--from "A Wind in the Door" by Madeline L'Engle'Progo,' Meg asked. 'You memorized the names of all the stars - how many are there?'
'How many? Great heavens, earthling. I haven't the faintest idea.'
'But you said your last assignment was to memorize the names of all of them.'
'I did. All the stars in all the galaxies. And that's a great many.'
'But how many?'
'What difference does it make? I know their names. I don't know how many there are. It's their names that matter."
I know the conventional wisdom. If you're a writer, you need platform. Once that used to mean connections in a specific subject area for writers of non-fiction. Now it means the whole array of social networking for fiction writers as well. Honestly, you can't turn around on the 'net without some post or tweet exhorting the Power of Platform and of Harnessing Your Social Network to Sell Books. I swear, it's starting to look like all those emails for Viagra.
I'll admit it. I drank the social networking cool-aide. I began to have panic attacks when I didn't get any retweets or blog comments on a given day. I began to feel like a failure at this whole platform thing. But, here's the kicker: I don't have a book to market yet and even if I did, hawking my wares in the online town square is no more my style than grabbing a soapbox and shouting about myself in the middle of the Boston Commons.
It's not me. It will never be me. I am an intensely private person. Surprise, surprise--a writer who is an introvert. I like long stretches of quiet alone time, time to think without distractions or background noise. Yes, I was that girl in elementary school who got in trouble for staring out the window during class. But I'm also no hermit. Nor am I ignorant about the need to self-promote in the publishing world.
Here's the paradox: I love blogging. I enjoy the connections I've made and rediscovered on facebook. I think it's great that so many interesting people link to so many fascinating things via twitter. Social networking isn't evil. It just has an overrated sense of its own importance.
Just as the early days of the internet were all about sharing information and making connections (who remembers the compuserve and AOL message boards?), social networking was initially about being, well, social. Now, so much of the 'net is about selling that it's easy to forget how powerful, how vital those fledgling networks organized around common interests were. For the first time, it was possible to create communities without the limitations of geography. It is easy to take this for granted today, but more than a decade ago, I was able to find and join a poetry workshop where I didn't need a babysitter, didn't have to drive an hour, could type in the wee hours of the night or during my lunch break, and write in the narrow margins of my life.
If I am growing weary of tweets that only serve to shout 'look at me, here I am' either by selling something or linking to the person's latest blogpost, I can't imagine I'm the only one. So here's the question. Can we get back to the social in social networking? Can we leave off the hard sell, the in your face sell to late night infomercials? One of the tenets of online behavior that I've drilled into my children is not to blog/tweet/fb anything they wouldn't feel comfortable saying to someone's face and in public. Our friends and relatives would tire of us in a very brief time if every interaction included the equivalent of the three year old shouting 'ME!" If you wouldn't wave your book or your latest review under the nose of every person you met in the grocery story, why should all your online communications do so?
Do I have a platform? By a strict definition, no. I have an online voice. In most respects, it matches my voice in real life. And though I strive for honesty and emotional connection in my web based interactions, I do keep a distinction between private and public. (After all, who really cares when I have a latte at my neighborhood coffee shop. . . ) I maintain my online presence because the people I've met through social networking have profoundly moved me and enriched my life. I maintain my online presence because I hope to be able to do the same for others.
I probably have followers. How many? Well, "I don't know how many there are. It's their names that matter."
Lisa Janice Cohen