InstaVine that tweet

When anything remotely photo worthy happens at the Octane bar, one of the bartenders will usually start saying something along the lines of "InstaVine that! Better catch it now!" You haven't missed out on a new social media outlet. We just like to treat them as a unified whole. It's easier that way. My relationship with Twitter is specifically pretty good. I love the creativity the 140 character limit inspires. It's an extremely easy way to share content with a lot of people and to gauge their future responses to different subjects. It can also turn into a mob of disgruntled, faceless bullies in a heartbeat. Personally, I've given into making my Twitter account my own rather than trying to turn myself into a branded wonder. It's just not who I am.

In the writing world, I follow a lot of amazing writers. If not for @writeousbabe and the @seejanewritemag Blog Like Crazy challenge last year, I wouldn't have a blog. Javacia, the beauty and brains behind it, has been immeasurably helpful in providing advice (directly and indirectly) that has made my freelancing what it is. I also owe @bhamboxset for getting started both freelancing and blogging -- Carla Jean has been my mentor and friend and occasional tech support since 2011. Listing all of the writers and bloggers I admire and follow would take days, so I'll keep my list abbreviated.

To keep myself informed and entertained, I follow @mental_floss. Full disclosure: I write a column for their website, but their lists and informational stuff is too awesome not to share. For all things girl nerdy, I follow @ThreeChicGeeks and @BakerStBabes and a ridiculous number of others. My nerd is strong.

Otherwise, I follow friends, people I admire, magazines and websites I want to write for and many others. Oh, and @fernetbranca. If you're not familiar with their deliciously herbaceous and bitter spirit, remedy that. After all, it had a medical dispensation during Prohibition, so it's medicine, and medicine's good for you, right? Let's go with that.

Today's topic was to shout out to the people I follow on Twitter. There are a lot, so I chose seven.

See Jane grow: Getting to know Javacia Harris Bowser

The beautiful and talented Javacia Harris Bowser

Javacia Harris Bowser is one of my favorite Birmingham women. Though she is already a full-time English teacher and busy freelance writer, she is also committed to building a connective and supportive network for woman writers in Birmingham. Named See Jane Write, this organization holds workshops to help established and aspiring writers hone their craft. Not surprisingly, she has recently been contacted by individuals from other cities about founding chapters outside of Birmingham.

This summer, Bowser plans to fulfill a childhood dream by launching a magazine. I spoke with her by e-mail a while back about the connectivity of social media and her current projects.

Write, Clair. Write!: How did you first start using social media?

JHB: When I was in grad school I heard all of the undergrad students in the communications class I taught talking about something called Facebook. I didn’t think much of it then, but after I graduated and got a job at an alternative weekly my new co-workers were all talking about this Facebook thing too so I decided to check it out and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Around that time, though, I was mostly into MySpace. (Remember that website?) I even maintained a blog through my MySpace where I posted about my life and posted my poetry. I joke about MySpace nowadays, but that website actually showed me how you could build a platform, share your art, and express yourself online and through social media.

WCW: I know that you are a huge advocate of using Twitter as a connective medium. What do you like most about it?

JHB: I love that Twitter can allow you to connect with people you may have otherwise never met. Just think about it, if it weren’t for Twitter I may not have ever met you! [Editor's note: That story is well-documented here.]

WCW: How are you using social media to build your Writeous Babe Project and See Jane Write brands?

JHB: I have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for both and See Jane Write.

I also have Instagram and Pinterest accounts for Writeous Babe, but being a writer I suck at photo-based social media. I’m working on getting better.

My big social media success story has actually been with the See Jane Write Facebook group. I have managed to build an amazing community with that page, with women writers sharing blog posts, writing wisdom, dreams, goals and so much more via this page.

WCW: What would be your advice to Gen Y and Millennials on social media use?

JHB: Always be mindful of how you are presenting yourself on social media. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t show personality. You absolutely should show personality and you should be genuine. But don’t tell your followers and fans all your life problems. Facebook is not your therapist. Don’t post pictures of yourself drunk or half-naked and NEVER use your social media accounts to bad mouth your boss.

Also, consider how you can use social media to help other people instead of always simply thinking about how you can use it to help yourself. Take time to use social media to promote other people and their work, to share valuable information, and to connect people.

Keep your sickness off my newsfeed

Image credit here During the past week, I've drunk more tea than a British grandmother and fallen asleep during two movies. Yes, I have the sinus-y ick that's going around, and yes, I'm taking lots of vitamins and herbal supplements to fight it. I have also made a short list of bodily functions that should never, ever be put on social media.

