Does Technology or the Internet Make People LESS Connected?

I was recently witness to a debate at a local gathering that began when one man angrily claimed that people who live on their cell phones and laptops are “selfish” and “not connected with people”.

His statement turned into a long discussion with people as young as a woman in her early 20’s to a gentleman in his 70’s speaking their opinions. Interestingly, the youngest one in the bunch was the most reasonable. She agreed that many behaviors are impolite. She reminded everyone that we each make our own choices and what is felt as “right” for some may be considered “wrong” to others. There is no such thing, another person said, as the “right” way to do things. Who decided things are not perfect as they are?

The first man insisted that people can’t be connected or involved in their environment around them when their face is glued to a computer device or their ear has a cell phone attached to it. He finds this selfish and the beginning of the end of humanity because we’re not caring about each other and ignoring one another until we’re free to come out of our techno-trance.

Other people love that technology gives us search engines, social sites and email. (Not to mention new medicine, better healthcare, environmental advances….) They say they are more connected then ever. It was agreed that many people are rude with their cell phone usage. But again, by whose definition of what is proper usage? Who decided that overhearing conversions or cell phones blasting in meetings is wrong? What moral code is broken when people don’t pay attention to their environment? How do we define “dangerous”? One person gave several examples of how even our definition of “dangerous” is biased and based on lack of information, fears, and myths.

It was a debate with no winners and many opinions. Oddly enough, I kept my mouth shut and just listened. I’ve seen this topic brought up before, but without the idea that maybe everything is as it should be.

Are you fed up with how technology has changed our habits and behavior towards one another? Does the Internet make you feel disconnected physically from people or perhaps more spiritually connected (energy, spirit to spirit, etc.)?

Who decides what is right or wrong behavior or social rules as each new type of technology is developed and brought to the masses?

The Impact of Battling SEO Spam

A couple weeks ago I lashed out at people, places and things pretty much everywhere I went. I was so angry and later, depressed, without understanding why.

Giving Tree

Most everyday I get to look at trees out my windows because I live among them and working from home gives me this gift. I consider every tree to be a Giving Tree. When I want to be strong and centered, I visualize being Grandmother Willow, only younger and without gray hair. I want to be tall, graceful, and grounded in the Mother (Earth). Instead of arms, I imagine that my branches are parts of me running around the Internet or the local food store meeting new people and learning a zillion new things. As a tree, I expect to be able to bend during harsh storms or flutter my leaves gently in silent, loving support of everything.

SPAM Lumberhacks

An elegant, wise tree is not something I’ve been lately.  After considerable time hiding and feeling miserable about my behavior and locking myself up until I could be the Tree, I came to understand one of the things that has been hurting me, and I felt that perhaps I could share that with you.

As the owner and lead Administrator for a volunteer-run, non-profit forums, I get what I thought was a birds eye view of the Internet. I figured that since Cre8asiteforums was global and targeted web development and all things related to that, I would have a constant finger on the pulse of what’s happening out there. I was wrong about that and many people corrected my thinking. I may not have responded to it all, but I was listening.

Every single day I have to check into the forums. Holidays, weekends, vacation. Sometimes there is someone to back me but I hate to bother anyone for help. It’s volunteer. Nobody HAS to be there, not even the Moderators. It’s a Community. Well, it was. In its heyday. But like a tree, there are seasons and changes. Some years there were industry well-known mentors who came often to teach and help with questions. They can’t have been expected to be there from 1998 until 2010. As much as we miss them and their contributions, they may not ever return. They have their own businesses and commitments now.

Imagine what it’s like to build something for everybody, only to be forced to tolerate a daily, non-stop barrage of people trying to break into it so they can do some type of damage.  This is what spammers do.

Every single day I am met with a minimum of 50 spammers at the forums. With a blog, most spam is caught and whatever is not can be deleted fast and easily. A blog owner can tell what is spam and kill it on sight or just let it sit there until they come in to moderate the day’s posts before they permit any of them out front to the public. With a forums, it’s different. The procedures vary. Cre8asiteforums is extremely strict about who gets in because the Community expects us to keep the conversation intelligent and productive.

So for us, every new member has to be validated before they are admitted. Of, say, 500 new member candidates every week, maybe 3 will be real people who want to be there. Of that 3, one of them will ignore our rules and spam the Community or leave a stream of 1-liners with a link to their website in the post. Funnily enough, they never complain when their posts are all removed and their account disabled. What they don’t seem to understand is that if they come to my place and break the furniture, I turn them into a spammers database to warn all the other forums out there.  I report spammers every day, including weekends.

