Monday, June 13, 2011

Katy Perry, and Sports Blogging in the Twitter Generation

(Montage Credit: OK! Magazine)

So this morning, I wake up and head to the office like I always do.  I get to my cubicle, check all my emails, get my work environment set up, and try to put out the fires that cropped up over the weekend.

I check all the cosmetic changes that I made to the blog this weekend, my first major update to the look and feel to the website since 2007.  Is the statistics counter working?  Yes.  Everything looking OK?  yes.  New banner, telling new and old readers what the blog is about?  Yes.

Once complete, I then fire up TweetDeck, the program I use to connect all my social media accounts.

And there, to my great surprise, I see:

"Trending Topics: LFN | Twitter."

Huh?  What the heck happened to @LFN, my Twitter account?

If that's not a lead-in to a blog posting on the generational split and the state of blogging and social media, I don't know what is. (more)

Of course, the "trending topic" of LFN had absolutely nothing to do with the cosmetic changes to my blog.

Rather, they had everything to do with Katy Perry's song "Last Friday Night", whose video of her unsuprisingly risque song debuted over the weekend and will almost certainly lead to yet another No. 1 hit for the Hindi Californian daughter of fundamentalist pastors.

While I've been known to listen to contemporary music on more than one occasion, I've never been a fan of Katy Perry.

Until now, that is, for reasons completely unrelated to her music.

I'm not just saying this because of Ms. Perry's inadvertent aid to my Twitter career, but the lyrics of her song highlight something else that's in the news as well: the proliferation of social media, and the speed at which personal damage can be caused.  Was it Ms. Perry that said, "Pictures of last night ended up online.. I'm screwed... Oh well!", or was it Rep Anthony Weiner?

(I actually don't mind the song itself, but as for the video for Last Friday Night  - which, ironically, also has to do with "cosmetic changes" - to this somewhat jaded viewer it's the quintessential video set in the 1980s so obviously created by someone who never lived through them.  Granted, I am not the target audience for the video - and it's obviously not meant to be a documentary, fer crissakes - but it reminded me a lot of another "not-exactly-a-documentary" of life in the 1980's - Quiet Riot and "Party All Night".  I mean, shouldn't Frankie Banali at least be credited for her video?)

It's not exactly a revelation these days to say social networking applications like Facebook or Twitter have changed the face of media.  But what social media has truly done is accelerated the speed at which events happen - and made it near impossible to undo mistakes.

This is both a good thing, and a bad thing.

You make a mistake tweeting a picture of your pecs - or worse - to your Twitter account, and all of a sudden the full force of the Twitter firehose is focused squarely on you.  While Rep. Weiner is obviously a creep, there are plenty of other folks that simply make bad mistakes - and those mistakes are not easily undone.  That is not something that should be glossed over.

But it also can be a force for good - there's a reason repressive foreign governments are falling over themselves to try to ban, or limit, these networking sites.  While the coverage of the role of Twitter in the revolutions springing up in the Middle East tends to be a bit breathless, that's not to say they had no role at all.  They remain an important tool for people to disseminate information and organize.

And - let's face it - wouldn't it have been great to have public figures from the last hundred years have Twitter?  All those scandals that only became evident years after their death, or well after the damage had been done, could have been exposed much sooner simply with possible tweets like this:

RT @therealfdr: @lmercer meet u again in WarmSprings.  elanor in DC.  bring ur cowboy hat
RT @trickydick: got @marystretch to delete the transcript.  @herecomethejudge can kiss my ass now.
RT @laffytafty: ever had a day when you needed a series of pulleys to get you out of the tub?
RT @billclinton: u make my knees knock

Now, you could make the argument that some of these tweets would not serve to make the world better, or safer.  Is it really our business that FDR's marriage was a sham, or that William Taft was a very large man with a large appetite?

While we'll never know what might had happened had these bits of news hit the general public at the speed of Twitter, I'm still basically of the belief that the more tools we can have at our disposal to show our elected officials the way they actually are, the better.

Put another way: would we have really been better off realizing that Rep. Weiner was a creep after he became mayor of New York?

*****

In my little world of sports blogging, the proliferation of Facebook and Twitter has also changed the face of what I do here.

Back in 2003 when I started this blog, Facebook didn't even exist, never mind Twitter.

Blogging wasn't a brand-new phenomenon, but the idea of a web page where you could post your thoughts "instantly" was still a relatively new invention - the first true "cloud service", too, since you didn't need to have a computer server or know how to maintain it to start writing about stuff.

Blogs back then were not just people's thoughts - they were communities as well.  The comments threads ended up being a way for readers to interact with the people writing the pieces.  Frequently, they pointed out errors that could be corrected on the fly.

Back then, blog postings also served two functions now usurped by Facebook and Twitter today.

One was the "instant reaction" to events.  Now, Twitter (and, to a lesser extent, Facebook) is a so much faster for opinion expression that composing thoughts and clicking "Submit" seems so slow in comparison.

The other was "multimedia sharing".  Now, it's a cinch to upload photos or videos to Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) - even directly from the phone.  It still can be done for a blog, of course, but it's much slower.

What that has done is to drive blogging into something different these days - sort of a middle ground between the firehose of Twitter, but still much faster and original than print media for the most part that has to go through editors, word counts and more.

Even though they're different, blogs are also dependent on social media these days to get the word out as well.  For blog readership, it's not nearly enough to be at the top or Google's or Bing's search engine - you need to have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, or hoards of people who might be interested in what you're doing will miss what you're saying.


It has also created a very clear, generational divide between the Twitterers and non-twitterers.

If you're under 40, you're very likely to be spending a lot of time interacting on Twitter and perhaps Facebook.  It's a casual phenomenon, kind of like meeting someone at a party and getting to know them.  You can add them, or drop them easily.  It's up to you.

If you're over 50, you've probably reluctantly been dragged into photo and video sharing on Facebook (because your grandkids' pictures are on there) - but you probably think of Twitter as "mind-rotting garbage", made more mind-rotting thanks to Rep. Weiner.

Or you could be like me, stuck between the generations who doesn't feel the need to tweet my every thought about Katy Perry to the world, but cautiously embraces Facebook and Twitter as a legitimate tool to express myself online.  I do have a Twitter account you can follow - where I have been spending more time lately - and a Facebook Page which you can "like".

Whether you love the social media tools or hate them, the one thing that's for sure is that they're here to stay.  People will never go back to the days when so much information remained in the dark, nor will they go back to an era where people couldn't express themselves, no matter how idiotic that form might look sometimes.

And if you are interested in expressing yourself online these days, you need to at least come to peace with social media.

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