phone users, 15 percent larger for basic Internet users, and even larger for frequent Internet users, those who use instant messaging, and those who share digital photos online.
- Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported and social isolation has hardly changed since 1985. Only 6 percent of the adult population has no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be “especially significant” in their life.
Two different studies, a decade apart, reporting two different sets of results. Don’t be surprised if the study done in 2019 reverses the data from the 2009 survey.
Ultimately, each of us has to decide for ourselves how much to immerse ourselves in virtual relationships on the Web as opposed to real ones in-person. Communication being what it is, we have fewer chances to detect all-important nonverbal cues from chatrooms and cell phones than from sitting down and chatting with a friend face to face.
It’s called interpersonal communication, and it can’t be done on Facebook.