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Sunday's Word: Online

This Sunday, I woke up with my family and did something I don't usually do.

I didn't turn on the computer.

Didn't check my emails.  Didn't check Facebook.  Didn't check Twitter.  Didn't check the latest news about college football.  Didn't check my fantasy teams.  Didn't check the message boards for the latest dirt.

In other words, I didn't go "online" - something that is becoming very, very unusual for me in this day and age.

We live in a very strange world right now, where we're encouraged to spend time offline - yet much true knowledge is "online".  In my situation it's especially strange, where I try to figure out - what's the happy medium?

By any measure I spend an inordinate time "online".

To start with, my day job is 40 hours parked in front of the computer, working on complex solutions to computing problems - some weeks, that is.  Many weeks it's many more hours than that, whether supporting customers or burning oil to get software released.

Then, after that busy work day is done, you can add more "online" time in the form of writing for this blog, of course, but also writing and website administration.the maintenance of  the College Sports Journal, Lehigh Sports Forum, and other sites on top of that.


When I started this blog ten years ago, I knew that I'd be adding even more "online" time to my life where I'd be musing about the state of Lehigh football.

I knew this, and when I mentioned it to the woman I was dating - soon to be my wife - she accepted it.

I remember I told her that my college football writing was something that I'd largely be focusing on during the football season, perhaps with a special posting written for, say, spring ball, and perhaps a preview of the Patriot League when the time came.

Now, though, that conversation seems hilarious, as the news cycle on college football seems to deliver new developments that require new opinions every hour.

It's June now, the traditional "quiet time" of college athletics, and I've been busier than ever.

Website software upgrades.  Boston University joining the Patriot League.  The latest twists and turns in Montana.  The sex abuse case at Penn State.  The CAA.

Is it possible to keep up with everything, and still have a day job?  Yes, it is.  But you have to be willing to make sacrifices, and not all of them are pretty.

Most of my sacrifices involve sleep, since I don't want to compromise my time with my family.  I've felt that if I can't listen to my son talk about his daily adventures when I get home from my day job, or if I can't hear my wife's joys and concerns on a daily basis, something's wrong.

This is why I have a hard time, say, traveling to North Dakota in December or North Carolina in March, no matter how much I'd love to personally.  I can go to Towson, but if I go on a plane, it's got to be tickets for all of us, not just one.  That's just how I am.

But expectations, real and perceived, from the "online" world have exploded.

It was a lot easier to be a subject matter expert before Facebook and Twitter, where the expectation is, as a person of knowledge, of instant commentary and instant answers to questions.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy answering people's requests for information, and I like to be a bright spot in people's day, "online" or otherwise.

During the course of last year's historic athletics season, with postseason victories in both football and men's basketball, my "online" life and the offline experience has been intertwined.

Folks I've never met on Twitter and Facebook followed my micro-posts as Lehigh football upset Towson and Lehigh men's basketball beat Duke.  They followed my every emotion: the highs, the lows, the touchdowns, the three-pointers.

In a weird way, I feel like my posts were a part of the athletics history of Lehigh, reflecting the up and down emotions of a fan like no highlight reel can express.  And I know those musings reached a very. very, very long way.  It's pretty humbling.


But still, reflecting a little, the job description has changed a lot from the days when I simply logged onto Blogger, posted some random thoughts - frequently with grammatical and stylistic problems - and clicked "post", and I was done.

 Is this a good thing? 

*****

When it comes to being "online", many people have been focusing on Facebook and Twitter in terms of privacy concerns, and it's worthwhile, whenever you're "online" to think about these things before you post information.

Others worry about the types of people this connected society are churning out.  A recent Frontline special on PBS focused on a generation of people who, increasingly, inhabit online worlds and forge online relationships that are as intense as real-world ones.

Such pieces and criticisms are interesting, but to me, nobody is talking about the real issue here, which is the blurring of the line of celebrity.

One of Andy Warhol's most famous sayings was that everyone has 15 minutes of fame - an implication of fame's fleeting nature.

