The Lie Every Social Network Tells

Let’s talk a little more about the problem of disentangling yourself from the possibly-democracy-destroying social networks that currently dominate public discourse.

Now that we’ve moved full-blast into a gig economy, one of the most frightening prospects of leaving social media is losing the network that keeps you afloat. Artists rely on their social graphs to spread the word when they have new work out, or when they need a new project. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, to be sure, but a total lack of exposure means you’re definitely not selling any books (or games, or commissions, or...) Obcurity is the biggest problem early and even mid-career creators have to solve, because it doesn’t matter what heartbreaking works of genius you produce if nobody ever looks at them.

So sure, I could delete my Twitter account in a principled stand for what I believe in. But I’d be losing access to (as of this writing) 6,757 hypothetically human followers who have opted in to what I have to say. Gosh, that’s a lot of potential book sales to give up, isn’t it?

And yet.

Here’s the lie every social network is telling you: It’s your friend or follower counts. Your number of impressions and views. Your numbers of likes, faves, RTs, hearts.

We live in a world that wants to quantify everything, a kind of numeromancy meant to give us the feeling that we know and can control the future. Your resting heart rate and the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream become the entrails we read to know if we will die soon. Calories consumed and burned become a scale of virtue, weighing our moral worth. Likes are a way to scry the hearts of others, to know how much they love you.

Did I say yet that this is a lie? Because it’s a lie.

This is a problem advertisers have grappled with for decades. There is no way to measure the hearts of humankind, so we measure what we can and pretend it’s the same thing. We have a whole arcane set of practices arisen solely from trying to derive truths about what we can’t measure from the things we can: conversion rates, A/B testing, sentiment analysis.

These numbers we can see and know feel like money in the bank. But the dirty truth is that I can’t count on all 6,757 of those people to buy a book. To the contrary, I can count on the fact that they won’t — and if I sell that many of anything, most of those people won’t know a hoot about where to find me online.

On Twitter, I can’t even count on all of my followers to even see my promotional efforts, no matter how hard I dance. Honestly, I can’t count on all of them to even be human beings, or to still be active on Twitter anymore if they are. So the loss of value to me in leaving is far less than 6,757 book sales, multiplied by however many books over however many years Twitter is the place to be.

How much less? Who can say?

This is an even more complicated problem when it’s not a career issue, but a personal one. It is nonetheless the same problem. You can have five hundred friends on Facebook but nobody to call to feed your pets because you have to make an emergency trip out of town. You can have five thousand Twitter followers and nobody who checks up on you at the right moment because they know you’ve been having a tough time these days, and they just want to see if you’re okay.

It’s possible that the 51 people who have subscribed to get my blog posts in email (and perhaps also the couple-hundred who read me in RSS)  are all the people on Twitter I could count on in the first place, as audience members, or as colleagues, or as friends.

We have a lot of ways to say this same thing. The map is not the territory. Quantity isn’t quality. And you know the alleged Mark Twain quote, that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.   

Numbers can be real, and yet not true. Let’s not fool ourselves. And let’s not allow ourselves to be fooled. 

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Imzy: Off to a Good Start

Kace Alexander posted a couple of really amazing Medium pieces recently about how toxic Twitter has become and why that's never going to change, and the new contender on the horizon to become the next big social media thing: Imzy. Kace is very, very smart, and you should go read those pieces now. I won't be repeating that stuff here.

My personal experience of Twitter isn't actually bad on a day to day basis, but I am keenly aware of some harsh realities. I'm a woman. I work in games. I hold extremely left-wing politics. I've had a few scuffles with MRA-types that blow over fast, but the sword of Damocles hangs over me, just waiting for the right moment to fall. The better my career goes, the worse Twitter will be for me. 

I really need to start fostering other spaces that give me the same benefits in having a public-facing persona, the ability to connect with new people, and access to water coolers for talking shop and letting off steam that encompass entire industries.

So! Imzy. I have a community on Imzy already, and I'm happy to hand out invites—just give me a holler. I don't have the hang of Imzy yet, but it took me a long time to get the hang of Twitter, too. And the lesson I've learned from that is: I need a critical mass of other people there to make it more than just an extra chore.

Right now I'm using my community as a personal space to repost stuff from this blog and from Instagram. In turn, one of the reasons I woke up this blog is to start moving some thoughts off of Twitter. But I'm sure that usage is going to evolve over time, as Imzy's culture grows more established and best practices emerge.

Maybe join my critical mass on Imzy? And help carve out a kinder, safer space on the internet, where moderation exists and abuse isn't tolerated? It may work and it may not, but I feel like the right thing to do here is give it a vigorous and honest try.


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Anne of Green Gables Book Club

For the record, this all happened because Kate Lechler was watching Anne of Green Gables on TV on Friday. And I was all "Hey I've never read those books, should I read them?" And Adam Rakunas was all, "I never read them either, should we read them together?" and like ten minutes later there was this whole big... plan.

