Monday, July 20, 2009

Five hundred words about the World Wide Web

By Carol Gee

Intro - Haiku by "betmo" --

family circles
grow forming communities-
sharing mother earth.


Why is it that so many of us reading and writing online stay "plugged in" to the news, to our blog friends and to current events? And why do others get discouraged and drop out? We know there must be payoffs or else the behavior would not continue. Only masochists continue to do things that produce merely negative reinforcement. Therefore I am assuming that I have too much of an apparently optimistic style to attract any masochists. So what are the payoffs for those of us who do this on a regular basis for a long time, despite frustration?

What is it we want? Nancy Perry Graham, in AARP The Magazine piece summed it up well: "Good health, financial security, family and community, giving back, having fun." Because we are self-interested we use the Internet as a resource by which we find out vital information about our well-being. And we are willing to take advice from those whose opinions we respect. Over time we learn who is trustworthy and who is not -- who will tell the truth and who will shade it, or outright lie. This applies to the regular obscure bloggers we read as well as the authorities with larger audiences. In the process we also learn who is "up" and who is "down, politically" or as celebrities, depending on our interests.

With whom do we associate? We like to know about, or to actually be where the action is; we are activists. Being associated with a bunch of like-minded people adds to our sense of belonging. I suspect that we also enjoy "associating" with powerful or famous people. And many of us want to try to make a difference in a troubled larger world. Whether we are faith-based or nonbelievers with a strong sense of morality, it is human nature to want to make things better.

Where we hang out depends on individual preferences. Over time we develop a list of favorites we read, the most trustworthy news sites, people in whom we are interested, communities to whom we belong and references upon which we regularly call. And of course we are habituated to routines and tools that help us stay ahead of information overload. Tasks such as catching up on the news, deleting outdated saved material, answering e-mails, editing our web pages, sorting favorites and providing regular posts keep us busy at best, and overwhelmed at worst.

When we surf the Internet is also a very individual choice, often dictated by circumstance. I am lucky because I am retired. Work and family requirements must be worked out. Writing at the times when we are most alert serves our readers well. Doing a variety of things serves our moods well, and taking regular breaks serves our minds and bodies well. I read bloggers who post while on vacation, when they are sick, after surgery, when they are sad or when they want to celebrate.

Celebrating us!

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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