A university colleague once suggested that my wife Anne and I might find therapeutic help by starting a 12-step recovery group called Pets Anonymous. That was the time when we had just added a fourth foster dog to our breed brood, along with a cat and another stray dog who took to camping out in our garage. Ray thought maybe we were falling into a pet addiction profile?
Over the past 10 years, we have been a way station for Golden Retrievers, Labs, Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, a Chow, several Greyhounds (very underrated by many as pets), and one strange low-body beagle mongrel we called “Mr. Stubblefield” who loved me, hated everyone else, and often got inexplicably mad at his right rear foot. He was the garage dog who couldn’t decide whether to stay or go.
The Web Connection
The connection between all these animals and the Web 2.0 media is that most of them came our way through online portals. Just about every animal rescue group has taken to the Web to find permanent or foster homes for the available animals. A very brief, partial listing of these sites includes:
There is even a site for those wanting to rescue older dogs (www.srdogs.com) and several for those wanting to rescue horses like www.indianahorserescue.com. Then of course there are the many breed-specific sites like the Greyhound site of www.fastfriends.org.
A rescue database
To show you how these rescue sites work, let’s take a look at one of the largest and most well-known: Petfinder.com, or the last one on the above bulleted list. This outfit, which is really a kind of Grand Central Station for individual adoption agencies, is the virtual home of some 350,000 dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, reptiles, pigs, and other barnyard animals.
Petfinder is a Discovery Communications company, the same outfit that brings us the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Planet Green, etc. Sounds like a neat group to work for if you’re into animals, or exploring/saving the planet. Petfinder says of itself the following:
“Petfinder is an online, searchable database of animals who need homes. It is also a directory of more than 13,000 animal shelters and adoption organizations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Organizations maintain their own home pages and available-pet databases.”
The folks at Petfinder and the myriad of other individual adoption sites know that pet lovers have become accustomed to using the Web to find pets that best match their needs. Online searches allow them to access an individual shelter’s Web page and find out what kind of pets they have, what the rules of adoption are, whether they are no-kill shelters, how they take care of their animals, etc., etc.
Petfinder is made up of animal-care professionals and everyday animal-lovers who volunteer for local and national animal welfare organizations and groups. Together, these people maintain active and accurate homeless pet lists, and Petfinder acts as a central database for most of these organizations. It is very much like a one-stop shopping mall for pets online.
Gotta read this one
I’ll close out with the tale of one rescued tail, this one attached to a fawn-and-white Whippet named Dapper
who was jettisoned to the ASPCA because he was ill and his owner didn’t take the time to find out what exactly was wrong. An employee took interest in the dog, however, had him examined and the problem turned out to be minimal. The result? The loving owner writes:
“As the saying toes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What a gem! Dapper was easily assimilated into my furry family of one Italian Greyhound and three cats – ass rescues. He aced his obedience class and went on to a career as a therapy dog, working with mentally challenged adults and nursing home residents. However, his most important work was with young men and women dying from AIDS-related illnesses. His story of being cast out because of an illness struck home with many. By empathizing with a skinny, old Whippet, they could finally express their own pain and anger.” (http://www.petfinder.com/before-pet-adoption/tale-dapper-dog.html)
What else is there to say other than, “Wow!” Or maybe even (grrrr…) “Bow Wow?”
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.
“The social media is the biggest change in society since the industrial revolution,” proclaims an eye-popping video posted recently on YouTube.
After reading the support for this claim, I am inclined to agree. And, like a lot of you, I’m wondering where these changes will lead us in the future.
We’re talking about media rituals here, or any lifestyle habit we succumb to that is created and/or influenced by the media.
Turn the radio on
For example, radio altered the lives of most Americans when it began offering nightly entertainment and news programming. Families who had previously spent the evenings talking or reading, came to spend them clustered around the big furniture cabinet spewing out the comedy of Fibber McGee and Molly or the daring adventures of The Shadow.
Television did the same thing, as did the Internet, and the social media of Facebook, twitter, flickr, YouTube, Myspace, et al, are doing the same thing now.
Marshalling a thought
The late media guru Marshall McLuhan would be telling us from the Other Side, “I told you so! The medium is the message!”
And that brings me back to this YouTube video produced by a futurist named Erik Qualman who has written a book called “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business.” It’s found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIFYPQjYhv8&feature=related
Qualman is a 38-year-old Michigan native who graduated in business from Michigan State University, where he played basketball, and then got an MBA from the University of Texas. He is now global vice president of Digital Marketing for EF Education, headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland, and is a professor of digital marketing for Hult International Business School.
