A Virtual Crowd

This is a reprint of a column I wrote and published online in April 2008. It is absolutely amazing how dated this is!

They say writing is a solitary profession. Once upon a time, writers sat in their rooms with only their thoughts and their typewriters as companions. But things have changed. We work on computers now (at least, most of us do — I’m sure there are probably hold-outs who still use an old Remington [The typewriter, not the gun] or even a quill pen [Miraculously, that link still works.]. We have instant access to information and people through the Internet. Not only does the Internet provide writers with a powerful research tool, it also connects them with other people through email, instant messaging, chat rooms, e-mail lists and online bulletin boards. And, if that weren’t enough, now we have online social networks.

I’d never really thought much about joining an online social network, and I can’t even recall now exactly what got me started down that road. But last autumn, I decided to join Crimespace [That, too, still exists. Haven’t been on it in ages.]. It seemed to make sense — like a good way for a crime fiction writer (me) to connect with other writers of my genre. I’d heard the site could be a good source of news and information, as well as a marketing tool. So what the heck? I went ahead and signed up.

My first task, of course, was to create a profile. It took a little time and some thought, but not to the point of being burdensome.

Before I knew it, I was getting invitations from other writers to be their “friend.” I was happy to accept — I can use all the friends I can get — and within short order, I’d compiled an impressive list of friends on Crimespace — probably more than I’d had in all my years of high school and college combined.

While I was stockpiling friends, I was also participating in discussions — one on a recent movie and another on what I was reading. And I started being notified anytime someone contributed to a discussion I’d participated in. Now, there are a lot of people out there, reading a whole lot of books. And every time someone discusses it on Crimespace, guess who gets an email?

That was Crimespace. The next thing I knew, I’d been Facebooked.

My brother invited me to join Facebook [Yeah, that’s still around.] and aboard I hopped. Once again, I created a profile (something more general, less crime fic-oriented than the one for Crimespace). I acquired more “friends” — mostly family, actually, but friends just the same. Now and then, someone would write on my “wall,” compelling me to respond by writing on theirs.

That was Crimespace. The next thing I knew, I’d been Facebooked.

In the meantime, it wasn’t enough for Facebook to have my profile or to contact me whenever people sent a message or wrote on my wall. Oh, no. Facebook wanted to keep tabs on me. It wanted status updates. It asked, “What are you doing now?” I’d write whatever came into my head — “Debbi is writing.” “Debbi is hungry.” “Debbi is moving her right leg . . . she is moving her left leg.” Thing is, if you don’t keep updating it, after a time it reverts to the original query: “What are you doing now?” (“Debbi says mind your own @#&% business!”).

So I’m busy discussing books and movies, responding to messages, scrawling on people’s walls and keeping Facebook appeased with tongue-in-cheek status updates (“Debbi is dancing as fast as she can” “Debbi is glad it’s Friday”). Then someone told me about LinkedIn [Yep, still there].

LinkedIn came up during a business meeting with someone who said he found it a valuable informational and networking resource. Another social network? I thought. Why not? Up I signed and again took the time to create a profile — in this case, one that would highlight my accomplishments as a freelancer, in order to market my services online and make contacts for business purposes.

So I’m busy discussing books and movies, responding to messages, scrawling on people’s walls and keeping Facebook appeased with tongue-in-cheek status updates (“Debbi is dancing as fast as she can” “Debbi is glad it’s Friday”). Then someone told me about LinkedIn [Yep, still there].

I had barely linked up with LinkedIn when I got an invite from someone to be one of their “connections” (on LinkedIn, you don’t have “friends,” you have “connections” — it’s a business thing). Like Facebook, LinkedIn tends to nag you about your status (“What are you working on?” it asks. “Which would you like to know about?” I could respond. “My fourth novel, a legal answer guide, a grant writing project . . .”) Otherwise, things have been pretty quiet since my first connection. However, I sense that there’s a lot I could be doing with LinkedIn that I simply haven’t explored yet. In fact, that’s true of all the social networks.

Does it contribute to information overload? It could, if you let it. However, like any Internet resource, an online social network can be tuned in or tuned out at your pleasure.

So, as a writer, do I feel lonely? Hardly. I’m connected to a virtual crowd — people I can socialize with, talk business with, get referrals from, promote my work to and (virtually) just hang out with. Long gone are the days of the solitary writer. We are all connected now by that technological miracle called the Internet.

Does it contribute to information overload? It could, if you let it. However, like any Internet resource, an online social network can be tuned in or tuned out at your pleasure. You can be an active participant or spend most of your time in lurk mode, chiming in now and then as the spirit moves you. And, if you’d like to make an announcement, ask a question, or just talk, you have a huge audience to direct it to. People who may benefit from what you have to say or vice versa.

The Internet has even made it possible to get a Second Life [I’d say that site’s changed a bit since 2008!]. But to that, I say, “No thanks. I’m too busy trying to manage the first one.”

PS: I feel almost nostalgic reading this. 🙂

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Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.