1. Snot talk If I wanted to know the details of your illness, I'd go to med school and specialize in family medicine. I haven't yet, so use your text messages and voice minutes to tell your friends and family your symptoms, not your Facebook or Twitter feeds.

2. Bowel movements I don't want to know what goes on in your bathroom. Neither does your mother.

3. Updates from your tear ducts This item is directed to all the people who tend to emotionally word vomit on my feed. If you want to talk about your breakup or have a problem with me, call or private message me. I'm less sympathetic to your personal plight if it is so personal you have to share it with your social media networks. Also, if you live Tweet or Facebook your feelings about anything other than concerts, movies or other performances or events, chances are I've already hidden your posts. I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not.

4. What you eat Unless you're making an special meal or something that is really, really delicious, I don't care. "OMG my yogurt and granola was super healthy this morning LOL" would make me want to scream. If you aren't sharing a homemade yogurt recipe along with your terrible grammar, don't make the post at all.

You ate the apple, invented pants ...

If I wrote for television, I would write for "Supernatural." It may not be a terribly complex program, but the cast members obviously don't take themselves too seriously. Some episodes, like "The French Mistake," are unexpectedly hilarious. Continuing the long-running trend of transporting characters to worlds without magic or monsters, the two main characters crash through a window into a world where their lives are a television show.

It's a meta-episode, with the actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Misha Collins, who usually plays the angel Castiel, is a lesson on how a celebrity ought not to use social media. At one point, he tweets "Hola, Mishamigos! J-squared got me good. Really starting to feel like one of the guys." What stands out the most is not the contrast with his actual Twitter page, but his use of social media as a way to not interact with the people who are physically present. He's not really trying to form a relationship with either of the two leads, he's just talking about it.

I came away from watching it wondering a lot of things. First, is maintaining authenticity possible when you have thousands of followers? Second, do I try to capitalize on the successes of the people around me? Third, am I ever going to be able to write in as many styles as Collins can act? Fourth, why the hell did I just watch four hours of "Supernatural?"

Looking at the profiles of some immensely popular Twitter handles, one thing is clear. It is possible to stay in touch with those who support you without straying far, far away from what you are known for. For instance, I have seen Neil Gaiman retweet hyper-local posts from fans asking for help with literacy and activism work all over the world. His wife, Amanda Palmer, does the same.

On a smaller level, it's absolutely possible to balance promoting your brand and your work and interact with your followers. I'm still trying to find that balance; some days I'll get overwhelmed and shut off Twitter. With all the bite-sized pieces of information swirling around, your message might get lost in the flow, but keep working at it. Make connections, meet friends, try something new. A whole new world awaits your attention.

Title from "Reading Is Fundamental," another episode of "Supernatural." I may listen to (some) trashy music and watch (some) pretty trashy television, but I will not consume bad art or bad books. A girl's gotta have standards, after all.

Incidents and accidents, hints and allegations

As you may have heard, I love voting. Walking into my polling place gives me butterflies—what if I choose the wrong guy (or gal) for the job? What if I haven’t done enough research about this person? Yep. Sounds like a first date, except instead of stalking on Facebook and Twitter, you use national news networks, campaign websites and your friends’ political leanings.

I’m not suggesting that you and your friends are into groupthink, but whether or not you like it, your peers’ political views influence your own. My group of friends is diverse in political views and backgrounds, so adventures through social media provide many opinions. During this past election, the media focus has been on the deep divisions in the country. Perhaps the repetition of this idea has lent it truth—up until very recently, the two dominant political parties differed on some issues, but were largely similar.

Because of the timeline, it appears that one of the causes of our political polarization is the way we get our news. With the huge increase in the number of news outlets provided by the Internet, individuals have an increased ability to choose their sources. As humans we tend to choose the sources that mirror and magnify our own views, so the tendency on the Internet is to do just that.  In so doing, we may discount the possibility that other viewpoints might have merit.

Another result of this shift is that science is under attack. With personal bias (I said it! I said the b-word!) playing a role in our choices, opinion has been put on the same level as hard data, years of repeatable experiments and pattern of thought may be discounted by personal opinion. I’m sorry, but believing gravity doesn’t exist won’t save your life if you walk off a cliff. On the flip side, several huge discoveries made recently have turned out to be bupkis after they were introduced by the Nature or Science journals and used in TED|Talks and news articles.

