In defiance and praise of Internet distractions
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: July 7, 2009
I've often called Facebook the most glorious Internet distraction of them all. Constant e-mail, comments on discussion threads and invitations to join groups interested in every topic under the sun go with the cyber-turf Facebook occupies. The same goes for Twitter, and to a lesser degree, LinkedIn. Distractions aren't confined to social networking Web sites. We all have those friends who love to forward e-mails asking us to do things like fill out a form and send the e-mail to a dozen more friends who will hopefully complete the answers on quizzes that determine matters like, "What kind of vegetable are you?"
My Facebook page, altered in Photoshop, reflects how I sometimes feel in response to information bombardment.
Perhaps because early on as a journalist I learned to question everything, I've also come to the conclusion that distractions can be both damaging and helpful—in that regard, the Internet works exactly like life.
|We all have friends who seem to be online 24/7. One woman I know is a veritable news clipper service, tagging her friends numerous times each day. At least one of her connections publicly called her a spammer. I wouldn't go that far because her actions stem from her passions rather than an effort to make money in an underhanded manner. She isn't sending links to her own Web sites. She's sending links to items of interest she finds in the news. Twice now I've managed semi-scoops by following her links and digging for the deeper story slithering beneath what most media focused on. And I've learned things besides—the significance of our president's life path number, for instance. I had no idea we even had a life path number, and as might be expected, our president is in the company of quite a few accomplished individuals by having a powerful number. |
There's also the explosive e-mail distraction. When you write for different publications, your e-mail is as entertaining (probably more) than anything you can find on TV. I've received detailed medical information from strangers, harsh accusations towards court officials and tips on celebs having affairs. If you can't verify, you can't run with a story. But often you can verify, and I've done that more than once. I wrote extensively about an illness children can contract by swimming in freshwater ponds during extremely warm weather. I received a thank you from a major health agency for writing those columns, and I'd like to think maybe I helped a parent or two avoid catastrophe. The original e-mail I received shared information about the death of a child from Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis. It's not widespread, but it is always fatal.
There are so many positives to Internet distractions, I can praise them for the most part. There are also some big negatives. Things I've learned the hard way:
• Never click on a link in an e-mail. If someone sends me a link, I put the link into a search engine with the words 'what is' before the search string. I run and keep updated a virus program set to alert me if a link is suspect. If you receive e-mail from Facebook, rather than clicking on the e-mail link, log in at the site and go to the link there.
• Try to avoid discussion wars. The Internet removes civility in a sense because we often have not met the persons we're talking to. Some simply enjoy a verbal battle. Others troll, or place a post that works like the red cape in a bullfight. Such wars are counterproductive and rarely resolve any argument.
• Whatever your work ethic, if you're spending too much time on distractions, you won't get very much written. I tend to check social networking sites after I've got my biggest tasks out of the way each day. Sometimes I surf them at night when I'm tired of reading or I'm the only one still awake. As with everything, distraction in moderation is a good rule.
• Don't bombard your friends or connections with information. I triage about 800 e-mails a week, and although I am a speedy reader, I tend to hit 'delete' for e-mails that provide information I don't want or need.
• Be choosy about your settings. On Facebook, only my friends can see my information. Select the settings that fit your lifestyle. And if you have children, be careful what you divulge. You never know who's reading, especially if you permit everyone to read your posts.
How many times have you heard the Internet is a blessing and a curse? Truer words have never been written, but then, we could say the same thing about cars, fine wines and airplanes. The trick is to pluck the best and toss the rest. And what you call an Internet distraction one day may lead to the very information an editor is looking for in days to come.
Social networks harbor pitfalls and profit potential
Previous Web Savvy about social networking.
The Library of Congress
Second most glorious Internet distraction, from historic photos to original manuscripts and oral histories. Excellent remedy for writer's block. Many photos are in the public domain, a definite benefit to writers.
--Posted July 7, 2009
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Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.