Friday, July 27, 2012

Social Media & My Filtering Paradox

Lately, I’ve been splashing around at the edges of the social media ocean and having a fantastic time.  I’ve even followed a few of my favorite authors on Facebook and Twitter.  I’ve been following author Debora Geary on Facebook for more than six months and she’s an inspiration.  Not only does she write books (see A Modern Witch Series and the WitchLight Trilogy) that make me happy when I read them, she’s also created a joyous Facebook playground where she and her fans carry on genuine and uplifting conversations.  On days when I need a pick-me-up; that’s where I go.  Ms. Geary has become my role model for social media conduct. 
Social media is facilitating a new era of personal engagement and transparency and it changes the way we filter.  The large publishing houses (and I suspect this trend is as true for other arts as it is for writing) used to filter for us; most of us chose what to read from the narrow selection made available to us by publishers and bookstores.  With ebooks, independent publishing and social media, however, we now have access to a far greater number of authors and books than previously.  I find myself assessing authors’ social media behavior to help me filter who and what I pay attention to.      

About three months ago, I discovered a new author and devoured everything she had on Kindle.  I enjoyed her fantasy world, loved her characters and laughed aloud.  When I signed up for Twitter, I looked her up with every intention of following her.  I was astounded, however, to read in her timeline cranky and unpleasant responses to her fans.  I decided not to follow.  If she publishes more books, I’ll think twice before buying them.  Her negativity was a real turn-off. 

I realize that everyone is cranky and unpleasant at times.  My friends and family (and even a few strangers) know what a fire-breathing dragon I can be under the wrong circumstances.   Most of us, however, try to be our best selves during job interviews, book signings and other public events.  That’s the thing I think this author might be overlooking; her Twitter account is a public event. 

All of this got me thinking (perhaps I do too much of this) about how I, personally, filter.  It got me to thinking about the various pros and cons of filtering out people who have an attitude or interpersonal style that makes me uncomfortable.  And it got me thinking about one of my favorite authors.  An author I no longer read. 

There is a certain well-known author who wrote and published a lot of fantasy and science fiction during my late childhood and early adulthood.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I idolized this author.  I loved the way he wrote about moral and philosophical issues.  I cared about his characters.  I wanted to grow-up and write books as deep and moving as what he wrote.  I was vaguely aware that he held religious views that I found puzzling, but I didn’t know what he was thinking or saying outside of his books.  It’s only since I’ve had internet access that I’ve learned that this authors’ religious and political views upset me to the point that I can no longer stomach his books.  It’s sad and sometimes I’m disappointed in my lack of tolerance.  This author rarely publishes in the fantasy and science fiction genres these days, but when he does, I forego purchasing or reading his work.  I recognize that if I had known then, what I know now, I may never have ready any of his work.  That’s a thought I find truly disturbing.  I would have missed countless hours of reading bliss not to mention years of hero-worship.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to filter out every person I disagree with.  In fact, I’m highly opinionated and I’d be willing to bet money that there isn’t anyone who agrees with all of my opinions.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of folks who I tune out because I don’t share their worldview or because I don’t  enjoy their attitude or interpersonal style.  Without social media, I might not know enough about an authors’ worldview, attitude or interpersonal style to filter out on that basis.  I certainly wouldn’t know about one author who is cranky with her fans.   

So, I’m faced with a paradox.  On the one hand, I find it empowering to filter out folks who I don’t enjoy interacting with.  I believe that we should surround ourselves with people who make us happy.  Don’t we all do this in our face-to-face relationships?  On the other hand, I know that I’m healthiest when my diet is varied.  Isn’t it important to my personal growth to be exposed to the thoughts and viewpoints of people very different from me?  I value diversity. 

My challenge, as I venture deeper into the ocean of social media, will be to reconcile these ideas: to find a greater, dialectical, truth that resolves the paradox.

If you’re inclined to comment, I’d enjoy reading about your thoughts and insights.