As a columnist and blogger for Search Engine Watch and ClickZ Magazine, he spends a lot of time doing essentially what I do with this blog, only he gets paid more for it. Amazing what an MBA will do for you.
Fasten your seatbelt
Here are a few boldface observations Mr. Qualman makes about our world and the way social media are changing our lives. Because I can’t help myself, I’ve added a comment to each of his insights. If you’re not sitting down, perhaps now would be a good time to do so.
• Over 50 percent of the world’s population is under 30. For those of us toward the other end of the life cycle, this is depressing news enough.
• 96 percent of Millennials have joined a social network. And, BTW, a lot of their parents and grandparents have done the same thing.
• If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third largest. I’m still searching for a word to express my amazement at this. “Wow!” just doesn’t quite cut it.
• Facebook tops Google for weekly Web traffic in the U.S. This isn’t bad for a media site that had to have Leslie Stahl explain its basic workings to America just two years ago. It’s also not a bad startup venture for a guy named Mark Zuckerberg who is now all of 26.
• Social media have overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the Web. If this is true, then it shows that not all new media rituals are bad for us.
• 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via the social media. Like several of Mr. Qualman’s observations, I don’t know how this one was established or what it’s based on. But I do know one thing: This is how I met my wife 10 years ago.
• Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users; TV 13 years. The Internet took only 4 years, and the iPod did it in 3. We are becoming fast learners, no?
• Facebook added more than 200 million users in less than a year. I wonder if Mr. Zuckerberg has bought him a real bed yet with all the money he’s raking in. Two years ago he told Leslie Stahl he has only a mattress on the floor.
• The U.S. Department of Education revealed in a 2009 study that online students outperformed those receiving face-to-face instruction. OK, now this is a study I would really like to see for myself. I find it just a tad hard to believe, as well as being overgeneralized.
• 1 out of 6 higher education students are enrolled in online courses. This I do believe, and I teach some of them.
• The fastest growing segment of users on Facebook is females age 55 to 65. I learned long ago not to make pronouncements about the lifestyle habits – and motivations behind them — of women. This is pretty startling, though.
• Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears have more Facebook followers than the entire populations of Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Panama, and Norway. Well, these two celebrity icons are easier on the eye than parts of Belfast or the Gaza Strip.
• Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passe’. And this news comes at a time when my public library is just starting a new class for seniors on how to log on to your e-mail accounts.
• What happens in Vegas says on Facebook, twitter, flickr, and YouTube. Vegas aside, I think I wrote a couple posts a few months ago on what the social media are doing to our private lives.
• 100+ hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every 4.5 minutes. And the YouTube monitors take down an equal amount, some of which are movies I was hoping to see before they were deemed to have copyright problems.
• If you were paid $1 for every article posted on Wikipedia, you would earn $1,712.32 per hour. Interesting, but tell me again how the owners of Wiki are making any money at all?
• There are over 200 million blogs. Which, of course, is why no one is reading mine.
• 78 percent of consumers trust peer reviews of products and services; 14 percent trust advertisements. This is another way of saying we have all become advertising execs, without the pay or other perks of the Mad Men.
• Kindle eBooks outsold paper books last Christmas. Again, I would like to see the source of this assertion. Just too hard to believe.
• Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like Mad Men: listening first, selling second. If so, this is a change that is long overdue.
And the final observation is one that any journalist or media executive should turn into a screensaver for his or her laptop. As for trying to divine what the implications are, good luck. It goes like this:
• We no longer search for the news. The news finds us. And we no longer search for products and services. They will find us. And they will find us on the social media.
Thanks to all of you who have dropped me get-well e-mails and posted comments on Facebook and on this blog showing your concern. I am pleased that you’re glad I am still among the living, despite how the computers at Capital One and the credit bureaus have been reporting my demise.
Actually, I feel something like Superman, defying the fate of mere mortals. How did the line go on the old TV series? Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound…
My prognosis is as good as can be expected in my corner of the virtual unknown, as the C-One server has now accepted the fact I am alive. That company has so issued e-mails, finally, to the three credit agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) that rule our lives. The first two of those agencies have acknowledged that by resurrecting my credit files, and I am in hopes the third will do it in time for me to close on a home.
A few of you have actually chimed in with stories similar to mine, wherein computer glitches have erroneously wiped your friends or relatives off the planet, or have confused you with someone else who has the same name but a vastly poorer credit rating, sticking you with his rating.
Misery loves company
Apparently it’s not just me that Capital One is somehow targeting out of spite or, more assuredly, incompetence.
