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Drinking the Social Media Kool-Aid October 29, 2010

Posted by therealgirlsguide in Blog, events, new media, news, social media, speaking, Web Series.
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Before the launch of Real Girls back in February, Twitter was something I knew relatively little about. Like most “non-users” I regarded it with skepticism, unknowingly bandying about anti-social-media clichés like “do I really want to know every time your dog takes a dump” and “it sounds like a big a waste of time.”

But there was a moment last week when I realized how far out I had ventured into the Twitta-sphere. I was talking to my dad on the phone and heard him repeat some of these now-familiar phrases, which then led to a conversation about invasion of privacy, the culture of self-indulgence and exhibitionism (whadda you want? He’s an English professor, that’s just the way we talk…), and I found myself saying ”yeah, there’s an aspect of that, but there’s a LOT more to it.” And suddenly I realized I had become that person, the one who gives unpaid testimonials about the value of social networking and how it’s being used to “create community” and “level the playing field” and rambling on about hashtags, @replies, direct message and IRL encounters. If this had been a Skype call, I would have seen his eyes glaze over.

The subject came up because a couple of weeks ago I was asked to be on a panel representing at the “140 Character Conference” in Hollywood. So now (despite being a Luddite with an active AOL account and an uneasy relationship with a second hand iPod), I can pretend to be an authority on a tech-related subject. Cool! (And just for the record—and because he’ll probably read this—my Dad has a first-hand iPod and was happily Skyping long before I was).

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKDn34C%5D

The conference, created by Twitter seed investor Jeff Pulver, runs for two days in half a dozen cities and features panel discussions on the value and use of social media. The range of panelists is pretty impressive, from marketers to homeless advocates, to street performers, to aid workers in Haiti, to small businesses, to some of the biggest creative forces in Hollywood. I was invited to appear on a panel about “writing and community” along side moderator Debra Eckerling, creator of the writer resource site WriteOnOnline (who did an interview with me a few months ago), and Zac Sanford, creator of the popular #ScriptChat (a twitter based forum for screenwriters). The conference, as a whole, was a thrilling experience. It felt like something truly democratic was taking place. Finally, here was a forum where having a voice had nothing to do with money and prestige and everything with having something to say. Here was a forum where homeless bloggers were given the same respect as pop-culture icons.

For example, in the green room, waiting to go on stage, I ran into Tim Kring (creator of Heroes), Ilene Chaiken (creator of The L-Word)…and Smokey the Bear. Where else could this have possibly happened? (Read another interesting article about the strange menage of Real Girls, Smokey and Tim King HERE.)

Carmen Elena Mitchell, Tim Kring, Debra Eckerling & Zac Sanford

Me & Smokey

And yes, I asked Smokey (recalling a frustrating encounter at Disneyland with Eeyore) if he—like his Disney brethren—was forbidden from actually speaking. He nodded his head “Yes” sadly (but TWEET he does…and yes, the rumors of my brief un-reciprocated twitter-flirtation in the week following the conference are true, but I digress).

So yes, in some respects I have drunk the Kool-Aid. And yet at the same time, I recognize that there’s a dark side to all of this too. One need only look at the recent suicides of gay teens attributed to “cyber-bullying” to see that there’s something else very troubling going on. Through our drunken consumption of social media we’ve carelessly laid open the doors to a world without privacy, a world without boundaries, and—most problematic—a world of self-conscious childhood, where every moment of one’s evolving vulnerable self is potentially captured, exposed and critiqued in front of millions. We’ve created Big Brother and he is US. And no one born before 1990 can truly appreciate what it feels like to grow up in that world.

But then at the same time consider the reaction to such acts, like activist/columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” Project, which started in September as a response to Billy Lucas’ suicide (which has inspired everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to President Obama to create videos directed at LGBT youth letting them know that “it gets better”); and The Trevor Project, which provides 24/7 nationwide suicide prevention hotlines and support.

If you missed it please check out this video by Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns released on October 13th, which already has over 2 million hits.

Consider the NOH8 campaign.

Consider the countless on-line non-profit organizations that act as lifelines to teens in communities where there are no other resources.

Consider independent web series like Anyone But Me that have earned an enormous international audience though normalizing representations of LGBT teens.

Consider that before social media (BSM?!) many LGBT youths still took their own lives because of a lack of community, visibility and access to support.

Consider that in this brave new world the bully is often now exposed, and that there are consequences, whereas before most of this behavior went unreported and unpunished.

In the end social media is just an innovation, like TV, like radio…like the automobile even. And like those innovations it’s going to be regarded with skepticism. There will be people who refuse to utilize it and who claim that it’s impacting the culture in negative ways. And they’re right, it is. But it’s simultaneously changing it for the better. As with all advances in technology, we need to grow as a culture in order to learn how to use social media responsibly, and how to counter abuse so it does not go unchecked. We need to wear seat belts—or more importantly…we need to learn how to drive.

But in order to do that, we all—particularly those of us who are parents—need to be part of the conversation and at least take a sip of the Kool-aid. Right, Dad?

xo – Carmen



1. VeniceRiley - November 5, 2010

Ain’t no big thing. Tell you dad that my 87 year old dad can rip his own albums and cassette tapes and load them on an mp3 player.

Gay teen suicides existed in alarming numbers prior to the actual internet. The internet is a refuge, in many ways, for isolated people whose geographical community is not their preferred bailiwick.

Publicizing the phenomena can only do good. MITZVAHS happening there! And kudos x MEGA to Dan. But, one must remember, especially in the Rutgers case, that the roommate in meatworld did the deed! Those closest can and do hurt people most, as 95% of rape and abuse victims will attest.

The internets …. not scary. Not scarier than real life. IT’S THE SAME. SAME AS IT EVER WAS.

So… The rest is a question of credulity and volume and personal problems. (Hear about the gay activist kid that was the go-to resouce in NYC re gay kids with problems that committed suicide? He had just garden variety depression and … see what I’m saying here?) Love your friends and kids. Get them what they need. Not what you might think they need.

Oh and yeah. Twitter is a fantastic place to meet peple and get to know folks you might never have the opportunity to get to know otherwise. If describing it on a mass blog such as this, I don’t know that I would have mentioned all the … ‘no one who isn’t there gets it’ type stuff. Everyone knows that already. As it is like ANYTHING one tries to describe to a non-participant. >>>>

“We sit around a fire, see? And there is a stick. You can’t talk unless you have the stick.” “What if I have an interesting interjection?” “NO! No talking without the stick!”

“If you enter the subnet mask along with your IP then the chat will load”

… and also Biblechats … noting is more circular logic-y, unexplainable to the unindoctrinated, and quite so confuzzling as Biblechat. If I hadn’t read the Bible… I would think they were all out thy minds … oh, wait.

therealgirlsguide - November 7, 2010

Always good to hear from ya, Venice Riley=). We should totally have a competition between our dads to see who is the most tech-savvy. My dad is actually pretty fierce in the tech arena (in spite of his mistrust of Twitter and Facebook). Also, like a lot of “non-users” he actually DOES read blogs…so who knows.. maybe we’ll get lucky and hear from him on this subject as well.

Regarding gay teen suicide: I’m in no way suggesting that this is a new phenomenon (and I think it’s pretty impossible to know if the numbers have actually gone up or down due to social networking or if we are just more aware, though I’m guessing it’s latter). I tried to address that point in the second half of this post.

Thanks for dropping by=).


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