Here's that plan: starting today, we are going to read Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. As we go, we're going to talk about our immediate reactions on the Twitter hashtag #AoGG. If we finish the first book and we can tolerate it, we're gonna keep going with the series.

On Oct. 17 we're going to check in and talk about our progress in a deeper and more reflective conversation. Then on Oct. 31 we're going to have a final chat about what we're taking away from the books, what we read (or didn't read), and how we feel about the series as a whole.

We'd really love to get some others to read along and chat about it with us! If it helps, the books are available for free in ebook format on Project Gutenberg (and very likely in paper at your local library.) And if there are any L.M. Montgomery fans or scholars, we'd love for you to fill us in on context we're missing—or just chuckle at what we make of it as we go!

This is going to be SUPER FUN. Now if you'll excuse me... I have some reading to do!

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What Happens When You Don't Like a Friend's Work?

Over the years, I've become twitterfriends with quite a lot of writers: SF/F writers, games writers, transmedia writers, bloggers, and on and on. They are to a one funny, clever, insightful people. (Then again, if they weren't I wouldn't be following 'em, so there's that.) One of my ambitions for this year is to do a lot more reading, particularly the work of all these people that I love and respect from social media.

Which raises an interesting question: what happens if I read something written by someone I really, really like... and I really, really don't like it?* And of course there's the flip side of that: what if someone I'm friends with really, really doesn't like my work?

Various writers have talked about whether or not they should ever write negative reviews of another writer's work. These are often couched in terms of reputation and career -- negative reviews might rob you of a valuable connection, negative reviews might rob the reviewee of potential sales, etc. etc. 

But there's not a whole ton of attention paid to what I think is a deeper underlying issue. Genre fiction, in particular, is a fairly small community of creators. Many -- maybe most! -- of that peer group are friends, or at least friendly. So in a negative-review situation, the problem isn't just one of what's best for your career. Often the question is how to manage a potential source of conflict and tension in your relationship with somebody you really like a lot.

Even aside from outright reviews, if you simply talk a lot to another writer and find their work not to your taste, poorly executed, or otherwise lacking, do you tell them? Do you just keep quiet and hope it never comes up? Do you cherry-pick one thing you kinda liked and talk it up?

Whether to be open and honest about the not-liking is going to heavily depend on the nature of the relationship. In general the closer you are, the more honest you can be; there's not much point in going out of your way to tell a nodding acquaintance that their latest book just didn't rev your engine, or you think they must have been drunk on bathtub gin and battery acid to write so poorly.

In a closer or warmer friendship, it can be a lot trickier, to be honest. There's no one right way to handle it, because human beings aren't a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.

But one thing is absolutely clear: if you find you dislike something created by someone you really like, it's important to remember that taste varies. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you don't like something, it is unlikeable. That if you don't care for the writing or the characters or the plotting or the worldbuilding, it's because the writing is actively and objectively bad.

This is not the case. Let's say that again: Taste varies.

For my part, I'm totally fine when friends don't like something I've done; I've never thought I'd receive universal love and acclaim to begin with. My writing isn't perfect, nor will it ever be. And even if I were to execute perfectly on my vision, eh, different people enjoy different things. Sometimes, what I'm putting out there just isn't what someone else wants to pick up. And that's not just OK, it's to be expected!

A healthy separation between the creator and the creation is always, always important -- especially for the creator. It's tragically easy to feel like the way that someone reacts to your writing is a referendum on your worth as a human being.

But the fact is that no writer, no artist, has universal appeal. Taste varies, perception of quality even varies, and that's cool. We can all still be friends.

* ...And to all of my suddenly worried and more than slightly neurotic writer friends, I really, REALLY promise this isn't about you. It's not about anyone in particular. Relax, we're cool.

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Continuing my spotlight on anyone-but-me: You guys, Lizzie Bennet Diaries is so good. The writing is funny, the actors are charismatic and convincing both, and the adaptation manages to stay true to the spirit of the source material while adapting the whole thing for modern times so that it feels inevitable and natural. SO. GOOD.

In case you don't believe me, just take a look at the first episode your own self.

I've been meaning to catch up on this project for weeks now -- it's 19 episodes in already, and of course there are presences for the characters on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and probably a million other places. But don't feel overwhelmed! I caught up in just a couple of hours, and you can too, by just watching the videos online, and then catching up on the relevant pieces of social media on the LBD hub, which captures them in Storify. 

This project isn't just pitch-perfect on a creative level; on the structural level, too, they make it easy to engage on the lazypants level (like I likely will) but there are more immersive layers there, too, if you want them -- and because of that catching-up hub, you can be a lazypants without feeling like you're missing out on key parts of the story. If I were to offer one critique, it would be that the catch-up link isn't as dead obvious as it should be; I wish they cross-linked that particular URL from every video.

Still, in all, it's an exemplary project and you should all go check it out. Well played, gentlefolk. Well played.

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