One (hopefully) final snafu did pop up early last week, however, when a very self-satisfied Capital One worker from the Probate Services Department called me to announce that my request had been handled successfully. “That’s great,” I said. “You mean you have notified the credit agencies I’m alive?” I realized I was being unrealistic, however, when she replied, “Oh! Is THAT the problem? I was just calling to tell you that we are sending you new credit cards.”
Do you need credit in the afterlife?
Thousands bite the dust
One writer commented on my post a couple days ago that his brother – and a lot of others like him – had gone through the similar experience of being declared dead prematurely. He wrote, “My brother Barry went through this same scenario, but with his military retirement and the Social Security Administration… Seems that during a ‘computer upgrade’ they ‘killed’ about 85,000 vets! Working through personal contacts, he was able to find what actually happened, but had to do some of the same things you are doing albeit w/o the call center routings. Glad to know you are alive.”
That post came from a friend I haven’t seen in decades, and it made me realize how my premature funeral had reconnected me with long-lost buddies. So I guess I have at least one thing to thank Capital One for.
A soul mate in SFO
I was not surprised to find another situation identical to mine which occurred earlier this year in San Francisco. You can find the full story and a KGO-TV video on http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2010/02/11/woman-mistakenly-declared-dead-by-credit-reporting-agency/ Here is how writer Mitch Lipka reported this story:
“Anne Howe is not dead, but her credit report said otherwise. So, as far as the bank refinancing the mortgage on her Bothel, Wash., house was concerned, there would be no loan. After all, she was dead. If you’re dead you don’t have a credit score. Without a credit score you don’t have a loan.
‘Never mind that Howe was a regular at the bank, had an active account there and signed a notarized statement that read: “The report of my demise is inaccurate information.’”
A final irony
I do find it ironic that the same new-age communication environment that can bring lost souls together via Facebook and computer dating sites, can also cause our world to become so faceless and nameless where, at the absolute best, you are talking to a powerless first name and I.D. number. And this individual works where? At a corporation’s forgotten and underfunded department carrying the name of the most absurd misnomer ever devised:
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?
Police forces around the country are shaking off the image of cops as an unsocial lot. In fact, they are turning to social media to help them interact more with the town’s residents and catch crooks.
If it were an official computer application, it might be called Gotcha! Unfortunately, that name has already been snatched up by a software that helps teachers and college profs catch cheating students.
Over in Alva, the police department has launched its own Facebook page
(http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alva-OK/Alva-Oklahoma-Police-Department/2944649877770). It not only features photos and information designed to let citizens help them find suspects. It also connects the department to the community in ways not possible before the social networking era.
Connecting police to the town
On that page you can find photos of the APD vs. AFD 2010 AFD Mud Run, and feedback from Alva residents about how great it is to see police officers and firefighters stage a fun event like that for charity.
Oklahoma City police also have their own Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oklahoma-City-OK/Oklahoma-City-Police-Department/65444419168), and it is full of official reports albeit short on the friendly community flavor of Alva’s page.
Alva’s Facebook page lists some 800 friends, while the Oklahoma City PD page lists some 4,700. Compared to the relative sizes of the two cities, Alva police have a higher percentage of residents connected to their page.
Elsewhere in the country, police in the northeast Ohio town of Medina are using Facebook in several unique ways. Not only are they asking for residents’ help in spotting at-large suspects; they are becoming “friends” with those suspects themselves, sometimes on the fugitives’ own FB pages.
Stories like this have to join the growing list of stupid criminal jokes. Seems it’s not just college students posting pictures of themselves violating university rules; felony suspects have their own Facebook pages, too.
Last year, Medina Police searched Facebook the first time for a suspect, arresting a 27-year-old man who had fled an old warrant for drug charges. The department believes this may have been the first case in Ohio – if not the country – of police using Facebook to catch fugitives.
“Thirty years ago, we posted wanted fliers at the post office; today it’s Facebook,” Police Chief Patrick Berarducci told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I’m shocked at how fast this first arrest came in.”
Seeking the town’s help
Also in Ohio, the Reynoldsburg Division of Police has begun its own Facebook page in which it posts news about outstanding arrest warrants, pictures of suspects and of missing persons, latest crime stats for the area, you name it. The idea is to get citizens to help them in spotting suspects and to alert residents to criminal activity in the area.
Detective Mike Bender told the Columbus NBC-TV affiliate, “We picked the clearest photos (of suspects) we could and posted them on Facebook. This is a quick way to reach a large number of the population. Also, people log onto their Facebook accounts all the time and this way people can access the info when they want it.”
