Socially Awkward Media

Posts: 7

Addenda to My Twitter Biography

All thoughts are not my own. I am influenced and manipulated by everything around me. I digest, regurgitate, commodify and plagiarize everything I find. I share with you expressly what the voices instruct me to share. I am also the voice of corporate interests. I'm not sure if I even have my own thoughts.

RT = endorsement. In fact, if I retweet you it means I completely approve of and unabashedly endorse not only that tweet, but everything you have ever said and done as well as everything you will ever do going forward. You have my complete trust and faith in all things at all times. I love you.

2015 State of the Robotic Okapi Toy Forest Preserve Address

After some deliberation and second-guessing, I have decided that I will continue this semi-derelict blog into 2015.

I’m not going to go so far as to resolve to maintain it on a regular basis. I’m still not quite sure what it will be, but at the very least I want to reserve myself a personal place to publish thoughts on children’s literature and library work, if/when I have such thoughts and write/type them down.

My book reviews will continue to be housed primarily on my school district’s library media web page, (which by coincidence I just so happen to maintain.)  Here’s a quick link to a growing list of book reviews tagged with my name.

I will continue to tweet primarily library/education/reading/kidlit-related tweets using my account @jdwhiting.  I find myself rethinking and revising how I can and should or should not use twitter on an almost daily basis.  Too much thinking, not enough action, punctuated by spurts of oversharing.

I intend to continue to work through my epic Newbery+Authors+Classics Reading Challenge.  It will probably take me the rest of my life. I also intend to try to keep up with new 2015 books as they are released this year.  But my number one concern will be to read whatever strikes me, even if it doesn’t fall into one of these projects.  Maybe 2015 will be my year to finally read Moby Dick, too?

That is all at this time.  I will take your questions and concerns in the comment section.

Why Am I Using Social Media?

Social media is on my mind a lot lately.  The district educational technology department where I work is currently initiating a huge push into social media, and I’m heavily involved with it.  We are using it first to promote the good things our teachers, tech. specialists, and librarians are doing for students in our district.  We are also hoping to inspire all of those educators to engage in social media themselves to share their own good things and to learn from what other educators out in the world are sharing, and know how to help students connect to all of these many social resources as well.

While thinking about this push and how to do it, yesterday I happened upon this little article called “10 Twitter Hacks To Help You Rethink Your Social Voice” from TeachThought, which I liked because it wasn’t the typical list of social marketing tricks to get more followers and be more influential that you usually see in articles with titles like this. Rather, it presented a number of real questions and ideas directed towards educators to cause reflection as to just why we are connecting on social media in the first place, and some subtle cautions against getting caught up in the gamification of social media.  The number one “hack” they list is to define your social media goals and purposes, so that you can then determine how to proceed so as to meet them and be “successful.”  An educator’s social media goals and therefore processes should probably be somewhat different from a marketer’s goals and processes.

So I know pretty well why we are trying to do this social media push professionally, but it leaves me with the question of why I am attempting to involve myself in social media personally.  I happened upon another helpful article today from teacher librarian Travis Jonker at School Library Journal in which he documents the ways he has tried using social media as a school librarian, some of his specific successes in social media, and the successes of others.  Conversely informative and eye opening on this topic of how and why to use social media was the article “The Downside to Being a Connected Educator” by teacher-blogger Pernille Ripp.  She warns about the comparative dangers of the game and the effect it can have on other aspects of your professional and personal life. (I should give due credit that I found both the Ripp article and the TeachThought article via blogger Elisabeth Ellington’s excellent Sunday Salon Online Reading Round-up.)

All of this percolating has combined to inspire me to attempt to answer for myself this question, “Why am I using social media?”  I want to answer it authentically and transparently, right here and right now, because that’s just how I want to do things.  So, here are my goals and purposes in personally participating in social media, particularly via Twitter (@jdwhiting) and this blog:

Why Am I Using Social Media?

