Not so many years ago, Mark Zuckerberg figured out how to use a computer to help college kids choose dates.   Seeing potential, he quit college to expand his creation into Facebook of social media fame.  People, mostly young , flocked to Facebook in record numbers.   And now, social media has literally changed the whole wide world.

And Zuckerberg looked upon what he created — and hesitated.  As a commencement speaker at Harvard this spring, he tried a little too hard to convince his audience of all the good, all the wonder, all the lofty goals that Facebook might enhance in just about every little corner of the world.  He used the magic of world-wide connectivity to entice people to meet, greet, and be good to one another.

Like all things that have changed the world — trade routes, electricity, industrialization, cars — there were unintended consequences, the other side of the coin, the good and the bad.  Perhaps social media is scarier than all those earlier miracles because humans are not only good.  They are also mean, vindictive, murderous, and take delight in having an instant audience of millions to watch what they do.

Zuckerberg most likely never imagined anyone using Facebook to video a live murder, a rape, a massacre. When he really looked outside the cocoon of Silicon Valley, he realized that, even if he did not encourage malice and hate,  he could no longer be complacent about having changed the world in unknown ways.

He has since hired many more employees assigned to finding terrible posts that need to be taken down immediately.  He has said he will develop Facebook technology that will find terrorists and foil their plots instead of giving them publicity.  Going “viral” is no longer always a good thing.

The ugly truth that Zuckerberg now sees is that connectivity has different meanings and motives in our complex human society.  Sometimes familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

Good luck, Mark Zuckerberg.  Those who change the world have a heavy burden to carry.

Try as I might, I haven’t yet been able to catch the social networking bug.  Unlike other bugs that I work hard to avoid, I’ve been hoping to catch the fervor for social networking.  Up to now, I’ve been immune.  I am on Facebook, which has allowed me to find some long lost people in my life and to allow some of them to find me.  And it’s a good way to see what two of my granddaughters are doing.  But — I haven’t been bitten by the bug.

I have opened a Twitter account, but only follow President Obama so far.  I  have added people to my Linked-In account and must admit feeling awed at how much some people make use of it.  I briefly Branched Out, but let go of the branch for lack of knowing quite what to do with it.  As for all the others too numerous to name, I haven’t even tried.

I’ve been told over and over and over again that social networking is MANDATORY and THE KEY to becoming known as an author in today’s world.  Most likely true – as many have shown regardless of whether their books are deserving of fame or not.  While “going viral” is much sought after, the very word “viral” gives me an unsavory feeling.

I watched the movie, “The Social Network,” to figure out what I was missing.  The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, according to the movie, only had one real friend in college whom he eventually betrayed.   A genius geek, he was far more fascinated by the computer technology than linking friends.  That actually helped me to understand why I feel mostly alienated from this modern, impersonal way of making connections.  While not exactly fake friends, they are friends you never have to see, speak to, or truly know.  In fact,  “friends” is a misnomer for these relationships.  I’m used to a different kind of friendship.  I don’t even like the image of “networking” or “world wide web” since computers and all the information forever indelibly available therein are also used for nefarious purposes, reminding me of the flailing flies that can’t get away from the spider.

Since I’m old, the drain on the precious time I have left to live looms excessive.  Were I born today, I would most likely not feel intimidated by computers or wary of how they might abuse me.  Would I be a more successful well-networked author, or would I still be inundated by the sheer masses of people screaming “me, me, me” in the pack?

And so I search out “how to’s” for using Linked-In, Facebook, and Twitter and hope I can make them useful before they, too, are obsolete and replaced.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at

Mike comments:

I saw your piece on Social Media.
Hmmm . . .
Is it really that much different from penpals – except for the speed and the ease? I had two penpals that I exchanged letters with through my teenage years, and it really was lots of fun. But when we finally met, we discovered that we had absolutely nothing in common, and that was the end of that.
On the other hand, I met two people through social media, and when we finally came face to face with each other, we found that we actually had quite a bit in common, and there was so much to talk about.  Absolutely no lulls in the conversation. . .
Having said that, I’m spending less and less time on Facebook. I read the other day that part of the attraction among users is that they tend to get much more out of it than they put into it. Maybe it’s the voyeurism of catching glimpses of other people’s lives without having to actually interact with them.

Except for the rich and/or already famous, one cannot simply be an “author” in today’s publishing world.  When I first thought of writing a book of my adventures, there were two options — neither one particularly appealing.  Vanity publishing was possible if one was willing to guess how many copies should be printed and was willing to pay for it.  Many garages ended up with boxes of molding books because there was no easy system for distribution.  The other unattractive possibility was starting a collection of rejection notices from publishers who didn’t want to pay for publishing your book.

Then, something new started peeping over the horizon — print on demand publishing.  That appealed to me because it guaranteed my book would be published for a low cost,  would come out exactly as I wanted it without editors to tear it apart, and would be available indefinitely.  That was the way I chose.

Although I hadn’t written the book with the goal of selling very many, I thought it contained information worth knowing.  Since my book was in many ways a chronicle of the rapid changes in modern China for the last 20 years, I approached a tour company sure that they would want to prepare their tour participants with such valuable knowledge.  Their reply was that they had no interest in “promoting my book.”  That term shocked me!  I was offering them something worthwhile, interesting, and important, and they simply thought I was trying to sell them something.  I had entered the murky world of marketing.

Unfortunately, that murky world of marketing has only become more illusive, more complicated, more confounding in very few years.   My book appears impressively available online from many sources around the world as well as e-readers Kindle and Sony Reader.  And my website and blog have made me ridiculously easy to find.  But I’m lost amongst the crowd of authors who have burst through traditional confines and are inundating the marketplace.  There are few, if any guidelines anymore that distinguish “good” authors from the pack.  In fact, there are ways to manipulate  or circumvent the system to reach the coveted best seller’s list – if only for a day.

Those of us who get discouraged are told we unknown indie writers must become adept at social networking to self-promote.  Interestingly, I saw a news clip that said young kids nowadays have become so dependent upon texting that they must be given lessons on how to interact socially face to face.  Few people my age can imagine that at the same time that technology is opening up the whole world as never before, people are becoming lonelier and more isolated than ever before, dependent upon human interaction only through the filter of an iphone, e-mail,YouTube, chat rooms, Facebook, Wikis, or texting.

I’ve joined Facebook.  Very few noticed.  I joined LinkedIn.  Even fewer noticed.  I joined a collective blog.  I’ve put a file together of all sorts of online groups for authors.  I’m not intrigued.  Instead, I’m overwhelmed with choice, underqualified technologically, and minimally motivated to spend hours social networking with mostly strangers rather than pursuing my craft of writing which is, after all, what I love to do.  I don’t believe I will ever be “discovered,” have a movie made from my book, or indeed make any money.  But there is a lingering doubt that not believing such things will make it true.  The ethics of hope and hard work making the impossible possible still dwells within us, encouraging us, taunting us, laughing at us.




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