Reynoldsburg is only one of many police departments, large and small, around the country that have turned to the social media to help fight crime.
Seems like it works all the way over in Maine, too.
“Smile!” You’re on Candid Camera
In Auburn, police had a Facebook page up for less than three weeks before residents identified the video of three vandalism suspects in action, taken by a surveillance camera during the crime. Police in this Maine town also posted another video showing a suspect stealing a snowboard from a local ski shop. They expect that will lead to an arrest, too.
Auburn Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen told the Associated Press, “This latest arrest is proof positive that this is just another way for us to use emerging technology.”
The Web site, ‘Inside Facebook,” (www.insidefacebook.com) chronicles a few ways in which still other police departments are using the social media and why.
In the Indianapolis suburb of Greenville, for example, the police department posts the Indiana Sheriff’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry as one of its Links. They also link to the citizens group of Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana.
Helpful hints in California
The Salinas, Calif., PD issues press releases on Facebook and Twitter and provides helpful information for town residents. For example, in one January post, they told residents what to do during a bad storm if they saw a downed power line and provided emergency phone numbers for the gas and electric company.
Big cities like Chicago and Dallas also have active FB pages, although many of the smaller departments seem to actually take more care personalizing their pages, perhaps reflecting the connectedness of their communities. That seemed to be the same pattern in the Oklahoma City and Alva pages, as mentioned earlier.
Facebook and Twitter have proven to be a particularly good way for police to reach young people who have pretty much turned out the mainstream media newscasts and newspapers. For example, the sheriff’s department in Gainesville, Fla., responded to a survey showing many of the University of Florida students don’t watch or read the news. But nearly all of them were logging onto Facebook regularly.
All in all, it’s not your father’s police force anymore.
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.
Generally the word virus conjures up only nasty images.
In medicine it comes from the Latin word of the same name meaning toxin or poison and is a small infectious agent that can wreak havoc on our bodies.
A computer virus, as we know only too well, is a program that can copy itself and infect everything you have stored in your laptop as well as the workings of the computer itself.
Yet when it is used as the adjective viral and is harnessed by an organization wishing
to spread its message to as many people as possible on the Web, it can be a very useful thing. Because when a message goes viral, it assumes a life of its own and literally can spread itself to millions of Internet users.
And it can do it at a fraction of the cost it would otherwise cause a company or nonprofit group to buy via more traditional distribution methods such as advertising.
Good news, bad news
That’s good news for these organizations, but not so great news for the traditional news media. Why? Because it can represent a hit to a newspaper’s or television station’s already hard-hit advertising revenue profile. It also is another challenge for the online media’s advertising, like the one discussed a few weeks ago in this blog’s post called “The Flash and the Cash.”
Many traditional media companies are realizing this and are finding ways of transitioning to this new reality, while still touting the obvious benefits of advertising in the only print daily newspaper in town. After all, if advertisers think they can automatically garner customers on the Web, possibly they’ve forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of competitors out there.
Viral campaigns underway
Viral marketing campaigns have caught on big-time in the public relations industry, largely as a result of the track record of past viral successes.
A classic example of what some believe to still be the best viral marketing campaign was also the simplest to develop. The story belongs to the marketing people behind the e-mail service Hotmail.
When Hotmail began, it faced the challenge of getting enough traffic to become successful. Its growth rate just wasn’t fast enough to meet the demands of the company. Many believe this gave rise to the first mass viral marketing campaign over the Web. To its advantage, Hotmail realized it could control the format of all its outbound e-mails that each Hotmail user sent. So Hotmail created a footer at the end of each outgoing message in which they attached their own message that read: “To get your FREE email account, go to www.hotmail.com.” Anytime a Hotmail user sent an e-mail, that message was getting out to the spider web of users on the Internet.
Bottom line: traffic soared; goal reached. Hotmail became a great success. Cash outlay? Virtually nothing.
Not magic, but helpful
Another example: Six Flags Magic Mountain produced a VNR (video news release) about a new ride, but it also digitized the video B-roll of the actual ride and distributed it via its Web site and put it up on YouTube. Visitors to either site could experience the ride from their own PC screen in full motion and in full sound, and send the video to their friends, who sent it to their friends, yadayadayada.
In essence, viral marketing takes a different approach to reaching people with news about services and products. Before the popularity of the Web became so immense, organizations and companies targeted their messages and advertisements to the news media, which in turn would deliver those messages to the target audiences. Some media do a great job in reaching target audiences; others not so great.
Can you spell community?
