Cindy La Ferle on July 16th, 2012
It’s no secret that I’ve been conflicted about Facebook for years. The dilemma, in a nutshell: How can I avoid annoying my family/close friends with work-related status updates? And how can I avoid “over-sharing” personal or family updates with my colleagues and students? In other words, the way I see it, the same people who want news about my published stories or writing workshops don’t necessarily want updates on how my mother’s pacemaker is working.
I suppose I could fiddle with all kinds of privacy settings to control my Facebook content. But I found a more creative — and democratic — way to settle the whole issue without hurting folks or making a social-media mess of things.
This week I launched a brand-new Facebook “author page” titled Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office and Blog. This one will feature daily creativity quotes, links to posts on this blog, my own photography and artwork, fresh inspiration for creative people, updates on my workshops, and other local or national resources you’ll want to know about. And when it’s time to announce my next book, that’s where I’ll share the news first.
I’m having a blast launching the new page! Serving as a bridge to this blog, it’s also a fantastic way to stay in touch with students who’ve taken my workshops. And I always enjoy hearing from people who enjoy the written word as much as I do.
Please join me at Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office on Facebook. Once you “like” the new page, you’ll get my updates and a daily dose of creative inspiration in your Facebook feed. — Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on May 23rd, 2012
When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” — Clay Shirky
My husband was the first to deliver the happy news: Two of our son’s best friends from high school had announced their wedding engagements on Facebook last week — within a few short days of each other. As the family reporter, I’m usually on top of these things. But because I had deactivated my Facebook account in January, I was totally out of the loop.
And I felt like one of the Flintstones. I’d been living under a rock while everyone else was throwing a big party in cyberspace without me.
Which is partly why I tip-toed back to Facebook after cruising along happily without it (most of the time) for the past four months.
Before I go on, I need to tell you that I’m not the least bit sorry for taking a break from it. My self-imposed sabbatical from social media — Facebook, especially — helped me appreciate the positive aspects of being connected 24/7 to the Big World Out There. At the same time, I thought long and hard about the difference between online friendships and 3-D friendships and how much attention I can (reasonably) give to each.
During my time away from Facebook, I missed a lot of good news from a lot of nice people. And I rediscovered how much harder it is to communicate with out-of-town friends and colleagues. Facebook makes it so much easier to share announcements of any kind in one fell swoop — writing classes; new blog posts; wedding engagements — something I had taken for granted while using it. Though posting my updates seemed awfully impersonal at times, that was part of Facebook’s ease and charm. When I wasn’t on Facebook, I was sending more email announcements, which were probably more annoying and more invasive than status updates.
What I didn’t miss about Facebook was its dangerously addictive aspects. Once I got through the initial withdrawal period, I rediscovered luxurious bolts of time to write and sell more essays and articles. More time to meet friends for lunch. More time to catch up on the phone. More time to get my home in order. More time for long walks outside. In other words, after pulling away from the distractions of social media, I felt more focused and balanced — even in the midst of my elderly mother’s ongoing health crises.
In other words, I figured out how and where I’d been wasting all the time I thought I didn’t own anymore.
In other words, I realized I’d been abusing Facebook.
Like any tool, Facebook is incredibly handy. But there’s a right way — a respectful way — to use it. So, this time around, I am setting tighter limits. I’ll be checking in less often, and won’t be leaving as many comments as I used to. I’ll continue to exercise most of my bragging rights — and personal info — here on my blog. I plan to enjoy Facebook for what it is — and refuse to feel guilty if I can’t keep up with it daily.
All said and done, I still believe it’s essential to strike a healthy balance between the time I spend “communicating” online and the time I spend with loved ones in the real world. And yes, I remain conflicted about Facebook — and worried our culture’s obsession with social media. A recent article on Facebook in The Atlantic‘s “Culture Issue” articulates many of my concerns. How about you? How do you use Facebook?– Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on February 8th, 2012
Facebook’s initial public offering of stock is likely to make a lot of developers and designers of the site very wealthy. But for many users, frequent Facebooking may not be so beneficial.” — Stephanie Pappas
The Facebook debates are heating up this week, thanks, in part, to the announcement that Mark Zuckerberg filed an IPO for the world’s largest social network. Some are peeved by Zuck’s greed; others are justifiably worried about some thorny new privacy issues.
My own post about quitting Facebook (Jan.24) had nothing to do with the IPO. It was, essentially, about my efforts to spend fewer hours online and to reclaim some quiet space in my overbooked life. (Part of my New Year’s resolution was to live a more “examined” life, which also meant I had to start questioning my online habits and routines.) In other words, my FB piece really wasn’t “anti-Facebook” — nor was it a criticism of the wonderful people on my Facebook friend list.
In any event, the piece was syndicated on BlogHer.com. As of today, it earned close to 23,000 “reads,” which is a lot more traffic than I’m used to — at least for a blog post. On Monday, I was quoted in “Now is the Time to Quit Facebook,” by Chicago journalist Alicia Eller.
Readers’ comments following Eler’s post are fascinating. Among my favorites: “I wasn’t on Facebook before it was cool to not be on Facebook.”
