Monday, June 22, 2009

The Gift: Take, Eat, this is My Tweet-- hospitality on Twitter

and then there's this

'Honey, come and try some viral-marketing broccoli rabe,' says a woman to her boyfriend.

The context? Bill Wasik, author of And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture has just removed the plastic-bag-cooked-veggie from the microwave; he's promoting the bag as part of a word-of-mouth effort he signed up for on-line. This is the world of viral dreams, where businesses capitalize on 'media-consuming individuals' in hopes of creating 'community' that will sell their products.

But corporations are only tapping into a reality that exists for many who move and shake on-line. These are the 'sub-culture [who have] the mind-set of the marketer, drunk on numbers, single-mindedly obsessed with gathering attention, engineering sudden spikes.' They are the 'individual consumers...learning and refining the tricks of manipulation for themselves— where they serve as secret agents inside their own crowds, totaling up mentions and page views, sifting through their troves of data in a scurrilous search for gold.'

In other words, we are a tweeting, blogging, story-churning narcissistic cyberbunch, asserts Wasik, and who knows what effect this will ultimately have on culture?

Wasik's conclusions are only slightly less narcissistic than the cybertrends he observes.* In a kind of secular-spiritual-practice approach, he recommends quiet times, techno-Sabbath, self-reflection, and delaying gratification (by waiting for a topic to die down before reading about it). He asks us to be judicious controllers of what we take in, mostly to preserve our sanity and productivity and possibly to grant reason to our politics and greatness in our art. Any mention of true community and grace-engagement seems absent, as he urges us towards a corrective of partial 'disengagement.'

Enter The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. In speaking of gifts, he considers three levels at which they can function: the ego-of-one (which is self-gratification), the ego-of-two (which is reciprocal and best exemplified by lovers) or a full circle scenario that is unlike many married couples who 'get just so far in the expansion of the self and then close down for a lifetime, opening up for neither children, nor the group, nor the gods.'

In a sense, Wasik's Internet antidotes speak to dealing with the ego-of-one. But can *disengagement* alone move us towards higher levels of gift-giving? Towards reciprocity or full-circle giving? Maybe for that, we need to consider grace-engagement, a kind of cyber-hospitality modeled on tried and true off-line social behaviors.

For simplicity's sake, I thought we might focus on the increasingly popular Twitter world. However, if you tend to move more actively in the blogging or Facebook world, I invite your observations in those arenas. I don't think I've reached an adequate hospitality model quite yet, but here are some questions I've begun to ask myself about the act of tweeting...

1. How often do I tweet? If I spoke that much at an actual party, would I be monopolizing the conversation? Would I be viewed as a self-focused self-promoter?

2. Do my tweets tend to focus on *me*? As a journaling tool, focusing on myself can be positive, but how would such inward-focus be viewed in the average off-line conversation?

3. Do I tweet about the good stuff? Comparing this to off-line, am I just the gossipy tidbit type (sometimes fun and can serve a purpose) or can I also be counted on to move the conversation to refreshingly humorous or profound places?

4. Are my tweets usually monolog? Or do I engage in dialog? At 140 characters per entry, dialog is no simple matter. Still, am I talking AT or WITH other people?

5. Do I celebrate others' successes in my tweets? (And here I must thank Bradley Moore for retweeting my self-focused tweet on how I received an unexpected advance because Stone Crossings is being translated into Korean! Oops, pardon that temporary descent into narcissism :)

6. Do I think twice before tweeting on a bandwagon? As Wasik notes, he has seen the 'day-to-day destructiveness of the Internet churn, of the manufacture of nanostories with little regard for their ultimate truth.'

7. Do I tweet-dialog mostly with one other person? As in off-line life, it's good to focus on one or two friends sometimes, but in a social context that can border on the ego-of-two which never widens the circle.

8. Are my tweets always directive, statement oriented? Or do I sometimes ask questions, thus encouraging others to think and respond and add their wisdom or humor to the conversation.

All righty. Take, eat, these are my thoughts on tweeting. Now I'll sit back and wait for the bread and wine you'll bring to the table. And together maybe we can feed a wider world.

And Then There's This, photo by L.L. Barkat. *Overall, I enjoyed Wasik's book; I attribute the nature of his conclusions partly to the stage we're at with this whole 'social media conversation'; others like him, including those in the Christian community, have offered similar antidotes that rely on disengagement. As the conversation continues, I expect we'll eventually see a call for other kinds of solutions that favor what I've termed grace-engagement. For an article that begins the call in this direction, check out Loving Your On-Line Neighbor as Yourself, at Catapult.

High Calling's Laish and the Silo Effect
Thanks to International Arts Movement, for linking to our discussion of The Gift.

When Did You Labor, or will Sabbath help your gift go viral?
Womb, Harlequin, and License Plates: The Gift, 1

Trust Word of Mouth, at eMarketer
Loving Your On-Line Neighbor as Yourself, at Catapult
The Rise of the Nanostory, at Freedom to Tinker
Nanostory, at Tangzine

My First Giveaway, at Billy Coffey's.

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Anonymous Sam Van Eman said...

Engaging post, LL. I tend to read after the buzz dies down, become a fan after the athlete retires and fans have moved on, plant a flower after the masses are done with it....

I'm not an Early Adopter, nor part of the Masses either. Maybe I'm the guy who's two paragraphs behind in a fast-moving conversation.