During the past few weeks I came to understand the impact of dealing with daily SEO spam was chipping away at me .  I realized I hated the industry  I was associated with because it’s filled with people who think spam is marketing. I learned that I’m not alone in feeling that way. I stopped being able to focus on anything. I was utterly and completely spent, with nothing else to give. When you devote yourself to something for a long time, only to wake up to find there is no place for you and the house looks completely different, it hurts. Every day my blog is spammed with one-liners and url drops that never see the light of day. Who are the stupid people who think this is doing their sites any good? What myth is this one?

My idealist little brain has such a hard time accepting some of what’s happening out there in Web LA LA Land. Facebook absolutely has no interest in anything other than using members for its own gain. Google is no privacy saint.  Internet marketing has become a game of who can rip off the most and get away with it. Every fight leads to links, so that’s a good thing because links are more valuable than people.

For the last several weeks I’ve questioned everything regarding my career.  It’s an odd feeling sensing what I want, but I have no clue what that translates into in practical, making a living terms.

I want to be the tree where birds come to nest and sing.

The Evolving Web and 16 Lessons It Taught Me So Far

Somebody asked on Twitter the other day how to explain what a blog is to a client. I replied with something like, “Online diary or journal. Easy way to put up a web site.” You get 140 characters to “talk” in Twitter. So I had to be brief.

She thought her client would most understand the web site part. I agree. This is what blogs have become thanks to the ease of the software they’re based on. Daily thoughts are now found in Twitter and Facebook statuses.  We know whenever someone has just eaten popcorn, what they’re watching on TV, the errands they’re running and whenever someone has a headache. No one ever needs to be alone while watching “LOST”. During each episode, Twitter fans talk back to the characters, critique the show, repeat lines and swoon over Sawyer – all while the show is going on.  The only thing missing is a bartender.

Blogs used to be like online diaries. Creative writers could show off their craft. Poets could share their art. Humor writers were out in force making us laugh. Journalists found that blogs were easy ways to publish news items. Opinion writers discovered new audiences. Today, blogs are used for all kinds of purposes. For example, companies will have a blog as a way to stay in contact with customers.  Blogs employ writers. Some companies use blogs to attract traffic to their mother-site or to help create their brand. Several blogs write about how to write a good blog.

Blogs have morphed and adapted. So have web sites, online forums, email lists, chat groups and fan clubs. I’ve learned some hard lessons since joining the Internet in 199o’s.

16 Internet Lessons

1. Nothing and nobody stays forever.

2. Readers & members of any communication-based site or software come and go.

3. The rules of engagement change along with the technology.

4. Become attached to a person or web site at your own risk.

5. Some people use the Internet as a weapon to hurt, threaten, harass and manipulate others.

6. The more time spent on the Internet and conversing in “cyberspace”, the less time you have for family, work, and doing other things you love to do.

7. The Internet has provided access to those who might not have been able to do something otherwise, such as get an education, find a job, find a mate, start a business, make new friends, buy products at better prices and converse with people from around the world.

8. We can use our remote to turn off the TV during commercials, but we can not not turn off Internet ads. Advertisers won.

9. There is no such thing as privacy.

10. You exist. You don’t exist. (Follow/unfollow, friend/unfriend, subscribe/unsubscribe, domain/nodomain, blog/no blog, member/lurker, web site/no web site, on/off button, wax on/wax off…)

ROTFLMAO <<hugs>> #justspitmydrinkallovermykeyboard

When I go to the store, nobody knows me unless they are a neighbor or parent of a kid active in school and local sports. My identity in the real world is different than online. Nobody knows what I do for a living unless it comes up in conversation. It rarely does, so I have no reason to talk about my work. I’m quiet and shy in situations where I’m new. I base most of my decisions on where and when to respond to something based on the environment I’m in and things like body language and the energy/vibe of the people I’m with. For me, communication doesn’t need words. I pick up on signals that are seen and unseen.  In off-line life there are no hash tags.  We can see what’s happening with whom its happening with.  We can touch each other. For real.

By contrast, on the Internet there is a giant barrier between people. We don’t physically see each other, so over the evolution of the Internet, we devised ways to make up for that. Avatars and gravatars are one way. A company logo. Pictures. Video. Words. Lots and lots of words. Conversations happen via email, Twitter, forums, blog comments and social sites designed to create even more conversation.

10.a   If you’re online, everybody needs to know what you’re doing right now. Without ever knowing what anyone looks like or who will see it, we have shared some of the most intimate parts of ourselves.   Many people share their lives online in ways others would never dream of doing in the real world.  We don’t all want to know when you’re naked in bed with your lover.  TMI!