Viral marketing goes online to directly reach the networked communities that make up the Web. The marketing campaign can target any one or more of those thousands of networked communities, each of which resembles (again the metaphor) a giant spider web.
In fact, many say online marketing is all about community.
Online marketing allows organizations and companies to listen to what their audiences are saying, getting involved in that conversation directly, providing quality content relevant to those specific conversations, and building relationships.
The company RealWire (www.realwire.com) which is one of a growing number of online consultants offering services to clients, uses the analogy of the Web as a large party. You are invited but don’t know many people, so you wander around the room listening in on conversations until you find one or more that is relevant to you and your interests. Then you stop and engage in the chat. That’s what online marketers do. If your conversations are interesting, some of the people at that party may invite you to their parties where you can share your stories with others. That’s the role that bloggers play in all of this and, in fact, it is what I’m doing right now: sharing a story from RealWire that I heard at another online “party.”
So, if you’re reading this, that company’s story has been moved along one more link in the chain of Web users.
RealWire’s subsidiary, WebitPR, recently conducted a survey of how important viral marketing is to businesses and organizations, and discovered that 99 percent of all respondents said online coverage is important to their organization or clients. The reason? Most saw the archived nature of coverage and the Web’s global reach as vital. And 90 percent said that kind of online coverage has become even more important over the past 12 months.
Traditional news media understand what is going on, and many of them have long ago extended their services into the Web and are taking advantage of its viral possibilities. The Oklahoman, for example, has established a presence on three of the most viral Web sites: Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. A story from www.newsok.com gets shared on Facebook with a group of friends, who in turn share it with other friends and other “parties.”
Before long, the word gets out and it gets out big time.
Question: If you were going to challenge Facebook for dominance in the social network world, who would you like to be?
Two months ago, this is the fight that began when the search engine giant launched Google Buzz, a social network addition to its popular Gmail e-mail which millions of us use. According to Google, Buzz is “a new way to share updates, photos, videos and more, and start conversations about things you find interesting.”
It utilizes the built-in base that Gmail users have of people they regularly correspond with, and it allows them to expand their offerings to the world if they like. Since it’s built into the existing Gmail home page, users have nothing new to set up ,nor new usernames or passwords to create, nor a new list of friends to create.
Google promotes features that go beyond Facebook’s status updates, including the ability of Buzz to pull images directly from links (doesn’t Facebook already do that?) and to play videos “in-line” as well as galleries of still photos. Users can also link their Buzz to other social network sites like Flickr, Picasa, Google Reader, and Twitter. Oops — no Facebook. Understandable since that’s the service Buzz is dueling.
Buzz delivers responses to comments right to the user’s Gmail inbox, meaning that your mailbbox can fill up fast if you use Buzz as much as most people use Facebook. You also respond to the responders right from your Gmail box. So, as yet, there is no separate Buzz site; your Gmail inbox is it.
Buzz also sends “recommended” posts and updates and users can select them if they like.
Like Facebook, Buzz users can access the feature from their mobile phones. That application, however, has become the focus of a new lawsuit for both Google and Facebook.
Last month, Bloomberg.com reported Wireless Ink Corp. filed a suit seeking cash compensation and a court order to prevent Facebook and Google from allowing users to join the sites from their cell phones, according to an article by David Glovin and Susan Decker.
A Patented Fight
Wireless Ink, which owns the Winksite service, claims it has an exclusive patent linking cell phones to social network sites, and that the patent was issued them last October. The New York software firm has created Web sites that can be accessed from users mobile wireless devices such as cell phones. Wireless Ink. claims it has 75,000 registered users already. The company said it first made the application public in 2004, so Facebook and Google knew of its existence when they began linking their sites to mobile devices.
Like every other new Web 2.0 creation, time will tell if Google Buzz is superfluous or offers enough uniqueness to interest large numbers of users. Some are skeptical, however. Writing in Laptopmag.com, for example, Dana Wollman says the following:
“Personally, the idea of having my updates indexed in my Google Profile is oddly scary to me, even though my tweets are all public as well. I think the difference, for me, is that someone has to be on Twitter, seeing my tweets in their timeline, to become aware of me. My Google Profile appears every time someone searches for me on Google.”
Method to Madness?
Others note there is a method to the seeming madness of adding yet another social networking site. Chris Foresman writes on arstechnia.com that, “Buzz is designed to bring the fire hose of social media and status updates down to a useful trickle of the most ‘interesting’ bits.”
And Google’s Todd Jackson calls it “a Google approach to sharing.”
Whether you like the idea or not, betting against Google and its resources is not the safest way to go either in this world or in the virtual unknown.