Five Things All Social Media Users Should Do

Is it a saving grace for families and friends who can’t connect any other way right now? Or the bane of our existence, giving a platform to bullies, miscreants, and disinformation?

Social media is both. Like any technological development, it brings huge benefits, but has significant downsides and one thing is clear: the platforms may change and evolve, but it’s here to stay.

As someone who works in the marketing and public relations field, social media is an important tool in our arsenal for work, but on a personal level, I’ve also met some wonderful people (largely on Twitter), been able to stay in touch with family who live in different countries and time zones (on Facebook and Instagram), and generally felt the comfort of sharing events – both positive and negative – with people everywhere. But there are some important steps that all of us – and yes, I include myself – can and should take to make social media a better place for everyone. And no, it doesn’t mean you need to refrain from posting news stories and political commentary and limit your posts to puppies and babies. But it does mean you have to take responsibility for what you post.

Here are five things everyone can do to be better social media citizens:

1. READ THE FULL ARTICLE BEFORE REACTING TO THE HEADLINE.

We teach our children that reading and thinking critically are important skills and Spark Notes are no substitute for reading a full article, essay or book. It’s hard: there’s a ton of information out there and it’s overwhelming. And when you see a headline, it’s so tempting to think you know everything you need to know from a few words. But remember that news organizations often create those headlines to gain your emotional reaction, to sensationalize and highlight the best or worst of the findings in the article, and the reporter/author of the piece rarely writes that headline. Very often the headlines are misleading and reading the entire article will make you wonder how that headline got there in the first place. Not only do you owe it to yourself to read a full article to stay informed, you owe it to the rest of your social media audience, not to react to a post before reading the article in full and not to share an article solely based on its headline. Read and think critically about a full article before you post a “like” or a “comment” and most definitely, read and think critically before you share it yourself.

2. TRUTH MATTERS. CHECK BEFORE SHARING.

It takes just a few moments to make sure that what you’re posting is factual. There are many sites where you can quickly check the veracity of everything from those viral “local thief attacking women at gas stations” posts to the memes that tell you a certain celebrity wrote a diatribe on life (they might be nice, but usually not true), to the cooked-up conspiracy theories that, sadly, even our President shares on Twitter. Snopes.com is a good site for the former and Politifact is a good source for the latter. Sadly, in this time of manufactured news, citizen journalism, 24/7 news cycles, opinions masquerading as facts, and the ease with which all of these can be shared with millions of people rapidly, you have to be vigilant and take time to ensure that you’re not an active participant in sharing falsehoods. When you’re reading an article (because – well, we’ve already established you’re now going to read the entire story and not just the headline, right?) be sure to ask yourself if the story is citing proven facts and evidence or opinions and hearsay. We all know (I hope) that there’s a difference between Dr. Anthony Fauci, quoted in a New York Times story, saying “Social distancing will help prevent transmission of coronavirus”, and a meme your uncle posted on Facebook that shows a group of people on a crowded beach with the words “My immune system and my freedom will protect me”. It’s true that those spreading false information are becoming even more clever over time and that’s why number three on this list is so important…

3. SOURCES MATTER. CHECK THEM OUT AND ENSURE THEY ARE CREDIBLE.

If you’re a teacher, you know that students are asked to cite sources when they write papers. And not only are they required to cite those sources, they are asked to ensure that those sources are credible. There’s a reason most teachers don’t allow students to use Wikipedia as a source; it’s a site to which anyone can contribute and no one checks the veracity of the information. So it stands to reason that not all sources of news and information are credible. Ask yourself a few questions when reading – and certainly before posting – an article:

  • Is this story on a site that generally posts real news and information rather than rumors and opinions?
  • Does the site or author of the piece have an agenda or a “side” they are trying to represent in the story?
  • Is the author a journalist – someone who went to school for journalism and is employed as a journalist by a reputable organization?

All of these questions are vital in determining whether you’re reading something written by a credible source with evidence and facts to back up the story, or a poorly-researched and opinionated piece of rhetoric written by, well, anyone.

A recent NPR story reported that researchers have found that nearly half of all Twitter accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely Bots. They noted:

“Researchers culled through more than 200,000 tweets discussing the virus since January and found that 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.”

What were these accounts tweeting? Be sure to read the full story I’ve linked to, but in short, among the misinformation being spread was 100 false narratives about COVID-19 including conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins, or tweets that connected the spread of the virus to 5G.

We know that this is one way Russia interfered in our 2016 election: fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter spreading false information and conspiracy theories. So don’t be the person who reposts or retweets stories and information that are false – particularly those generated from fake accounts. Yes, it takes some vigilance and responsibility, but you can determine fairly easily if an account is fake (check out Botometer on Twitter) and that’s part of being a good social media citizen. And that leads me to number four…

4. BE PART OF THE SOLUTION: REPORT AND ELIMINATE FAKE ACCOUNTS AND FALSE INFORMATION.

Like the “if you see something, say something” signs that we’ve all seen at airports and other places where security is critical, on social media, our ability to sift through the rubbish and find the nuggets of importance and truth depend on everyone being vigilant in the fight against bad information. If you see someone posting information you know to be false, say something (nicely, and if need be, privately). If you find fake accounts on Twitter, report them; Facebook, sadly, seems to take little action on user-reported accounts, and recently, Mark Zuckerberg has said that he doesn’t feel social media platform companies should be held responsible for the content posted on them. That said, they will warn users who have engaged with or reacted to posts that contain misinformation that Facebook believes will cause imminent physical harm. In particular, they’ve applied this to false Coronavirus information circulating on the platform (such as, injecting bleach as a remedy). The hope is that these warnings cause users to stop, read, and make the right decision not to share if the information is deemed false and could cause harm.

