I recently hired a student to help me get wired into what I'm told is the minimum needed to survive in today's digital world. So now in addition to Facebook, I am able to link in, tweet, Google Plus and other things I can't remember because I haven't used them yet.
I'm hardly a technophobe; in fact, I tend toward geek. Where else but Facebook would I have found Ellen Degeneres' delicious take on Bic pens for women? NASA Gangnam Style? Talking cats playing patty cake? During the election, political humor on Facebook kept me sane, and articles shared by smart friends kept me informed. Mostly, I like seeing what former students and old friends are up to.
Still, I've been more than hesitant to dive head first into the rest of the social media thing, and I was not clear why. And then it came to me: I'm just not that social.
I delight in small groups of friends — even better, one on one. I rarely answer my phone ("KC! Are you there? Pick up!") I've been called a vampire because I often sit in the dark.
In school, I flunked Girl Scouts (loved the cookies; hated the uniform thing). I dropped out of the one sorority a friend was able to shoehorn me into. I watched my generation's revolutions mostly from the sidelines, supportive but rarely on the streets. I never much wanted to join professional organizations because I didn't care about being a member of the national association of anything. When the brilliant (and autistic) writer Donna Williams described groups of normal folks as Red People — after a while, just "noisy, vibrating colors" — I understood perfectly.
And until the push to be "out there" socializing digitally, all that seemed more or less OK.
Now I have a nifty set of new tools to accomplish everything digitally I never much enjoyed in real life, and what have I done with them? So far, not much.
But, once I got wired, I also stopped feeling guilty about my lack of constant exposure. After all, it's not so different from the old days, when getting "out there" mostly meant collecting contacts, rubbing shoulders with the "right" people. Joining.
Somehow, I managed back then with a minimum of schmoozing. Now I've decided that the minimum, digitally, will serve me once again. There'll always be a place for those who prefer to sit in the dark — at least some of the time.
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But I'm abstaining, not rejecting.
I can already hear Instagram calling. Tweeting will no doubt fast become addictive, like gossip and potato chips. I will keep looking in from the outside, mostly, on Facebook, occasionally announcing some crucial upcoming event — Pi Day, for example. (Mark your calendars now: March 14, at 1:59 p.m., eat pie and behave irrationally.)
I'll certainly use the whole tool kit to flog my own work and that of my friends.
But to get work "out there" requires producing the work, and there's a lot less time for that when we're pressured to be constantly social networking (or as a friend calls it, "social notworking"). That's not a new observation, but it's also not trivial.
Like a lot of writers, I do my best work when I'm not doing much of anything. Hiking, digging in the dirt, reading novels, dancing around the house, listening to music. If I connect on social media instead, I may be more "out there" but a lot less will be going on "in here." And then I'll have nothing to share.
The most productive part of my day is often close to sunset, on the beach or near a window, sitting in silence, listening to the night fall, with my love, or my cat, or alone. I can hear myself think. I can let the world in. So when I do get out there, I may have something to say.
K.C. Cole is a professor of journalism at USC and a former science writer at The Times.