11. The more conversation there is on the Internet, the less human we may become.

Many people have written about this over the years. It’s frightening to watch how disconnected and judgmental people are online.   Some expectations make no sense, such as pitching a fit because someone doesn’t make you a “top friend” on a social site.  Arguments can be witnessed by thousands of people who don’t know the persons fighting.  Being anonymous allows for rude behavior.  Any web site property that allows comments can attest to this.

12. There may be no before and after. No history. It takes years to establish an online presence in which someone has had time to show their personality, skills, likes, dislikes, opinions, humor, meanness, etc. This means that many online conversations can be taken out of context or misunderstood when taken in snippets.

13. Groups of people are not included. This is something that has been brought over to the Internet from the real world. Groups of people are excluded from certain web sites. Examples range from subscription-based forums to the Target store not making it possible for blind people to place orders for their products online.

14. There are groupies. In my younger days I was a groupie for a local rock band. I traveled with them because the lead singer, a woman, was a close friend. That was already bad enough, as far as the other girl groupies were concerned. When I started to date the drummer, a real hottie, everything changed. It was the mission of every girl to get him away from me. The same kind of behavior happens online. If you try to engage in a community that doesn’t want you there, they’re only too happy to let you know.

15. Keeping up is hard to do.

Sooner or later what you’re doing online and why you’re doing it may change. When I started out, my 286 PC with the screeching modem was in my kitchen. My desk had floppy disks scattered about and my tape cassette recorder played in the background. I belonged to several email lists and AOL chats. Even though I was nursing a child and going through a divorce, I was determined to teach myself how to make web sites so I could get a job and not need child support. Every contact I had then was a new online friend or mentor, announced by a horrible noise (we don’t have those modems anymore!) and a several minute download waiting for each single email.

That child is now 16 years old and driving. I never needed child support because I was hired at the first place I applied to for a web design job. I’ve managed to keep up for a long time.

16. There’s other things to learn.

She Has Something to Do With Web Sites

This year my family went out in all directions for Thanksgiving. My husband, Eric, and I went to my Mom and Dad’s for dinner. Not 5 minutes into the meal, Dad asks, “What is it. Again. That you do again?

My sister, her son and my mom also had “some idea”. Eric took a stab at it. After his elevator speech, my Dad pauses from his turkey to say, “You call it Usability. What is that, exactly.” So I went into my elevator speech that included search engines and search engine optimization. I’m cross skilled, and naturally blend usability and seo practices together in my work and talks.

Whenever I would lose somebody at the table, all I had to do was say a keyword, like “Google” or “Make web sites easy to use.” I even had my electronics engineer Dad spellbound with my description of page rank and why he will see what he does in SERPs. Everyone was impressed that I carved out a nice career, but clearly after nearly 15 years in the biz, my working world has been a huge mystery.

I don’t talk to my family and local friends about what I do. I’m not always “on” that way. I wait until asked. And when that happens, I’ve learned to keep it simple. “User friendly” is something everybody who has ever been on the Internet can relate to. That I work in a career that tries to make the user experience pleasant puts me in a positive light pretty fast. When I bring up accessibility, typically I’ll get glazed looks until I offer examples of why it is needed and if they seem to not care about the humane part, then I tell them that Target was sued for not being accessible. Then I am their hero.

Sis and nephew think my travel is cool. So do some of my closest friends from the SEO industry, who know I not a seasoned traveler and for the first years dragged Eric everywhere I had to go on business. Now, I’m bold enough to go to airports, order shuttles, and check in hotel rooms all by myself. My sister has always been the courageous one. While I was fine with guiding my steed over 4 or 5 foot fences in my riding classes and grooming for the stable’s show equestrians at horse shows, she was the one showing and open jumping with confidence. The ribbons in our horse barn were mostly hers.

This Thanksgiving, I said grace and then we moved around the table to share our thanks. This year, they all know me just a little bit better and when my parents, sis and nephew surf the ‘Net, they know I’m in there.

Somewhere.

Teetering on the Blogger’s Ledge

As a consultant on Search Engine Marketing and Web Site Usability, one of the suggestions I often make to companies who want to establish their online presence is to create a blog. Is this still a good idea?

The seeds of blogging began in the late 1980’s when early adopters of the Internet used bulletin boards to find people and talk with them. Chat rooms and topic focused email lists came next, followed by “groups”, forums and now, blogging and social networking sites. The constant theme is our desire to talk about ourselves.