  1. To practice writing for an audience and become a better writer.
  2. To find some friends, esp. to find people who are interested in things I am interested in and attempt to engage in conversations with them. (I think this is something friends do, but I’m not really sure.)
  3. To find good ideas and resources, esp. for libraries and education.
  4. To share things I have and do that may end up being good ideas and resources for others.
  5. To practice and model a way to be personally active in social media to my work colleagues, particularly for reasons 3 + 4 above, which are most relevant to our work.
  6. To get unwarranted attention for random obnoxious behavior.
  7. To become famous and rich, in that order.
  8. To help everyone become a Mormon.

So I believe this is a nice refinement of my goals for this blog and my twitter use. I still have a long way to go at being “successful” with some of these,  but listing them helps me clarify what to do and where to go now.  Thanks, TeachThought!  In the coming weeks I think I’m really going to focus on increasing my levels of random obnoxiousness.

Consider this a new, improved update to the Pretend Librarian’s Guide to Socially Awkward Media. Thanks for reading.

Bored with Book Reviews

I’m getting kind of bored with book reviews. Writing book reviews. Reading book reviews. You know, those ones that begin with a summary of the story, and then a small amount of obligatory opinion/critique/accolades? But not just those ones, also the more long-form bloggy/Pitchfork-y ones where it’s more a showcase for me and my unique and sophisticated perspective, my cleverness, quirkiness or snarkiness, my incredible breadth and depth of knowledge, my wonderful research and analysis, and not so much about the book. I’m pretty much disenchanted with the book review. I want to write something else. I want to read something else. I’m bored.

But I’m not good at sharing my enthusiasm for the books I like in other conventional ways. Like talking, for example.  So that’s a problem when, as a pretend librarian, I have this strange urge to share and promote good books. More importantly, I am in a situation professionally where I need to review books online, and I need to encourage my colleagues to do the same. In our district we need to share and collaborate to get good books into the hands of our students, and the best way to do this is in public, online. And I want to share what I am learning.  It feels almost selfish and wasteful to read a book and then not share what I learned about it and from it with others.

But writing a summary or even accolades for a good book has begun to feel redundant with all the other book reviews out there. If I want to entice others to read the book, the publisher-provided written blurbs often do a better job of selling the book than I could do anyway. That’s the whole point of those things, and one of the reasons authors are so blessed to have publishers, right? Why duplicate efforts? (For example, I’ve wasted way too much time already trying to come up with a summary for A Snicker of Magic that brings anything of value that isn’t already better expressed by the wonderful blurb on the inside flap of the dust jacket. I’m guessing the author drafted that one herself, but whoever wrote that blurb, she/he/they should be proud of it.)

There’s another complication that practically neutralizes my book review drafts into meaninglessness if I think about it too much, and I do think about it too much. That is this whole business of authors, agents, and editors being on twitter and subscribing to Google update alerts for their names and books. So as soon you post anything anywhere about a book, good or bad, (even a 50-year-old title by an author who is long dead) people are suddenly all up in your business converting your praise into a marketing opportunity, or, if you said something negative, possibly having their feelings hurt or at the least attempting damage control. And you are just a random person saying what you like or spouting your opinion, but it all connects and it all has consequences.

Also, if I write or tweet something good about a book or an author I now know the author is likely going to see it, and then the author is practically obligated to respond kindly to me because that is the nature of this social media game. So, being conscious of that, it can begin to feel almost like I am just flattering them to get their attention, to have a personal interaction with a real, published author. But that’s silly to worry about. Authors are just like everyone else, they like to be told when they’ve done a good job, they like to hear that what they have made or done is appreciated and connecting somewhere. I know I sure would like that. Most of the published authors aren’t rich and aren’t famous outside of their little circle of influence. So I really shouldn’t be worried about being overly nice or complementary to authors.  But fear of that interaction tempts me to be more boring  and unsocial in my book reviews, which then further defeats the purpose of writing a book review in the first place.