This shift from hard evidence to opinion is deeply unsettling to me, both as a scientist and as a writer. I have been raised to believe that the purpose of reporting is to provide as much relevant information on a topic as possible and to leave the conclusions to the audience. On the Internet, that sometimes involves reading multiple articles about the same topic from different sources which can be hugely time consuming.

Outside of NPR, who has fired correspondents because of personal political activity (their policy here), and PBS, I am straining to think of others I trust to give the full picture. Their paychecks come from listener support, grants and government funding, so money is less of an influence. Granted, you might disagree if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic during a pledge drive, but that’s a different story.

With the newness of new media, it largely remains to be seen if a (mostly) bias-free Internet-based news source possible in this new environment. Now I’m curious—how do you get your news?

Paul Simon's “Call Me Al” tied with the Beatles' “Daytripper” as my favorite song for almost a decade. As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with my parents going to the Clinton inauguration. 

Staccato signals of constant information

When my family moved to Alabama, my parents gave me a Lisa Frank diary. For a few months, I locked the details of my playground exploits, crushes and friends behind the unicorns playing on the rainbow covers. One day, I left it unlocked and open in the living room. At that point, I hadn’t acclimated. After eight years of life in Virginia, my new yellow (more Naples yellow than cream, ick) bedroom still seemed foreign.

Because what I had written was unhappy but tame—I had only just heard my first curse word—they sat me down to talk about it. I was mortified. As an only child, I wasn’t used to having my stuff moved or touched. I knew how to share, but that was my diary. That was MINE.

Now I don’t keep thoughts for anything other than writing projects on paper. There are a few drafts of angry letters to exes shuffled away somewhere and some notes from the trip I took to Europe, but those are camouflaged in my cluttered apartment.

As a paranoid member of Gen Y, it kind of makes sense. One look at my Facebook timeline and you're privy to an electronic record of the past seven years of my life. Until LiveJournal went through a purge earlier this year, you could’ve found my adolescent pre-Facebook drama there. Thank goodness that’s not readily available.

Thing is, social media has become the new way to journal and document life. This switch has some serious consequences—the electronic record is almost never entirely erased. It is easily shareable through social media and never entirely dies. On the other hand, paper can be scanned or copied, but it can also be totally destroyed. It doesn’t hurt that burning old documents can purge both your filing cabinet and your mind.

If Facebook had been around when I was younger, I probably would have been diagnosed with ADD and medicated accordingly. Multitasking at the same rate that I do now would have rendered me almost entirely unable to keep attention on one task at a time. Since I started Tweeting, Facebooking and text messaging later in life, I am still able to turn my phone on silent, make a friend change my social media passwords and get down to writing/working physics/being fully present. Once the assignment/hang out is over, though, I go right back to being constantly connected.

That’s the beauty and danger of social media. It’s possible to plug more into your community and to connect deeply with others who share your passion. It’s also easy to get sucked into documenting every detail of your life for everyone in your network to see.

Striking a balance between these two is the key—if you can’t, I’m going to hide your profile. That’s the purpose behind journaling, not social media, and is best left off the web. I heard that the book store you mentioned quite a few times on Tumblr is having a sale on Moleskines

Title taken from Paul Simon's "The Boy In The Bubble"

On becoming socially active

Shortly before I began interning at Birmingham magazine, I made my Twitter account public. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I began meeting up with some of the people I met through social media. In the months that followed, the city and its opportunities opened up. I learned how to ask for opportunities, and haltingly began using social media as a connector. The targeted fearlessness that I learned has resulted in freelancing gigs and some really incredible interviews with artists, musicians and chefs I admire.

As a member of Gen Y, the Internet is comfortable and easy to navigate. I can point you towards grammar jokes or find you the latest in Fitzgerald scholarship. My Google fu is strong. I have a penchant for nerdy web comics, and love sharing funny things with friends.

It comes as no surprise, then that social media (especially Twitter) has fundamentally shaped my interactions with others. Despite warnings against the superficiality of social media, its use has resulted in friendships and enduring inside jokes. Most recently, I had coffee and beer “meetings” with people I connected with through Twitter thanks to WBHM’s Issues and Ales. Those two stories will get their own post later—Javacia and Alex are both people you should know.

Social media can be an amazingly effective way to connect with people. Few other forms of media are as efficient at conveying so much information, and if used safely and correctly, can result in such stimulating and satisfying conversations.

This blog will be my documentation of my adventures in social media, both personally and professionally. My hope is that it might even convince others to try connecting with new people through social media. After all, you’ll never know who you’d meet unless you try it.