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Living ‘The New Normal’: My thoughts on Michael Geist’s lecture April 8, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, Facebook, social networking, technology, Vancouver.

There are several reasons why I am publishing my thoughts on Dr. Michael Geist’s recent lecture at SJC. First, it was a really eye-opening experience, particularly as I am a non-geek blogger. I don’t code, know barely my way around HTML and (up until this morning) had no clue how to insert photos on my WordPress blog. So really, the blogosphere is in a way uncharted territory to me. Geist’s lecture gave me new insights into living a geek’s life as a non-geek (I’ll explain this below). Second, I am an academic – I analyze, challenge, question and think about things – all for a living. Geist is a well-renowned professor who does research and puts his work out for the world to hear (or read). It’s only natural that as an academic, I have an opinion on another academic’s work (even if his area is entirely different to mine). But the third reason and I think, the most important, is that his concept of “the new normal” (as coined by Michael Geist) has hit home with me in so many ways it is almost impossible to ignore. Let me explain. For the past few years, I have refused to join Facebook. Thanks, but no thanks. MySpace? Don’t think so. Friendster? No thank you. The list goes on…

However, as time has gone by, and I’ve embraced blogging more (and as it has become part of my current lifestyle), I have clued in that ‘the new normal’ for geeks is exactly the same ‘new normal’ for me (and everyone else). Yes, I know I refuse to be sucked into technology and I am happy about it. JT has a running joke that he always has the techie gadgets about four years before I do. My current TV? It’s a gift from AF and DM. Not a flat screen, nor an LCD panel. But I love it and it’s served me well. My current DVD player? A gift from my brother. Don’t own a Blu-Ray nor do I care to do so. Cell phone? I lost it a few months ago (yes, I am going to get a one whenever I get around to it, don’t worry!). And even when I had a cell phone, it was pretty basic. The new phone I’m going to buy is pretty basic too. I don’t own an iPhone, and until about a couple of years ago, had very little understanding of podcasting, Second Life, viral marketing, crowdsourcing and all that jazz. So, for me to be immersed in the techno-geek sphere is a new form of seeing the world… and quite frankly, I like it.

In his lecture, Geist described numerous examples of what Geist calls “the new normal” (Michael – if you are reading this, feel free to correct me where appropriate). Amongst the ones that resonated the most with me are:
– Using Facebook, YouTube and other tools to reach broader audiences.
– The emergence of open-access journals.
– Real-time publishing of up-to-date, online information.
– The rise of the “citizen journalism” phenomenon.
– Creative Commons and a new culture of openly sharing knowledge, information and art.
– The evolution of access to government information and privacy laws.

I could go on for pages, and pages, and I think I am going to use this first post to re-think Geist’s ideas more. But there are two points I want to pick on that are relevant.

The first one: online privacy. I have talked about this with bloggers, techno-geek friends and non-blogger friends alike. I have refused to publish my last name online except for a very small number of people, and although I post photos on my blog and on Flickr, I try very hard to keep the personal ones restricted to very few people. Other bloggers post their photos online, and some of those photos may include me in the picture. Maybe I will do the same in the (not so far) future (that is, posting photos of myself), but for now, this is the level of comfort I have. I am sure other bloggers have snapped pictures with me, and generally speaking, I don’t mind if said pictures are posted. But I kind of like thinking that I have some degree of privacy. Although after reading more about the whole Facebook debacle (where some Vancouver-based techno-geek guy was able to access even Mark Zuckerberg’s personal albums) I am somewhat skeptical about privacy. But I think this is one of the collateral elements of “the new normal”: accepting that the boundaries and limits of your privacy aren’t set exactly where you want them set. And understanding that you can set new boundaries and terms that are perfectly compatible with “the new normal”.

For example, my former students know very well that I have not joined Facebook. I have asked them to e-mail me instead to let me know what they are up to (as opposed to reading about it on FB’s Mini-Feed). Having them e-mail me gives our interaction (between the student and myself) a much more personal feel. All of my good friends know that I have refused to join FB, yet they are always willing to e-mail me separately to inform me of a certain party they’d like me to attend.

That is the whole gist of my blog post – I have learned to adapt to “the new normal”, yet I still set my own personal boundaries around what I am comfortable doing and what I am not. I took a stance with respect to FB and all of my friends have respected that stance and the boundaries that it has established it. In doing so, they are also making choices about how they relate to me, and they choose to establish communication through other means (such as e-mail invites to parties and/or updates on what is going on with their lives). Many of them, as a matter of fact, call me and/or organize meetings over coffee to catch up.

