Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, December 12, 2011


Social media does go one 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 or 366 days a year but that does not mean that the participants or bloggers or whatever they are called depending on the media, go on that long or stay online that long. Some of us don't check Facebook every few minutes, in fact, some of us don't check Facebook until there is something going on or we get a message. But what does it really mean that social media goes on all the time?

When I was young we had a crank telephone that connected us to a switchboard operator located on the main street sort of downtown, if you could call it a town. The telephone was on a party line and would ring a certain number of times, like ring, ring, ring, for us and a different number for someone else on the party line. If you picked up the phone and stayed really still, you could listen in on any number of conversations. Subsequently, everyone in town knew everything about everybody else. That is, unless you were very circumspect and didn't say much over the telephone. But inevitably, everyone found out everything anyway.

One advantage of having the switchboard operator was that you could call her on the telephone and ask questions, like "Have you seen my father downtown?" or "Is the store still open?" or "What is the movie tonight at the theater?" Since she was sitting right there in front of a big window, she saw everything going on and obviously, she could listen in to any conversation she chose. That was real power. The switchboard operator was the de facto ruler of the town's social affairs. If she didn't know something, it was because she simply wasn't interested.

Now, the telephones only worked when they wanted to. Calling someone outside of town, formerly known as "long distance" was a chore and very expensive. No one called except for deaths and sometimes for money. Before too long the system was upgraded to a rotary phone system and the whole social structure created by that technology crumbled away to dust.

I think there are some striking similarities between the old switchboard system and today's social networking. The main differences are speed and size. Of course, our present evolving system is huge, global in nature. I can talk as easily to someone in Australia as I can to someone next door. In fact, I am more likely to talk to someone in Australia than I am someone next door. No matter the time of day, it is always daytime somewhere, I can chat or text or write to whomever I please.

What goes around comes around. There is no guarantee that an entirely different system of communication and technological advance won't make the present system obsolete in a heartbeat and send us off in a different direction. But guess what? There are these neat little switches on my laptop, my iPhone, the iPad and every other device. They are called on/off switches. When I turn off the device, I am back in my small town before the telephone came into my life. No one knows where I am or what I am doing (within reason, of course). At least no one in the "social network." I can opt out or in the parlance of my age, drop out.

So why do I choose to opt in? In my case it is simple, I am a compulsive writer. Now, that I don't write legal briefs everyday all day long, I still have the urge to write and write I must. Now comes the real question. Do I care if anyone reads what I write? That is a harder question to answer. I am gratified when someone reads what I write, but deep down, I am not motivated simply by having an audience. I am certainly, in my own mind, not motivated to maintain any kind of social contact by means of social networking. I never report in. I hardly ever answer questions other than those directed at me personally and I certainly don't send any kind of chain notices to anyone or respond to any sent to me.  So am I a social networker  or not? Not.

Oh, you say. You are a hypocrite, you blog incessantly. I do not view blogging as a social activity. My blogging is nearly all one way. Me out. Sometimes I will respond to a comment but rarely do I get engaged in a dialogue. I think it is the dialogue that creates the social part of networking.

Why don't I participate? I have other things to do. Real things with real people and real responsibilities. I don't need to live my life online. Then why write at all? Back to square one. Some people breathe, I write.


  1. I think the goal with all of these tools is to use them in a way that works for us. If it's working for you, and you're not hurting anyone're doing it right.

  2. "Some people breathe, I write." And I read -- and read, and read some more. So it's wonderful when I find something so eminently readable and interesting as your blog. Thanks, and please keep writing.

  3. Dear James,
    We want to thank you for your quick action in sounding the alarm about RootsTech’s decision not to allow books, book related products or services in the exhibit hall and for including our voice in the protest of the decision. It was wonderful to see that we as rejected exhibitors didn’t have to plead our case alone. Today we heard from Gordon Clarke and Stories To Tell will be exhibiting at RootsTech after all.
    You may not be a social networker, but it wouldn’t have happened without bloggers like you and the lesson in the power of social media you’ve taught us all.
    Thanks, and best wishes,
    Nancy and Biff Barnes