Apparently the topic is so hot that Eler posted another piece on ReadWriteWeb titled “It’s True: You Have Too Many Facebook Friends.” This article offers some fresh analysis on why it’s probably not healthy to spend too much time on Facebook — and why it’s really not cool to have too many Facebook friends. (Hint: It makes you appear insecure.)
In another interesting post, LiveScience journalist Stephanie Pappas discusses new studies on our emotional reactions to Facebook. Check out “Facebook Takes a Toll on Your Mental Health.”
If you’re fascinated by the culture of narcissism and social media addictions, don’t miss these thought-provoking pieces. — CL
Cindy La Ferle on January 24th, 2012
I’m a Facebook friend of Bob Dylan, which probably means I have a deeply meaningful relationship with his publicist.” — Daniel A. Farber*
UPDATE: The following essay was syndicated by BlogHer last week. So far, the post has earned over 22,000 “reads” on the BlogHer site. Click here to read the comments. Maybe I hit a nerve?
Before it became an attractive nuisance, Facebook was fun — really, really fun.
At the start, I enjoyed reconnecting with old pals and coworkers I hadn’t seen in years. A few had published books or become grandparents; others had moved to retirement homes in Tampa or Hilton Head.
In addition to cute family photos, I got an eyeful of political rants and viewpoints that took me by surprise. (An editor I’d pegged as liberal, for instance, turned out to be a closet conservative.) It was all so compelling that, instead of tackling a new project, I’d spend entire mornings reading Facebook updates from literally hundreds of folks, a few of whom I’d met only once.
How many friends do you (really) have?
By the time I deactivated my Facebook account last week, I had accumulated 555 friends. The list included former classmates, relatives, students from my writing workshops, readers of my columns, and background actors I’d met on film sets. My posse also included good neighbors who lived just a couple of blocks away, which seemed like overkill, but what the heck?
I wasn’t exactly a friend whore (someone who collects random friends to appear popular) but I rarely turned down friendship requests, and I un-friended only one person whose political comments were ill-informed and cruel.
In any event, with so many people to look after, Facebook soon became another task on my ever-expanding to-do list, and I was conflicted about using it.
In 2009, Sheryl Sandberg reported on The Facebook Blog that the average user had 120 friends. Today, Facebook reports that the average user now has 130 friends — and we all know users who have upwards of 1,000. But in my admittedly old-fashioned view, even 130 friends are difficult to keep track of in a timely, courteous fashion — unless you have nothing to do but twiddle with your computer all day.
Facebook and theatre provide contrived settings that provide the illusion of social interaction.” — Jesse Eisenberg
Either way, I’ve always believed that real friendship is reciprocal, not promotional. And certainly more than virtual. Real friends do more than punch the “like” key on your status updates. Real friends call you directly on the phone, send cards, help you move furniture, meet you for breakfast, babysit your cats, or otherwise make three-dimensional efforts to be there for you.
Of course, you need lots of extra time for real friendship like that. My “networking” on Facebook was devouring some of that time, and I was starting to feel guilty about it.
Along the same lines, it also struck me that Facebook fosters laziness. Even in a crisis, I wasn’t getting as many emails or phone calls from family members because, as one put it, “We already read your updates on Facebook.”
Forget you. It’s all about me.
Worse yet, I worried that Facebook was making an egomaniac out of me. (Isn’t it enough to be writing a blog?) Along with photos of my latest art projects or links to my articles, I started posting attention-getting tidbits, which, before Facebook, I would have shared with a mere handful of trusted, longtime friends. Why in the world did I need to broadcast to 555 Facebook users that my cat suddenly decided to pee in the toilet in our master bathroom?
In short, Facebook was becoming a tool to promote myself, with a few family photos thrown in for good measure. I’d gotten so busy that I wasn’t taking time to comment on my friends’ updates and photos — unless they left comments on mine.
I’ve always tried to avoid one-sided relationships, but good lord, there I was, conducting one of my own.
So, here are the questions I asked myself when I considered pulling the plug on my Facebook account:
1. Am I giving up my family’s privacy in exchange for building a platform or a following on Facebook?
2. Do new acquaintances on Facebook deserve the same attention as my oldest friends and relatives?
3. Do I care as much about other friends’ status updates as I want them to care about mine? Am I using or exploiting my Facebook friends?
4. How much time do I have to reciprocate comments?
5. How much do I need to know about other people — and why?
6. Do the “friends” I’ve met only once need up-to-the-minute details of my life? Who should be informed that my mother is ill? Or that I attended someone’s 50th birthday party last night? And is it safe to broadcast when I leave town on vacation?
7. Am I becoming an “all about me” person?
French mystique, oui!
In her new memoir, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris, Jennifer L. Scott chronicles the year she studied in Paris and learned a thing or two about the elusive French mystique. Scott, who now lives in Santa Monica, found that an abiding sense of privacy is decidedly French.
“French people, as a habit, do not reveal too much information about themselves. Not to people they know and certainly not to strangers,” Scott writes. In other words, Je ne sais quoi isn’t simply a matter of knowing how to tie a gorgeous scarf.