A couple of your points and a line such as Wasik's poo-pooing of "nanostories with little regard for their ultimate truth" reminds me that it's okay to be two paragraphs behind.

11:47 AM  
Blogger deb said...

I tend to agree with Sam. I am always going to the desert to starve a little before I gift or receive.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Congrats on Seedlings being translated to Korean! That is amazing news, and I celebrate with you. A very valuable book for the Korean people to read, I believe.

I love the questions you pose. Much food for thought. We are moving to a new place in our culture, and it does concern. there' a new commercial for Sea World (have you seen it?) that poses a line of statements along this: "I believe there are some things that we will never be able to download..." It kind of hit me.

Life is so different for my boys. I try to give them good ol' hands on fun, but, they are drawn to the things that make their world buzz. It's not all bad; I see so much creativity in this new technology.

Making this network a circle and not an ego of one or two is less of a challenge for me than making it one of real intimacy and meaningful friendships.

Socializing is wearing a new dress these days. And I'm still in my same old apron.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Of course, I meant Stone Crossings, not Seedlings! Congratulations again. :)

4:13 PM  
Blogger Bought as is said...

another "layer" or "fractal" to this -for me at least- is am I the same person: on facebook as on twitter? online as off line? Part of my being on facebook/twitter/blogging is to understand myself. I'm complicated, just ask me, I'll tell you. Part of facebook/twitter is [& was] -for example- to tell the same news to anyone who wanted it. i.e. how did surgery go? Rather than 15 people asking me, I could say [once] how I'm doing. How-some-ever I don't want to be so online talking ABOUT life that I'm no longer actually alive, myself.

Sorry if this is long or confusing.
I love this post, though. And "nanostories without truth"... I really dig what Wasik's saying there! Sometimes I don't "jump on the bandwagon" because I want to know if it is good for ME. [I'm not everyone] A wise youth leader once said [though, he was talking about premarital sex at the time] "just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right, it only makes it common".

10:33 PM  
Blogger sherri said...

I love blogging, but I'm not a "tweeter". I have no time (blogging takes enough of this from those I love so I've already made cutbacks there) and I've read others' tweets on their blogs, and I'm sorry, but it's just not appealing to me. I like talking to people I can see and touch more than I want to reach the masses.

I can see where it would be very valuable to someone wishing to market a product, or themselves though, which I'm not interested in doing either.
I enjoyed hearing your thoughts, and congratulations on your book deal!

8:08 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

"Billy sent me". I look forward to sharing in this forum as the Lord guides you in your writing.

God Bless,

8:33 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

It's only 140 characters per post, but I'm still confused by Twitter.

I suppose I'm making Twitter too hard. But I don't know if I "get it."

Now, I have a few followers who I think actually care about what I post. But I feel like most of the people who follow me are only hoping for a "follow" in return. Sorry if I sound jaded.

As long as we're being honest here ... :-) ... I follow some people just because I'm plain nosy.

10:00 AM  
Blogger sojourner said...

Great questions - i became curious as to your answers :0)

4:33 PM  
Blogger Charity Singleton said...

LL -- I love the direction of this post.

I recently had a conversation about Facebook in which I suggested that these online social networking sites deceive us into thinking more is better when it comes to friends, and lead us to believe that we can actually maintain 236 friendships.

The problem is that these online relationships can easily become all about "me." And not just in content, either. I decide to log on or not. I decide to update, or not. I can make the next move in the Scrabble Game, or not. I don't have to look anyone in the eye either way. If I behaved that way in real life, I'd be hard-pressed to maintain 1 true relationship.

I know people who aren't on Facebook who still lead very fulfilling lives. Heck, I'm not even really sure what Twitter is, yet, and I still feel relatively happy. Sometimes I just want to sign off.

BUT . . .

I'm not sure the new media are the problem. As with all relationship issues, I can usually find the problem by looking into the mirror. Am I expecting more out of these networking/community tools than was is reasonable or realistic? Afterall, my face-to-face relationships can be hard, too.

At the same time, I've begun to give myself a break about not "checking in" every day, or even every week. There's something to be said for "space" too!

Great thoughts, LL!

5:16 PM  
Blogger mom2six said...

Your questions not only relate to twitter or facebook but life as well. How often do we invest in others? Do we focus only on ourselves? Your question list could relate to our everyday interactions with the people around us. Challenging words.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Tony York said...

Somehow I made it to your blog... I think from Billy's ...(coffey.... like the drink but spelled differently).

And then I found some of you poetry on another of your blogs and read Pickings. I tried to leave a comment there but I don't have a google account, so forgive me for leaving that comment here:

I love poetry... sadly, I have stopped writing it. For some unknown reason I posted an old piece that I had written some time ago last night on my blog. Maybe because I miss creating ... or just the excitement that words can be when written to create a picture.

Sometimes, its just the right word or turn of a phrase that connects me to a piece. In pickings, I enjoyed the list of flowers ... a variety of blessings. And I was intrigued by the mention of sprinkling of petals and how difficult that would be with Queen Anne's lace (as children we called that chigger weed).

Some blessings come at a cost... don't they. How difficult it would be to sprinkle the petals of Queen Anne's lace.

I miss thinking on poetry.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Peter P said...

Great post LL.

I like the thoughts of how we twitter. I don't have too much of a twitter strategy. Maybe I should think about it a little more to ensure I'm not being too narcissistic.

5:27 PM  

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