Occasionally there is the need for criticism, too.  Working with libraries with very small budgets, it is worthwhile to tell/warn people if a book is only just so-so or not good at all, so they can spend their limited funds on the very best stuff.  Just sharing that information in conversation isn’t effective enough, and ignoring a book just makes it look like you don’t know about that book, not that you don’t recommend it.  So it can be necessary to post those negative comments in written form, online.  But because those negative comments usually  then become transparent to the author, it makes me loathe to even post a bad review.  And this sort of thing sure doesn’t inspire me to post anything negative about someone’s book:

Despite this, or maybe because of this, authorial gaze, on the other side there is the occasional temptation to be mean, just to make it more interesting, just to try to make something happen, just to be contrary to the hype, just to try to be funny, and in some cases just because I was genuinely dissatisfied with the book and would have preferred something else. I shouldn’t say mean, I don’t mean mean, I have no desire to be mean. Nor personally destructive. But critical, yes. Contrary, definitely. Maybe even irreverent, when I encounter something that I feel has been unduly sacralized. But not mean. To me there’s a difference, but others may not see that difference.  I don’t genuinely hate very many things, and I want to like most things. But there are books I’ve wanted to like that I just don’t like.  And there are books that everyone else wants me to like that I’m resistant to liking just because of the hype.  I have been trying to teach myself that it is usually more fun to like something than to hate something. But still, listening to the Billboard Hot 100 usually only makes me sad.

So I’m tired of writing book reviews. I think I’d rather just write books, because that will be a lot easier.

Speaking of book reviews, here’s my latest book review:

Update #1 - The Pretend Librarian's Guide to Socially Awkward Media

Two Hypotheses Now Tested (Others Still Untested)

We begin with a recap of my socially awkward media problems, as explored  in my original Pretend Librarian’s Guide to Socially Awkward Media post:

  • My tweets were very minimal, business-like, non-controversial, and didn’t particularly reflect my actual personality or ideas.
  • I didn’t actually engage with people on twitter, I just followed people and looked at their links and occasionally retweeted stuff.  I suspected that I didn’t have an actual functioning “PLN” even though I liked to occasionally drop that term around my work colleagues who are all, like me, at best just emerging twitter users.
  • I had this website but I didn’t promote it or tell anyone about it.

Test 1

Over a period of several months I started tweeting more regularly in what I hope was a slightly more authentic and personable way.  In addition to retweeting professional stuff I occasionally tweeted about personal things or random or silly things, or things slightly off-topic.  I tried to make comments on things when I tweeted about them.  I tried to mention people and credit people when I shared and liked their stuff.  I occasionally attempted to converse with other people via twitter.

Test 1 Results:

I gained more followers.  I received a few conversation responses myself.  I felt better about what I was doing.  I may have slightly irritated people by asking them questions out of the blue, but for once I didn’t really care. However, I did not forge any real or lasting connections with anyone.   And then I took a vacation from twitter for a weekend that turned into a week that has turned into a month.  That vacation is not over yet.  I am afraid to go back to twitter and look at my feed and my followers, but I will do it soon. I don’t know if I can pick back up where I left off, or if I will be starting from scratch.  That will be another test (see below.)

Test 2

In the midst of the first test I tweeted a request out on twitter looking for libraries or librarians in Montessori schools on behalf of my wife.  I used all the right hashtags that I thought should have gotten everyone who might know anything about these topics to look at it.  I think I tweeted it a couple of different times to try to catch different crowds.

Test 2 Results

Zero responses of any sort.  Not even bogus bot follows from that one.  I suspected that I didn’t have a real “PLN,” and now I almost suspect that virtually no one except people who keynote conferences and have followers in the 4-5 figure range actually have PLNs where they can just ask a question at large and get an answer.  Other possible scenarios: 1) I’ve unwittingly done something absolutely abhorrent to people on twitter who are interested in Montessori education; 2) There are not any librarians on twitter interested in Montessori, and there are not any Montessori educators or parents on twitter interested in libraries.

Next Actions to Be Tested

  • Go back to twitter after my vacation and see if I still have any followers
  • Leave more comments on other people’s blogs – not bogus self promoting stuff but actual thoughts that contribute to the conversation
  • Post regularly on this blog
  • Tweet out about the things I post on this blog
  • Make this blog known to people I actually know outside of twitter (co-workers, family, friends)

The Pretend Librarian's Guide to Socially Awkward Media

[See also: Update #1 – Two Hypotheses Now Tested (Others Still Untested)]

Is it possible that how a person acts in in-person social situations is quite a bit analogous to how they will act in online social situations?  This may have always been obvious to a lot of people, but I have been oblivious to the reality of this for most of my life on the Internet.  I tend to act shy and socially awkward in person, but I never had accepted it as a given that I would do the same online.  Nonetheless, I have recently amassed a certain amount of evidence indicating that despite my wishful thinking of myself as an extremely dynamic internet character, I am actually just as shy and socially awkward in social media/the Internet as I am everywhere else.