Scott also notes that most French people do not gab in public on their cell phones; it’s considered boorish to allow others to eavesdrop on conversations. Furthermore, she says, the French are not likely to ask what you do for a living when they first meet you at a party. Out of courtesy and respect, personal details are shared only with intimate friends who’ve been nurtured over time.
Which got me thinking about how much we share on Facebook.
Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun.” — Pete Cashmore
To be a person of mystery would be very un-American, wouldn’t it? In a culture of celebrity, it stands to reason that so many of us fear we won’t exist if we’re not seen or heard from 24/7. Maintaining a Facebook profile is one way to keep your name “out there” while everyone else is squawking, yelping, chirping, and Tweeting for attention.
At the same time, I’m not opposed to social networking for the right reasons. If you’ve got a product to market — or you are the product — courting a big audience on Twitter or Facebook is undoubtedly good for your business. I won’t argue with that.
What’s for real and what isn’t?
Yet, from a totally personal perspective, I’m secretly thrilled at the thought of wearing a cloak of privacy as I go about my daily routines. I’d like to shop for groceries or visit someone in the hospital without feeling compelled to announce it ASAP on Facebook. I’d like to spend more time reading the novels stacked next to my bed — the novels I’m too tired to read because I’ve strained my eyes staring at a computer screen all day.
And I’d like to spend more time nurturing — and deepening — the three-dimensional friendships I’ve neglected while meeting the challenges life has thrown at me lately. If I cut back on the time I spend playing with social media, these deceptively simple goals would be easier to reach.
Of course, there’s a lot I’ll miss about Facebook. I’ll miss the news from out-of-town friends, links to thought-provoking articles, and all those adorable cat videos. But until my life is back in balance, I have to bow out.
For now, blogging is a less intrusive way to share. And while it’s as public as a newspaper, you can pick and choose which items you want to read. Or you can swim back into cyberspace and surf elsewhere. You’re reading these last paragraphs right now because you found the topic interesting and wanted to dive a little deeper than a sentence or two. That matters a lot to me.
And hey, if you want to share photos of your kids or your cats, I’d still love to see them. Bring your photo albums when we meet in person at our favorite local restaurant. — Cindy La Ferle
– Top quote (from Daniel A. Farber) is from the article “Are 5,001 Facebook Friends One Too Many?” in The New York Times, May 28, 2010–
Cindy La Ferle on January 25th, 2010
As a culture, I see us presently deprived of subtleties. The music is loud, the anger is elevated, and sex seems lacking in sweetness and privacy.” — Shelley Berman
Last week I told 325 friends on Facebook that our bedroom in this old house is torn apart for remodeling and looks like a mess. Later that same day, I announced that I was making pea soup for dinner. (Earlier in the month, as part of a dubious “campaign” for breast cancer awareness, I also posted the color of my bra in my status update.)
I haven’t even met some of these Facebook buddies — so I’m asking myself why I’m compelled to do this.
Touching on a Facebook issue in Newsweek earlier this month, a journalist confessed that she tries to avoid “over-sharing” on social networks. Likewise, a friend of mine recently asked: “Is there such a thing as ‘personal’ anymore? Is any topic sacred?”
My friend was referring to her co-worker’s latest blog post — a post in which the co-worker over-shared intimate details of her love life.Â As my friend put it, “Blogs and social media are sucking the mystery, romance, and privacy out of everything. Everyone’s a publicity whore.” I had to smile at her use of the words mystery, romance, and privacy — words that seem to have gone the way of the manual typewriter. But she has a point.
As a writing coach who specializes in memoir and personal essays, I’ll be the first to defend the importance of sharing our stories. Sharing stories is how we connect with our fellow humans — and crafting those stories beautifully makes us artists. We glean invaluable lessons when we read memoirs, autobiographies, blogs, and essays by gifted writers. When handled with care, the personal can be universal.
But I wonder if we (as a culture) need to rethink what’s fair game for public consumption? How far “out there” do we need to be? How much do other people need to know about us — and why? If we wouldn’t dare include a personal detail or episode in an essay or a memoir, is it really appropriate for a blog? For Twitter or Facebook? Exactly what are the dangers of over-sharing?
Writing a weekly newspaper column early on, I learned the hard way when I’d crossed the line and violated the tender privacy of loved ones. My son, who was often mentioned in my columns when he was much younger, taught me to think carefully before exploiting a person — or a topic — for the sake of entertaining or amusing my readers.
I’m quick to add here that I seriously enjoy connecting (and reconnecting) with friends on Facebook. And keeping a blog is almost as much fun as writing a weekly newspaper column. Still, I’m intrigued that so many of us today are driven to share our deepest yearnings and secrets with virtual strangers. At the same time, we complain that it’s hard to forge true emotional intimacy with others — in person. As a writer who covers lifestyle issues for magazines and newspapers, I can’t overlook the paradox. Women’s magazines thrive on this very topic.
So what is it that compels so many to unload information that was — in the past — considered rude (or just plain foolish) to parade in public? I open this topic for discussion here. Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. – Cindy La Ferle
– Photo above: Detail of “Box of Secrets,” altered art piece by Cindy La Ferle –