Have you seen the Las Vegas commercial? The one where a woman finds that all her friends (or maybe former friends) are avoiding her because she broke the "what happens here stays here" code? And at the end of the commercial she's standing there, watching a sea of backs disappearing into the distance, as she shouts "I won't post any more pictures! I won't tweet!"
Sometimes I know how her friends feel.
Social media are changing our lives in many ways--not all of them bad. If I'm having a rotten day, one of the things that helps turn it around is to make a wry comment about it to someone And with Facebook, there's always someone out there to respond. It's fun to hear from readers or old friends via Facebook or my website. I love the fact that I can share the pictures I take for my 365 project (a photo a day for a year) through 365project.org and Facebook.
My 365 project is useful for another reason--at least I think it is. It feeds the maw of the social networking beast. Writers, they tell us, are expected to be active on social media. To interact with readers and other writers. To give something of themselves.
And that takes time, and energy. Worse, at least for me, it takes the same kind of energy I use for writing. Some days, when I finish my writing stint, I'm tapped out. On the edge of nonverbal. I pick up my camera, and I've got something of myself to share.
I think a lot of us are trying to feed that same beast, and some of what happens in our collective quest for copy gives me pause.
For example, it's no longer as easy to get subject matter experts, like cops and DAs and forensic experts, to speak as candidly as they used to at SinC and MWA meetings and at conventions. A lot of them have been burned. I remember, back in the days when we were lucky if someone showed up with a camera to take a fuzzy shot for the newsletter, a veteran cop told our SinC chapter the real story behind an unsolved local murder, complete with a strong opinion about whose fault it was that the case had gone unsolved. I've told the story a time or two--I'm sure other people did, too--but as far as I know, the cop's career never suffered.
Today, we'd have plenty of pictures, from the two dozen digital cameras and cell phones in the room, but not a lot of straight talk, because savvy cops know that what they say could appear on someone's blog an hour or two later--or maybe in a YouTube video. We ask attendees to be discreet, but one person's discretion is another person's censorship.
Writers experience the same thing at conventions. We're all used to having many of our panels taped, and philosophical about having our occasional verbal pratfalls preserved like flies in amber. But these days, all too often, we can go online a few days or hours later and read a blow-by-blow reconstruction of what happened--though such reconstructions rarely capture the true ephemeral magic of a good panel, the quicksilver give and take of discussion, the nuances that tone and gesture lend to words. I so often read descriptions of panels I'm on and wonder, "Did I really say that?" Or, more likely, "Damn, what did I really say that came out sounding like that when paraphrased?"
Sometimes people read such accounts and say "Oh, it's just like being there."
It's not. Trust me on this.
But it feeds the beast.
And it changes the nature of a panel, even more than the clumsy need to repeat audience questions into the mike for the tape. I've seen a joke I made in a panel, that seemed hilarious at the time, come across as either stupid or bitchy when set down coldly in print, minus tone of voice and facial expression and the give and take between panelists. And I bet I'm not the only one.
I'm not saying no one should ever blog about conventions! Obviously both the conventions and the attending authors can use publicity. And readers enjoy hearing about them, including that subset of readers who are also writers. But there's a fine line between giving people who didn't come a taste of what they missed and making them feel, "Well, I don't need to go to that; I can read it all online." It's one thing to repeat a few of the authors' bon mots or insights; and quite another thing to share everything we say. Heck, some of us only have so many good stories.
In a way, it's like the whole notion of avoiding spoilers. There's a generally accepted convention that if you're going to talk about a book or movie in a way that would spoil the enjoyment of someone who hasn't read or watched the work in question, you post a spoiler alert. Every so often people debate how long they have to wait before they can talk about a work without worrying about spoilers--and I'd say forever. There are still people who haven't watched Sixth Sense (released in 1999) and don't know the trick ending. For that matter, there are new generations of moviegoers every few years and some of them don't know the big plot twist in Psycho (1960). And I don't care if you think every mystery reader worth his salt should already have read Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)--if you blab the twists and even one latecomer's pleasure is spoiled, you have done an evil deed and should have your library card taken away!
And to me, overzealous reporting in blogs, on lists, on Facebook--it adds up to spoilers for life.
Not much I can do about it. No matter what the Vegas commercials say, the social norms are changing--have changed. Am I a dinosaur for even worrying about it?