I bet some of you remember life before Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter.
It was a time of social interaction that was, de facto, personal. We spent time sitting with someone, or walking with them or dancing or fishing. Not sitting at a keyboard and staring into a screen.
So we’re basically talking to total strangers and trusting in their goodwill and intelligence to respond civilly and calmly.
These days, that feels like more of a gamble.
I do see a lot of good thanks to social media.
You, for example!
Knowing that people still find value here — after ten years! — is heartening indeed. I really value the conversations and insights and humor and global perspective you bring.
I enjoy Twitter and have also made new friends from it, meeting them face to face, people I really enjoyed after months of tweets-only.
But a few downsides are increasingly diminishing my pleasure in using social media, and competitiveness is the primary driver.
In my business, of journalism and coaching and writing non-fiction, the LOUDEST voices seem to win, There’s a tremendous amount of chest-thumping, crowing over enormous success. Frankly, even with decades of my own accomplishment, I find it intimidating and exhausting.
I also see, increasingly, a sort of competitive victimhood, with millennials and Gen X vying for the title of whose life is most miserable — and it’s all thanks to those greedy Boomers. (My generation, of course.)
There is no legitimate argument to deny the challenges these two co-horts face. There are many and they intersect: high student debt, low wages, intermittent work, climate change…
I read some of those threads on Twitter, where even the calmest and most reasonable objection or alternate point of view is blocked for being unkind and invalidating — when it’s an alternate view.
I don’t dare mention on Twitter that Boomers like me have weathered three recessions, each of which slowed our careers and damaged our incomes. Then the crash of ’08.
This “lalalalalalalalala I can’t hear you” equivalent online is a disaster.
There’s little point in “connecting” with an enormous global audience, potentially, only to whine and rage and stamp your feet insisting your life is the worst ever.
For you, it is.
I get that.
But until or unless we can cultivate modesty and empathy, compassion and a clear understanding that we each see the world through our own filters of age, race, income, education, political views, sexual preference, gender identity, cultural norms….it’s a dialogue of the deaf.
Thanks to Twitter, I also met up in Berlin with Jens Notroff, an archeologist who works on Gobekli Tepe, a 12,000 year-old Neolithic site in Turkey and Dorothée Lefering, a travel blogger whose post about Rovinj, Croatia impelled me to stay there for a glorious week last July. I’d never even heard of it before!
We all met for lunch at Pauly Saal (a trendy restaurant) in Berlin last July, thanks to “meeting” them regularly through several weekly Twitterchats focused on travel — and Jens and I bonded for certain after trading the lyrics to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, thanks to Insta, I’m reviving my photography skills; I began my journalism career as a teenager selling three cover photos to a Toronto magazine, then sold to Time, The New York Times, Washington Post and more.
I love how my Smartphone has made me hyper-aware of my surroundings once more. The glossy perfection and waayyyyyyy too many selfies of Instagram don’t appeal to me, but I’m loving the global reach it offers.
I also spend a lot of time on Facebook participating in online-only women’s writing groups, where we find friendship, freelance work, staff jobs, mentoring and moral support. At worst, it can get ugly and weird, but at best it’s my daily water cooler, as someone who works alone at home in the boring suburbs of New York.
(It costs me $25+ in train and subway fare into New York City to meet people face to face, so social media offers us all an easy and affordable option.)
But I also plan play dates — this week an Oscar-viewing night with a neighbor, lunch here with an editor, a Canadian consulate event at the Tenement Museum in New York City, and meeting friends for dinner in Harlem at Red Rooster.
My weekends are also filled with in-person social activities from now through mid-April, so I don’t feel isolated and lonely, which social media can create online interaction is all you do.
Facebook was also useful recently in a highly unusual way — with a local woman reporting to our town in real time that a woman had been shot in an apartment complex nearby, that the shooter was on the loose (!) and that’s why we heard police helicopters overheard for hours.
(She died and he was captured in New York City at the bus station.)
The hashtag for our town’s zip code, whose Facebook page has thousands of members, was the single best place to find out what was happening.
Walking through an airport newsstand this year, I noticed a novelty. The covers of Inc., Fast Company and Time all had female executives on the covers: Sara Blakely, Angela Ahrendts and Janet L. Yellen. I quickly snapped a photo and sent out a tweet to my modest list of followers: “Women on the cover. Not just for girlie magazines anymore.”
Then I waited for the love. I checked the response before passing through security. Nothing. I glanced again while waiting for the plane. Still nothing. I looked again before we took off. Nobody cared. My little attempt to pass a lonely hour in an airport with some friendly interaction had turned into the opposite: a brutal cold shower of social isolation.
A few days later, I mentioned this story to my wife. “What a great tweet!” she said. She then retweeted it to her larger list of followers. Within seconds, it scored. Some Twitter bigwigs picked it up, and soon hundreds of people had passed it along, added their approval and otherwise joined in a virtual bra burning. Though I should be above such things, my wisp of loneliness was soon replaced with a gust of self-satisfaction. Look, I started a meme!
We are deep enough into the social-media era to begin to recognize certain patterns among its users. Foremost among them is a mass anxiety of approval seeking and popularity tracking that seems far more suited to a high school prom than a high-functioning society.