When there were less people doing all the chatting, it felt more intimate. For a few years there, I could dial up (yes, dial up with a cranky modem), and in due time (after the bagel was toasted), I could easily find all sorts of people that I “knew”. They hid behind their user names, but it was fun to picture what “Italian Stallion” or “TechGod” or “RedPen” looked like. Today, with Facebook, pictures and real names, the thrill of guessing is gone.
Cliff
I loved the innocence of the early days. And the danger. Oh, the stories I won’t tell you! And still, there was the time during my single mom years that I chatted somewhere about being alone, again, on New Years Eve. One of my online friends, whom I’d never met but had chatted with online and via the phone for hours, flew out to stay with me and the kids and spoiled me rotten with good food and a fun trip to the local King of Prussia Mall. For years, while the kids were young, he sent a box of goofy kid gifts and something pretty for me. The kids adored him. I think he adored me, but I couldn’t return those feelings. Still, he was a loyal friend and he always made me relax, which is not an easy to do. We lost touch…sad to say, because I got so busy with my Internet-based work that I stopped maintaining off-line friendships.

Most of my off-line friends will tell you, if asked, that I’m impossible to reach and even harder to spend time with. One friend wanted to throw me a birthday party and stopped talking to me when I refused to go along with it. I really hate all that attention. It’s a testament to my friend, Li Evans, that she managed to pull off a huge party for my 50th party and got me to come to it.

I’ve noted my own behavior on the Internet over the years. Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone in my feelings and observations. With the gigantic emphasis on social conversation and networking today, why have I slowed my blogging input rather than take advantage of this Big Blogging Thing?

Talk Talk Talk

Blogs were once online diaries of personal heartfelt posts that weren’t generally targeted to anybody in particular. The outflow was therapy. Some people are natural storytellers and were a blast to read. Some were tragic, such as the blog I once followed that was all about the death of a father’s young daughter. Those types of blogs helped us understand that we’re not alone and other people have feelings like we do. Comments weren’t really the big thing. The human outflow was the juice.

Today, there is far far less writing from the heart. Blogs are used to house articles, share industry news, sell products and services and draw enough attention to get other sites to link to your site. My blog has fallen into that trap as well. I don’t write from the heart nearly as much as I once did.

Baring Soul

Why? Because of two things. One is I have no ego. I don’t think for a moment anyone cares what I have to say or that what I write here is anything spectacular. I do think the articles I write for OTHER web sites, such as Search Engine Land’s Just Behave, are really good. I write better for other people or sites because I feel it is my responsibility to do my best for them.

Sure, a shrink will tell you I lack self confidence or something related to that. I’m confident in my skills. I do lack the “Here I am! Aren’t I great?” gene. I think that to sustain a blog year after year, the blogger has to truly believe they are hot, in demand, and people want to grow up and be just like them.

This is why corporate blogs and blogs set up for the purpose of getting links are so bland. They lack a personality. Their writers are called “Admin”. Their content is stagnant and most often unoriginal. These blogs are not blogs. They are more boring web sites that are slightly more powerful than an About Us page.

The other reason I write less is that baring my soul became gossip fodder. You’ll recall some of the debates where new people would ask if it’s okay to combine business with personal stuff. My blog was sometimes referred to as an example of a successful combo for both. I did pull it off for awhile, but I’ve shied away this past year from the personal stuff.

I noticed that when I share anything “real”, its when I’m miffed at something. I don’t have a temper. I just get ruffled. When I get really mad, I don’t talk to anybody and go hide in my cave until all the bad feelings are tucked safely away. Really unhealthy way to live…but I have a personal code. Don’t get mad. Don’t cry. Just learn something and don’t judge.

Unless I bring my blog into the cave, there’s really nothing that exciting to write about. So what is left is just the professional business writing.

ReBoot

So now I feel as though I’m standing on the blogging ledge, looking down at all the little blogging people below, with their honking ads and rushing from street to street trying to be the first one to get a news story out. I no longer feel the desire to be first and I have no desire to toot my horn.

I suppose I’ll still recommend blogs to clients, and offer suggestions for how to make them worthwhile investments in time and money. There are some blogs that rock because the folks behind them figured out how to provide information with personality, news with creativity and serious commitment to quality writing. They kept some of the magic, which is writing for readers, not sales.

With blogs becoming more or less just regular web sites, I wonder where the next human to human outflow will be. Will it be found in the niche social sites that target certain demograhics? Is it user generated feedback on sites that ask for reviews and ratings? Does the creative community, such as writers and artists, have anything new up their sleeves? Is the next cool community gab thing on the Internet at all?

Will the transparency fad fade? Have we grown tired of knowing what everybody looks like naked, how much they drink or what meds they’re on? Maybe personal blogging is petering out because they shared too much intimate information. Perhaps there is a push back on voyeurism.

Maybe, in my case, I just miss real people.