The second point I wanted to touch upon (and I better do this quickly as I am fading fast, I’m physically and mentally exhausted – have been battling a headache/migraine all day) was the use of Facebook, SEO and all that jazz to reach broader audiences. I am not going to lie. Do I enjoy the fact that my readership has increased a heck of a lot? Yes, I do, I love it. Would I be thrilled if my readership was that of Rebecca Bollwitt, Darren Barefoot or Stephen Rees, to give you a few examples? Hmmm… Maybe, maybe not. (Side note – Truth be told, I really don’t know how many people read my blog. I usually rely on BlogStats, and not sure really how to get a better number – and yes, for the record, I do love it when people read my blog, and comment on it).

Don’t get me wrong, I *love* being read. I *love* sharing my thoughts and ideas. And I *love* commenting on other bloggers’ sites. But my worry sometimes (not ALL the time) is that with growing readership, I feel that I have a bigger responsibility to my readers. What if I am caught on a day off and I blog some sort of incoherent blurb? What if I decide to just post a music review? I wonder… will readers stop coming to visit my blog? And is that something that would make me sad? I still wonder…

So, yes – I am tempted to use these tools to reach broader audiences (I even signed on to Twitter) but only to the extent that I feel that my privacy is still protected. Of course, I am pretty sure that if I tweet (post a short micro-blog update online), everybody in the blogosphere will know what I am up to. And *that* level of openness I am comfortable with. I have no problem tweeting that I have a migraine (I have had one all day long). Heck, I will not even feel uncomfortable tweeting that I am having brunch at the Nice Cafe on Main and 8th Avenue and asking whether any local bloggers/users of Twitter would like to join. That is just fine. Again, this is a sign of my own adaptation to the “new normal”. For me, “the new normal” will most likely include posting short updates of what I am up to on Twitter.

You may ask yourselves “well, how is Twittering that different from Facebooking?“. I don’t have the answer to that question just yet. I haven’t tweeted enough. I’ll let you in a few weeks/months if the whole Twitter mumbo-jumbo has worked for me.

Final remarks – even as a non-geek, I was completely enthralled by Michael Geist’s lecture. Besides, he’s very pleasant to chat with. No wonder why geeks like him so much. And it was really fun to guest-live-blog for Rebecca.



1. Rebecca - April 8, 2008

I hear you on the struggles of growing readership = you lose your purpose and feel obliged to write for the audience more and less for yourself. I truly love writing about Metro Vancouver but I won’t hesitate to wish my niece a Happy Birthday on my blog. It’s still my property, and my own piece of cyberspace.

Some things (like criticisms, mean comments, and harassment) pretty much just come with the territory when you get a broader audience. Sometimes I look at my friend Alanah’s hockey website and wonder how she does it – day in and day out there’s always a commenter telling her she knows nothing and is dumb. But the regular readers (the ones that might not always agree with her or what she posts) are there because they enjoy reading her views. Whatever she has to say – they’re there for her content.

Truth of the matter is, it is still *your* piece of the internet and you don’t have to put up with anything unwanted. Period.
You can do with it whatever you see fit. You have my full permission 😛

2. Stephen Rees - April 22, 2008

I simply get my stats from the WordPress stats page. I used to think that is mostly automated programs that take content for other blogs, but every so often I meet my readers. Increasingly my readers send me stuff to blog about. So much today that I just bundled it all up into one big post, thinking it would save effort. But by the time I had cleaned up the formatting, munged the mail addresses to defeat the spam bots and got it all in order I could probably have typed something original.

But it’s a nice day and I wanted to get out in the sunshine! And my shoulder hurts from repetitive strain – too much mousing. I need to get on my bike to reduce my waistline. But I must first check out what is going on in the blogosphere – and there, the morning has gone already

3. Raul - April 22, 2008

Hehehe 🙂 Thanks for the comments, Stephen and Rebecca.

4. New friends online: Adapting to the “new normal” « Random Thoughts of a Student of the Environment - April 27, 2008

[…] random thoughts, social networking — Raul @ 11:49 pm In previous posts, I had discussed my ideas on the notion of “the new normal” as defined by Dr. Michael Geist and how I was adapting to living this ‘new normal’. The more I think about it, the more […]

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