Observation #1: I was looking back at my twitter feed recently and I realized that it is in fact rather sparse and boring.  I haven’t tweeted and shared nearly as many things as I imagine that I have, and what is there is mostly very dry.  I did want to keep my @jdwhiting twitter account somewhat on-topic to my professional life and applicable to the type of users I tend to follow and retweet, so I’ve consciously tried to share only things that are somewhat relevant to the worlds of libraries and education, and I’ve actively refrained from some of the random weirdness that I have been capable of in the past. But as I have started to take twitter more seriously it turns out I have not shared anything all that personable, nor anything all that unique, nor anything remotely controversial.  But I thought about sharing these things, and in my memory I misled myself into thinking I actually had shared some of those things. A self-audit of my actual feed history says no, though.

Observation #2: Another realization I have had as I have reflected on my social media usage is that, although I look at Twitter frequently and I follow a lot of people who I think are interesting, or have great things to say, or who share great resources, I don’t really have friends among them. I don’t know that I could even say I have acquaintances among them.  I also don’t think I have what one could legitimately call a “professional learning network” even though I have learned a lot from the discussions, articles, and resources I have encountered via Twitter.  I don’t ask questions on Twitter all that often, and one of the reasons I don’t is because I am afraid that if I did I wouldn’t get any answers.  This is an untested hypothesis, though, so I should go ahead and try it.  When you are shy your life is filled with an abundance of untested hypotheses.

Observation #3: I’ve been playing around with this children’s literature blog off and on for six months now.  I have a number of posts here, but I’ve never shared or promoted any of them out to anyone. I actually haven’t even hinted at this site’s existence on social media.  I intended to do this a long time ago, but I keep waiting for some more opportune moment to begin promoting it, or for some new post, such as this one, to be polished and published so that then the site would truly be ready for the attention and scrutiny of the world.

So here’s the thing.  It turns out I run my twitter feed and my blog the way I run many other parts of my life.  I don’t talk to people very often, unless necessary.  I don’t do socializing and small talk well, and I definitely don’t do “networking” at all.  I talk with people if I am placed in a work situation with them, and I do really try to be helpful whenever I can, but I alternately feel like I am either butting into everyone else’s business and telling people things they already know, or else I feel left out of the conversation and like I am withholding useful information.  I have no happy medium.

I was at a statewide conference recently for school librarians.  This is like twitter in the flesh.  I didn’t forge any innovative connections or synergistic collaborations with people outside of my district, which is what the gurus state is supposed to happen at such conferences. In fact, I barely had conversations with people who I work with within my district.  But I went to all the sessions.  I listened and learned, for the most part.  I even had to fill in at the last minute as a host for one of the sessions, and I did it.  But I have no new relationships to speak of because of the conference, other than a couple of useful wikis or websites provided by some of the presenters that I can now stalk to steal their information and ideas.

And is this okay?  Maybe, but maybe I need to share more.  A couple of people I work with in my district passed me in the hallway between sessions and told me I should have been presenting at the conference, because I know “everything” and I’m the one they go to with questions.  I brushed this off and quickly walked away, but maybe there is some truth to it.  This video from one Derek Sivers has an interesting concept that maybe I need to embrace: we should share what we do and what we know, because what seems normal and boring to us might be a groundbreaking idea to someone else.

Furthermore, the people who are prone to dominate conversations, or who tend to get up and present at conferences, or who constantly blast out tweets may or may not actually have the best ideas even though they are the loudest or even the most charismatic: (this embed says it’s 20+ minutes but it skips straight to the 20 second clip I have chosen, so please go ahead and click play)

So, it feels risky and dangerous and even kind of dumb, but I’ve been off introverting out for quite a while, and I am now going to try to share more, and more sincerely and personably.  I do still get to be ironic and sincere at the same time, though, because I continue to claim that as my online motto.  I just need to start sharing like it is true.