Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

So… back in November or December, I got poked by a couple folks to go blog again. That it was nice that I found my voice and I should do it more often (really, have they heard me talk? My voice could stand to be lost once in a while. But I digress…). It got me thinking about blogging in general, or any of the social media, really. How at first, I thought it takes a certain amount of ego to believe you have something to say that anyone wants to hear (or read). 

I don't say this in a bad way. Some level of ego or confidence is healthy, and it's good to feel like you've been heard and you have an outlet. But I think my generation is a dying breed in a way, and it's been interesting to see the progression.

We and our siblings are pretty much the last generation to grow up (in our formative years, anyway) without being "connected". If we weren't physically with our friends, there wasn't a lot of socializing going on. Sure, we had telephones, but you had to know who you were calling. And unless you had the "pleasure" of a party line (oh, THOSE were fun), you didn't talk to more than one person at a time. You went out for that (and yes, this Old Lady realizes that you Young Whippersnappers still do just that - some things never change, despite society's cries of woe).

Writing was the same way. You wrote. On PAPER! (GASP!) And you either shared it with friends, stuck it in a journal never to see the light of day again, or, if you were good and lucky, you submitted something to a magazine and got published. Or tried.

Only a few people used public outlets, and those outlets were typically letters in magazines or newspapers, or phone calls to talk radio. If you were particularly brave - or crazy - you took to the streets and became one of THOSE people. If you were particularly driven, you got your OWN talk radio show.

And now, being connected, finding an outlet for your beliefs, your concerns, your talents - it's all at your fingertips.

I graduated from college around the time the web took off. I was working at my first job out of school when NCSA Mosaic came along, and wow - this was cool! And then it exploded BEYOND the techie community. People were getting dialup accounts and checking it out for themselves. Getting email. Getting AIM accounts. And that was AMAZING to watch. The Internet went from a small number of communities (USENET groups, various BBSes, chat servers) to one big one in a handful of years. And the kids who were born around that time, this is what they've known since childhood - a community at their fingertips. The public versus the private? Blurred.

What used to require ego and confidence - the newfangled equivalent of shouting in a crowded gathering or standing up on a soapbox on the sidewalk - just doesn't have that same feel for many anymore. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr… even sites like Reddit and Digg - they're all communities. Virtual neighborhoods. People who've grown up in these streets (or spent a lot of time in them) are quite comfortable here. And it feels like home. There are enclaves, neighborhoods where one is known and comfortable, neighborhoods you've passed through enough and are familiar with, and all sorts of new places to travel to. Boundaries between them? They can be as rigid or as fuzzy as you want them to be.

To someone who sees the Internet as a world full of strangers, yes, it's hard to understand why anyone would share so much online. Or to understand why people feel the need to share so much to nobody in particular.

To someone who sees the Internet as a community, or a neighborhood? It's no different than hanging out with the neighbors, or at a party, and conversing with friends and acquaintances. Personal stories, pontification, silly jokes, favorite songs… every good gathering has some of that. :-) (And yes, every party has the people you wish would shut up, too… no different here, I'm afraid. And I will eventually shut up if you get me one of those chocolate things over there… yeah, that one. Thanks.)

Yes, there are the things to worry about: identity theft… I'm not really talking about that here. Of course, you need to be careful what you leave laying around, just like in real life. No, my point is only that I'm fascinated by the change I see. It's not just "kids" embracing the idea of an online community. Facebook makes it SO easy to stay in touch with old friends and relatives, and I LOVE being able to do that.

Which brings me back around to why I started blogging in the first place (hey, I *am* going somewhere with this!)...

The blog (and others before it) really started out as a way to share "the life of Jen" with my family. I could put some pictures up and point them to it, so they could see the kids grow, or just stay in touch. A closed community. The growth of Facebook made that a moot point, so it turned into more of a journal - travel journal at times, running journal at others. Still a closed community.

And then I had a cancer scare.
And the gates opened - it became a bigger community.
Facebook helped too, but what happened is that I realized I had an audience. An audience of friends. A neighborhood, if you will. A neighborhood who rallied around and helped encourage me to (A) get checked, and (B) got me through a lot of the stress and worry. And I will always appreciate that.

And for those of you who weren't here then, no worries. Benign. :-)

Since then, the blog has gotten a bit deeper. A bit more personal (although I still like keeping certain things close to my chest). Friends have reminded me that I like to write… so I do. Others have encouraged me to KEEP writing here… so I am. At some point, I may even put some of the more artsy-fartsy stuff I've written up here, but I'm not quite ready for that yet, if I ever am (I've got a nice, anonymous Tumblr for that ;-)

I've always loved deep discussions and debates with friends, and while I haven't really done much of that in my blog (yet), I find it fun to turn ideas around and dig into them… to maybe pontificate a bit and see if it leads to a discussion. To question and probe without judgment… maybe the virtual equivalent of having a heated discussion among friends and ending it with, "Well, let's have another beer."

So, okay. I'll blog more. I'll write more. But I'll dig a bit more as well. That's been fun lately, and always good to gain some more self-insight.

And if this blog changes into yet something else? So be it. It'll be fun while it lasts. :-)
Onward and upward!

And thanks for being part of my neighborhood. <3

1 comment:

Gina said...

Well, I for one am so glad to read your posts! Not only do I enjoy getting a glimpse inside your noggin, I laugh at loud at your quips!

Debate is good! Can provoke thoughts or deepen your commitment to your own opinions, but it rarely leaves you untouched (like good art!). I'd love to engage in discussions, so add my "here, here!" to the pile, and please do keep on blogging, Jen!

And great metaphor--the neighborhood. Love it!!