A healthy slug of video, audio and photos rode back in my laptop from this week's e3000 Community Meet. I also took away the warmth of connecting with friends I had not seen in years, people who made important contributions to the life and growth of the 3000. But one part of that rich day, unrecorded, was my own attempt at humor and inspiration, urging everyone to connect through social networks.
Social Network Harm and Help: Advice & Wisecracks
Do you tweet? (All feathered creatures need not try to answer in English). Or share your life on Facebook? Or Digg your Web discoveries, or pile them up in a Delicious box? Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?
If not, you're in a big group. Maybe not the 70 million people rumored to be using one of these social networks. There's so many more, like the unique one that user group Connect operates, or the public Linked In site. Or Plaxo. Or something new, Cummerbund. (Sorry, just making that last one up.)
That fact about Cummerbund shows a little of the harm in this powerful new tool. You can make something up, and if it's not easily checked in a Google probe, it can get traction. The shorter the report, the easier it becomes to disguise or mistake. Take this tweet from Twitter, posted by @AngelaAtHP:
I witnessed a woman squeal and clap when she test-drove this new HP web-enabled printer at D23
This “tweet” on Twitter then included a link to a Web site. If you noticed Angela's Twitter name, you wouldn't be surprised where her link took you:
Not that there's anything wrong with that, as they said on Seinfeld. But when a message that short gets re-tweeted, it's lost all of its context unless you dig for it. You gotta admit, a woman squealing over a computer is pretty compelling. You either want to know something more about the computer product, or about the woman. Angela would rather you poke into what's cool about that Web-enabled printer.
Get used to it: There are many people in the generation behind us in this room who are paid to spread this stuff. You might even enjoy it, so long as there's nothing at stake. Information seems to have less and less at stake as we hurtle out of the Ought years and into the next decade.
Angela -- I know I'm picking on her, but all in sport, I love tweeters -- tells us “I'm in the storytelling business. How can I help you tell yours?” I felt so with-it when I heard this. (Does anybody even say "with it" anymore?) I've been in the storytelling business for a few years myself. But longevity doesn't matter so much in storytelling, not even in journalism. Nobody cared much that I was 27 when I edited my first HP newspaper. (Good thing, considering how little I knew.)
And we didn't have social networking to check up on the likes of me, thank goodness. Just like they used to say, “On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog,” I could say back in 1984, “On the telephone, I hoped nobody knew I was a callow “yut,” as those fellas called themselves in the film My Cousin Vinnie.
So I learned enough about the 3000 to stop being called an imbecile, “and no one was the wiser,” I thought. That wouldn't happen today, because we have social networking to check up on each other. And even though I started HP reporting in 1984, that Big Brother-esque checking up is a Good Thing. If you know how to use it to filter and add context.
Information is all about sources, to begin with. “Consider the source,” your mom might have told you when you said something about wearing this, or jumping off that. There's no better time than now to consider your source. The Internet disguised all the dogs. Social networks go further. They've hidden the sources behind personality. "How could that be a dog? He has such a rich baritone on the phone, and funny wisecracks." (Here I'm hoping that's what people said about me.) I fetch on command, though. I even point.
Back to the point. Social networks can help you fetch lots of information you didn't know you needed. Or even understand. They broaden your world. Just like a bigger map of where you need to go. But big maps, with lots of detail, need lots more charting skills.
You can do this. You crawled through the muck of ENQ/ACK sequences and pin-connection maps and even what the heck were the differences between Q-MIT and T-MIT. (Here's a hint; only one of them was a MPE release tape that an HP manager offered to eat.)
Detail is you, or we wouldn't have a world of computers tight and high flying enough to spread stories of women squealing at Web printers. (I know, you might be thinking, “and we really need this?”) You can do the detail of social networking, so long as you don't let it suck up all your real life.
There's the sin of over-sharing to avoid if you start to post to the social networks, too. People will tell you their lunch was a double swirl cone. (She didn't say where she got hers, dangit!) They will also report on more weighty topics. What you're looking for is facts, supported by real experience. It's not just enough to hear somebody say, “We gotta have this kind of health care or that.” Better to hear, “My mom is in the hospital and she can't get released soon enough, because her health plan doesn't pay for enough physical therapy.” You can say all that in less than 140 characters, so you could tweet it. I might ask, “What plan is that?” Or even offer some facts to help.
I bring up all of this nonsense because you are a group of IT pros who are renowned for community. A social network is a glue to keep you informed. I wish we'd all get a Twitter account and start following each other. Hey, you don't even have to tweet. Just being in the forest to hear the bird calls can help.
But only if you look for context, like who's sharing in the society. What their mission is in real life. (Google helps a lot in this kind of spelunking, but it's even better to ask around. Web pages can deceive. Remember those disguised dogs, now.)
I have become a real hound about social networks over the past year or so. I have accounts on all of these playgrounds. Some are more useful than others. You can look up my Delicious page of bookmarks, tweet or follow me personally or at 3000newswire, Friend me on Facebook, look me up on the new Connect myCommunity network for e3000 users. I started a Linked In group for the HP 3000 Community. There are also groups up there for the HP Way, 3000 Appreciation Society. I love it all. I find Twitter to be the biggest and woolliest universe, with Facebook a close second but richer in content. The more hurdles you need to clear to get into one of these, the better the caliber of the source.
Information is my job, though. I can float and find it rewarding to soar. If you find yourself flying too high to the sun, oh Icarus, and you feel your wings melting off your wax -- or maybe like Luke Skywalker, diving his X-Wing fighter too close to the Death Star -- pulla away, pull up, take back your time. Some say limit your social networking time, like you'd cut back on Splenda or See's Chocolates. Enjoy it, but make sure you have enough real life to share something new with the network. Contribute real content. Content will help you be heard, and that leads to giving you good stuff to listen to. The only way we learn anything is when we're listening
So the next time you hear the sound of squealing in a computer room, you'll know to look up from that browser, and listen for that drive in that RAID array going out. And ensure the storage device gets excluded and swapped automatically. And when the magic subsides, you can share a tweet if it all worked, or if not-so-much, then get some help. Because society is supposed to grow to help more of us, even though in each message we say less. Thanks for letting me say so much. In Twitter messages, this would have taken me more than 150 postings. And you still wouldn't have gotten in your message. I hope to hear from you out there soon, and often.