Friends like these?
A number of my linked bloggers have been discussing the merits (or otherwise) of social media, plus whether or not ‘cyber’ friends can be considered ‘real' friends. Never one to miss an opportunity to sound off, or use the ideas of others, I will join in with the fun.
Apparently now the domain of the middle-aged, as the youngsters of today have largely given up on it in favour of using Instagram and Snap Chat (and before you think I’m really well up on all of this, I’m not. I read it somewhere). My adoption on Facebook was very late indeed. I tend not to use my personal timeline much, and if you were to visit my ‘home page’ you would be hard pushed for find out anything about me at all. 99% of my activity on this platform is as a member of various natural history groups - I must be a member of 40+, all sorts of generalist and specialist subjects. These are useful for keeping up to date with what is being seen, identification tips, taxonomic changes, member’s opinions and archive material. I’m largely passive within these groups. Some are very lively and well subscribed, others moribund, but all are a useful resource.
I love it and hate it. I love the ease of receiving and sending information, primarily field observations and the knowledge that most of the people that I would tell about such things are at the end of the sent message. It cuts down on mobile phone calls and multiple texting. One of the downsides is that, if you decide to follow someone, then you have to accept what they tweet. I follow most of my contacts because they disseminate useful natural history sightings and/or information. But some of them are profuse tweeters and will let me know about the Robin in their garden along with the Osprey that has just flown over. Others retweet ad infinitum. As much as I welcome news about a Glaucous Gull on a reservoir, I don’t welcome the same person telling me how to vote. Or what they’ve just eaten. Or following a conversation with a mate that should really be conducted by direct messaging. The increase in self-promotion is noticeable, whether it be for a blogpost (i have been guilty myself), a website, a talk or a magazine article (remember those?) - some are worthy, most are understandable, but sometimes they do scream “Me! Me! Me!” I do have the choice to unfollow, or can just ignore those tweets that I know are going nowhere, so I persevere. My early adoption of this platform was not due to being savvy, just down to the fact that it was pioneered as a business tool in my then place of employment.
I believe that I first posted in 2007, took a break in 2010 for a few months and then started up again. It is a medium that I thoroughly enjoy. When I sent my first post out into the ether I sat back and wondered who on earth would find it, let alone read it. But people did, likeminded people, many who had their own blogs. The first two people to ‘comment’ on my post were Tony Morris (St.Margaret’s Bay) and Gavin Haig (Not Quite Scilly). Both are still at it - blogging and commenting that is! Let’s be honest, most bloggers are show-offs. We tend to post opinion, try to create passages of literary worth or use the platform as cheap expressive therapy - well, at least I’ll admit to all of that. There are thousands of natural history themed blogs out there. Some are very good indeed, but I won’t mention them by name for fear of not mentioning others that are equally worthy. I link up to most of my favourites and you can see them as a list on the right hand side of this screen. Like tweeting, some people cannot help themselves and post most days. Others drip-feed us missives. Some go on spurts of creative activity and drown us in posts only then to withdraw into temporary torpor. There are short posts, long posts, photographic heavy posts. Some blogs allow comments to be made, and the comments section can be an interesting and lively place to go. Rightly or wrongly, I judge whether or not my postings are of any merit based on the number of comments received. Visitor numbers to a blog can be obtained and is quite informative. You can see what posts are the most popular and where the visitors come from. Linking to another blog can be beneficial in more ways than one. You forge an identity with another blogger and can provide another source of visitor to your blog.
When you tweet and post you are entering into a conversation, albeit through the tapping of a keyboard. To those who respond, or if you respond to them, personal contact is made. You may not be able to see them, or hear their voices, but you can gauge an awful lot about what makes them tick, particularly after a number of contacts. Within just a few short months it is possible to build up quite a dossier on them - where they live, what immediate family they have, how old they are, what they like and dislike - and in some cases you can find yourself in contact with them more regularly than you are with your ‘real’ flesh-and-blood friends. I have actually met up with a couple of my ‘virtual’ friends, and found them to be normal, decent folks. I hope they felt the same about me! The bottom line is that we are entering social discourse and as such there is no reason at all not to consider these people as friends. After all, as Stewart Sexton (a virtual friend) recently pointed out, most of the early naturalists forged friendships through the medium of a pen, writing paper and a stamp issued by the Royal Mail.