We live in a new age of publishing. It used to be that you needed the discipline to write hundreds of pages and the luck to land a publisher before your content could ever see the light of day. Then came blogs. All you needed was consistency and a commitment to pound out a few paragraphs every week or so. Then came social media. Now anyone with a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account is publishing their thoughts and experiences online in real time. With books–and even blogs to a certain degree–the high hurdles of entry made it less necessary to have rigid guidelines on what was consumed. You could assume a certain level of quality. Things have changed. While social media has taken the place of books and blogs, no one is checking for quality. In fact, no one even expects it. While jokes about Farmville requests, as well as sentimental promises to drop Facebook, are common there has been very little practical advice on how to navigate both as a quality content provider or consumer. I offer the following guidelines that have been helpful for me. This is a very dynamic landscape but there are some principles that have been helpful for me that are contained in the following.
Concerning what you read on Facebook
Ask yourself this question: Would you commit to reading a book that one of your “friends” published? If your answer is “yes,” then subscribe to their feed. Congratulations. You are now signed up to receive an author’s published commentary on life and biography one status update, tweet, or picture at a time. Although it may not seem like much, don’t kid yourself. Just because it takes mere seconds of your time to check or read, I assure you that the lifetime investment is on par with the average book from your average bookstore. Now, if you answered “no,” you would not be interested in reading their book, unsubscribe from their feed, un-follow them on Twitter. If you need to un-friend them., that’s okay too. We need to collectively agree. None of us want to exist in a society in which every person is trying to engage with thousands of people. Not only is it not sustainable–it will make life miserable for all of us. By staying subscribed to the goings on of a bloated network, we have found ourselves reading 500 books simultaneously, one sentence at a time. And because the commitment is so low (one simple click of the very positive sounding word “confirm”) we never do a hard check on the quality or commitment we’re signing up for (and the fact that Facebook settings are so damned hard to understand is no help). Worst of all, it’s taking its toll on our families and our innovation. The quality of what we’re subscribing to is worse than reading tabloids. It’s like we’re reading a whole book of just magazine ads. It just seems okay to us because we only said “yes” to one person–one feed at a time.
Concerning what you publish
Yes, it is publishing. A whole world can see it. This means that you have a responsibility to your readers. I think of it this way–someday, I would like to take all of my thoughts that I post to Twitter and Facebook and turn them into a book that I can print for my grandchildren so that they can know what grandpa thought. Now, even though you may not do something so elaborate, ask yourself the question, “Am I proud of the book that I am writing?”Am I providing content that is valuable, or am I just contributing clutter?” This question has resulted in me no longer posting videos of funny cats. Very, very funny cats. Mark Twain wouldn’t have stuck an irrelevant cat story in the middle of Huck Finn. Alright, bad example.
Media has become about the moment. News that’s five hours old is irrelevant. When we click buttons or read feeds, very rarely are we thinking beyond the hour or year. The problem is that it’s starting to catch up with us. I believe that the saying, “Failing to plan means you’re planning to fail” has never been more true than in an individual’s adoption and use of social media. So, even though you’re doing it one sentence at a time, make a decision and commit to reading good books–and maybe even write a good one along the way.