It’s interesting where this stuff ends up — one talented young photographer, a friend of ours working in Chicago (who has not even finished college) — was recently offered a full-time staff job by a major newspaper after editors kept seeing his excellent work on Instagram.
It’s not new, but it’s a must-read for anyone applying for a job:
Today I finished interviewing my third new hire this month, two of
which are women. They both are getting paid substantially less than the
man I hired earlier this month, and to be honest I am getting tired of
that. I don’t set the wages, I just handle negotiations (HR has to
approve every offer I make).
Our process, despite the pay gap, is identical for men and women. We
start with phone interviews, and move into a personal and technical
interview. Once a candidate passes both of those, we start salary
negotiations. This is where the women seem to come in last.
The reason they don’t keep up, from where I sit, is simple. Often, a
woman will enter the salary negotiation phase and I’ll tell them a
number will be sent to them in a couple days. Usually we start around
$45k for an entry level position. 50% to 60% of the women I interview
simply take this offer. It’s insane, I already know I can get
authorization for more if you simply refuse. Inversely, almost 90% of
the men I interview immediately ask for more upon getting the offer.
Asking for what you want and need is, for many people — women, especially — a terrifying, overwhelming challenge.
So they don’t.
They wimp out, then walk around, sometimes for years, pissed off at themselves for not being bolder, for not really putting their desire on the line, whether for better pay or a raise or a personal matter that really needs resolving.
Maybe you really want more respect or attention or more time alone in silence. Or for your husband to stop throwing his wet towels on the bed or your kids to not throw a fit when you expect them to empty the dishwasher or clean up their rooms.
What’s the worst that can happen if you ask?
A fight over how “demanding” and unreasonable you are
You lose that gig/client/job offer
They’re rude or nasty to you
Then, what’s your fallback?
I know this, having grown up in a family where negotiation was rarely an option. You learn, quickly, not to ask because asking for what you want, (which, within limits, is healthy), because you know it’s going to cause conflict.
And everyone wants to avoid conflict, so some people just end up caving and resenting and sighing and feeling crappy.
The best choice I ever made — from 2007 to 2009 when I really needed some steady income — was to work retail part-time, selling clothing at a local mall; here’s the book I wrote about it.
The money was low, $11/hr, with no commission, but it taught me the most useful skill — how to ask for what I want, simply and clearly and without endless foot-shuffling or hand-wringing,
In retail, in business, it’s called closing the deal. It is scary! I still dread that moment of self-assertion, but I do it more often and more quickly now — and my business is doing better as a result. I did it yesterday, dreading (worst case) the client in question was deeply unhappy with my work and would never use me again.
(Helloooooo….that’s called catastrophizing. Turned out much better than that. Whew.)
But I had to ask. And I had to conquer, still, my discomfort with it.
Women, especially, can get really nasty with other women who ask — because some are themselves terrified of asking, then resent us for having the cojones to do it, which may also force them to ask someone they’re scared to push on our behalf.
Do you ask for what you want, in work and in your personal life?
The conference audience was a mix of students, working journalists from such legacy media outlets as The Atlantic and the popular NPR radio show Fresh Air, think-tank types and social media experts. There was much hand-wringing about how to do better reporting faster and better. Is social media helping or hurting?
the names that went out over first social networks and then news blogs and websites were not Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation released early this morning. Instead, two other people wholly unconnected to the case, became, for a while, two of America’s most notorious alleged criminals.
I spent all week fine-tuning this story in today’s New York Times’ business section, the fifth published there in a year, my best run anywhere, ever. It’s a story I proposed many months ago, reported in the frigid depths of February in Montreal, followed up with many phone and email interviews along the way.
It’s a profile of Ubisoft, the fourth-largest video game maker in the world, with 7,540 employees worldwide and 2,500 in their Montreal studio — 82 percent of them male.
I had never played a video game when I pitched the story, really more interested in a French company operating in 26 countries and how they manage creativity.
Tuesday, my editor at Ladies Home Journal rejected six of the 12 (!) sources I’d found for my story. I had no time to handle this, and she’s quitting next week. I threw it to my poor overloaded assistant, with an email whose subject line started with the sincere word URGENT.
Wednesday evening at 6:30, an editor I’d pitched a day earlier said yes to a story — as long as it was delivered by Monday. Sure, no problem.
Jose, my husband who is a photo editor there, met me at the Times and took this new headshot. (Thanks, honey!)
I went down to Bizday and said hello to the people I’ve worked with there.
Thursday was an entire day at the ASJA annual conference, listening to a wide array of editors, (hoping to find new markets), and catching up with friends from all over the country, many with new books to promote and one waiting to hear if he’s won a big fellowship, with only 12 awards to be made among 36 applicants.
The young man sitting at the next table during one session was a winner of the fellowship for which, last December, I was one of 14 finalists (of 278 applicants.) Gah.
Friday morning was an almost impossible juggling act of incoming and out-going emails and phone interviews, (with a lobbyist in D.C., then a Kentucky senator, then an interior designer), while the Times’ copy desk and my editor pelted me with last-minute questions, (necessitating more fact-checking calls and emails to sources in Montreal and Los Angeles.)
In an oddly fortunate coincidence, two of my current assignments focus on aging, so I learned a lot, some of it immensely helpful for my own future, and my readers. In conversation with the Kentucky senator, I learned of a possibly really interesting feature story, which is often where I get my ideas.