Lest We Drywall the Cat into the Wrong Side of the Wall

Social media seems inherently the ultimate pulpit for the self-important. While a site like TweetingTooHard.com invites us to out the self-important, most of the tweets are so mundane, they're forgiveable. Twitter critics like to deprecate navel-gazing tweets about breakfast foods and sundry itches, and while such esoterica of the flotsam of life might not be of "real value" to society and the economy, they too are forgiveable. They're forgiveable because they are, ultimately, harmless.

What I find more disturbing are the tweets I see from self-inflating types who brag about busy-ness. Some of these folks' to-do list per tweet would be longer if more than 140 characters were possible. Even within the 140 character limit, some of these lists test the limits of credulity.

There is a long Christian tradition concerning the notion of busyness into which this post isn't intended to delve.

What I'm wondering about is whether there's a cost to real personal relationships? By real, I mean those deep emotional relationships with friends and family, rather than business relationships. Is there a risk that social media offers an insidious avenue of busyness to connect and broadcast online, to be so busy that there's little time left in a day for family and friends who are not immersed in the online world.

The always-on world of online socializing enables a wholly different level of busyness. At least in the old-school, offline paradigm, there was still some level of social pressure to spend time at home. In our new world order, even when we're not at work, the means to stay tethered are readily available. Some of these electronic tethers are ever so alluring, and the affinity of the social media types for technology makes it easy to rationalize away the increasing encroachment on personal lives.

It brings to mind the modern morality tale of Martha Stewart in which we all reveled. She who built a profitable and mighty myth of ideal family life at the cost of her marriage and family. We enjoyed the delicious irony.

My husband and I have but two or three hours every evening in which we're both awake and in the same physical space. Rather than actually share experiences together during these precious few hours each day, we often find ourselves on message boards, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, websites, etc., only peripherally aware of each other. Luckily, we're aware of our tendency to wander away, and like the person who nods off while driving but wakes with a start, we do also snap out of our reverie and consciously shut down the laptops and smart phones.

Are we at risk of being so tuned in to our online lives that we live our offline lives in a fog, so connected online as to become disconnected offline? How connected is too connected? I'm prepared to concede that there are super-achieving men and women who manage to balance it all. For the rest of us mere mortals, it may take a constant watching and self-awareness to walk this tightrope between two worlds, lest we unconsciously drywall the cat into the wrong side of the wall.

Or is this notion of an offline and an online world merely a false dichotomy constructed by the under-achieving?

Social Gaming: the next frontier of spam?

For the past week or so, I've been getting irritated by Mafia Wars updates in my Facebook stream because, apparently, my having blocked the app in my settings did not, in fact, stop this spam stream. Curious, I started digging and came across this November 2009 article in TechCrunch: How to Spam Facebook Like a Pro, an exposé of online social network scam schemes, tricking unwary players into parting with their cash. What the article doesn’t discuss, however, is the way these games spam the players’ social networks in the hopes of luring new victims.

Since tis the season for reminiscing and looking forward, I started thinking through all the unwanted, unsolicited messages that mindless and thoughtless businesses have assaulted us with. First, we had to contend with door-to-door sales people peddling their myriad wares; we were unsophisticated consumers, then, so it was hard to distinguish the real deal from snake oil. Luckily for most of us, we started leaving home for the office, so this foot traffic sales approach became less effective since no one was home.

We might escape them during the day, but we still had to come home at some point. Enter telemarketing and junk mail, rammed down our throats through our phones and mail boxes. We thought we could escape both when we moved online, but alas: junk mail found their way into our email and voice mail boxes, too. In 2009, Canadians won the right not to be assaulted through Canada Post and on our phones: as a condo dweller, I could exercise my option of declining unsolicited, unaddressed mail with a simple sticker on the delivery side of my mail box; and I could go to the trouble of registering myself on the national no-call list. Awesome.

Of course, like viruses that always find a way to adapt, the Spammers found a way: social networks. Ostensibly innocent good fun, social games harbour insidious ways to fill the spam stream through automatic notifications and updates from its players. The “everyone’s playing it” siren call can be powerful. Those of us too jaded and wary for this sort of thing did the obvious: we opted to block these updates, but the updates continued to stream through.

I’m not certain if this is a known Facebook glitch or have these social gaming outfits simply found an unwatched door – something for further investigation – but my sense is that social games are the latest front in the Spammers’ Borg-like assault against consumers. Yesterday, @davefleet wondered in a blog post if Spammers have become smarter. Pardon my cattiness, but I suspect that Spammers are like the flower beetles that survived the Mythbusters' extreme irradiation experiment. They didn't survive due to smarts; they're just wired that way.

Makes me long for the good ol' days of simple junk mail.