In my mind, though, one of the most interesting features of "online" life is how it's also changed fame and celebrity.

In the past, in order to be famous you needed to do something that was "paper-worthy" - something that grabbed the attention of a reporter, which then would see print, which would then make you "famous" for whatever length of time.

TV, of course, changed the celebrity game a bit.  Now you don't need to be in a paper - you just need to get on TV, some how, some way.

But the addition possibility of being "online" has, to an almost infinite basis, made the ability to be famous (or infamous) without the need for reporters, TV time, or almost anybody.

For example, I can tweet something.  If Justin Bieber retweets what I say, for that moment I am famous because his hundreds of followers might read something I typed on the computer that Mr. Bieber thought was retweet-worthy.

Similarly, I can choose to write a column on, say, some unexplored part of Emma Watson's college experience, when she went to the Harvard/Brown game.  Somebody gets wind of my article, and then, suddenly, I am a celebrity for offering some opinion on her situation - from Hermoine Granger fans to celebrity dish types to Ivy League football fans.

Is it really "fame"?  I would argue that it is.

"Fame" used to mean "in the papers".  But, increasingly, people "online" control who is "in their own papers" or on their own TV screens.

If your start-up page or Twitter feed has news about Lehigh football, Bethlehem goings-on, libertarian-slanted news, Boston Red Sox baseball and, say, news on Ricky Gervais, your celebrities will include Keith Groller, Michael LoRe, Michael Vega, and a whole host of specific writers, tailored just for you. 

You can create an "online" world for yourself where there are no Yankee opinions, no Lafayette opinions, no Tea Party or 99% opinions. 

You create your own list of celebrities, and you are in complete control.  Either you follow them, you "like" them, or do whatever electronic way you use to show your approval of them, or you don't.

Increasingly, too, those fans also feel like they have a personal connection to you.  After all, you're one of the few people they are allowing in their little information silo, so you're fair game, right? 

For me, for the most part, this has been a really positive thing for me.  But there have been cases where it has not.

On the other side of that equation, celebrities have their own audience.  There is no need to be entertaining or informative to everyone - in theory, all you need to do is say what your own, tiny, tailored audience wants to hear. 

For example, what motivation of is it to me to represent the Lafayette side of, say, football scholarships?  Theoretically?  None.  The great majority of my audience is, after all, Lehigh fans.

Engaged, 24/7 with the commentary, opinionated, a narrow focus.  That's what the marketplace seems to require these days to be a person of interest when talking about sports.

It's worth remembering that "online" life was not always like this.

When I started, it was much, much easier to disconnect from the online world and go about a relatively anonymous life outside of sports.  I wrote about Lehigh and my other crazy stuff, but at the end of the day I'd unplug the computer and go out with my girlfriend, not worried about what everyone was going to say.

There were items that demanded instant analysis, but they could usually be summarized in a few-word blog posting.  I'd click "post", and then I'd be done.

I wouldn't have to answer to an audience.  I'd post my writings, and if people agreed, they agreed.  End of story.  End of blog post.  Resume life.

The world has changed, and in this case, sometimes, I wonder if it's been for the better.

*****

Does this mean I'm going to foreswear blogging, websites, or Facebook and Twitter commentary?  I honestly don't think so. 

What you find when doing this for so long is that it's in your blood. 

You make a running Facebook/Twitter commentary of Lehigh football games, because you like doing them, and because other people seem to enjoy them.  Even if you need to unplug a bit more often from the feeds in order to live your life.

You keep writing, because you have to. You write your opinion, even if it pisses off your narrow-focused audience, because you're being true to yourself.   Even if that writing isn't as frequent as it used to be.

You keep forging ahead on the College Sports Journal because you know there's a better way to cover all this stuff in the world of collegiate athletics.  The interests and perspectives of the athletes and the schools running athletics for pride, not profit, needs to be said.  Even if you can't spend as much time on it as it probably deserves.

There is some balance between offline and "online" life that I need to strike.  I just don't know where that is yet.

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