The bottom line is that If we’re going to use social media – and remember, we use it for FREE – we need to be active participants in making it a better place to be. Which leads me to my last plea…

5. SUPPORT REAL JOURNALISM

Times are difficult and people are strapped for cash. Not everyone has a job and budgets are being cut.  I get it. Unfortunately, even before this pandemic hit, most of us were used to getting our “information” and “news” for free. The internet is a vast wasteland of free items and we all know the adage “you get what you pay for”. Or in this case, what you don’t pay for. Coronavirus coverage aside – which most reputable publications are offering up to anyone without placing it behind their paywall – good, quality products, made by good, quality people should command a price. This is true in journalism as it is in any other industry.  If you want publications to be able to pay the salaries of top reporters and editors who studied and earned degrees for their craft, you have to be willing to pay for a subscription.  There truly has never been a time in history where good journalism has been so important – even before the pandemic hit and particularly now with the protests happening around our country. Now, more than ever, if you can afford it, please consider supporting valuable publications that employ reputable journalists: NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and more. And while you’re at it, it’s helpful to look outside the U.S. for a global perspective. If you can read the Financial Times, watch BBC News or Al Jazeera, it will open your eyes to how the rest of the world sees issues – and how our own country is viewed by others.

Social media is here to stay and I’ve been just as guilty as the next person of abusing it. But I’m trying hard to practice what I preach every day now: Reading thoroughly and critically, checking sources and facts, pausing before commenting or “liking” a post, ensuring that I not only move away from blatantly false information, but reporting those spreading it – especially those that are clearly fake accounts. And I subscribe to both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and try to read several other valid news sources weekly. We are all citizens of the world and of social media, and therefore, we all have to take responsibility for making it not just a fun, but safe and informative place to spend time.

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Even the Most Non-Resolute

imagesI’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you really want to do something in life, make time for or accomplish something, you’ll eventually (to coin a Nike marketing phrase) just do it. There’s no time like the present and New Year’s Day or not, if you truly want to do something, you’ll do it and if not, well, maybe you don’t want it as badly as you’d originally thought. That said, there’s something about a new year, a fresh start, a clean white board, that gives one a tiny bit more motivation, that extra push to get a long languishing project moving.

In goal-setting, it’s always important to break big goals into smaller, more realistic steps and the same holds true for resolutions. You could resolve to be a better person….but specifically, how? You could resolve to be more organized, but what steps can you take to get there?

Pushing aside the notion that resolutions need to be daunting tasks that can only be thought of once a year, I’ve made a small, starting list for myself that I hope will have some impact.

1) I resolve that each time I want to curse silently – or not so silently – at an impolite or even dangerous driver on the road, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that they win when I feel stress.

2) I resolve that every time I think about calling, emailing, texting or otherwise reaching out to a friend or loved one I haven’t connected with in awhile that instead of saying I’ll do it later when I’m not busy (as if!), I will take five minutes to actually reach out or, at the very least, I will put it on the to-do list with an actual deadline so it becomes a priority.

3) I resolve to focus more and multi-task less.  The phone doesn’t need to be constantly in hand, the texts can wait and no reason to try to “save time” by responding to emails while on conference calls. Constant multi-tasking creates more stress and even more work. Better to focus on one thing at a time…unless of course it’s folding laundry while watching TV!

4) I resolve to walk past the mess and clutter in the house at least once a week without stressing out, picking it up or yelling at someone about it.  Life’s too short, right?!

5) I resolve to have books, music, writing, exercising and conversation add up to more hours each day than any time spent on social media. I’m talking to you, new Pinterest addiction!

6) I resolve to put forth energy and action for at least one cause I believe in, rather than just ranting about it or reposting rants on Facebook and Twitter. Action speaks louder than words.

Are you making any resolutions this year? Do you think it’s a useful practice. Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2013!

Is “Follow Your Dream” Good Advice?

“Follow your dream.” Maybe your parents gave you that advice when you were in school. Or maybe you read it in a self-help book along the way. Following your dream is certainly a deeply rooted idea in American culture – the idea that if we just do what we love, we’ll be rewarded – if not with riches, than with self-satisfaction and happiness.  Think of Olympians who say that their parents always supported their dream or Broadway stars who say that living just barely above the poverty line for many years was all worth it because they were following their dream.

When I was little I was convinced that my dream was to be a writer. I had a romanticized view of what that might entail and like most kids had no idea what the day-to-day reality of being a writer might really be, how difficult it was to be published and obtain some level of success at writing. Economic realities meant that I always had a job during my college years, seemed to always owe someone money and upon graduation with a Bachelor’s in English, was faced with the same question repeatedly from well-intentioned friends and family: “What kind of job can you get with an English major?”

Turns out, there are many jobs out there for good communicators, but the one I dreamed about, penning the great American novel, seemed awfully naive in the face of mounting bills and debt. After taking the summer to go home to San Diego and think about what I should do, I resolved to return to L.A., resume my part-time job of English tutoring at UCLA and search for “real” jobs.

After a couple of months of interviewing, I was rewarded with a job offer that I thought wouldn’t entirely compromise my dreams. A technology company wanted to hire me – an English major with no technical background – to write their user manuals. How bad could that be? I would be paid to write, albeit, about the ins and outs of test equipment and communications protocols. I was thrilled that I could pay my bills, pay off my debt and enter the real, working world. My writing dream wasn’t completely sacrificed, I thought.

But writing user manuals became tedious and un-fulfilling, to say the least. Fortunately for me, the head of the marketing department noticed my writing skills, my youthful enthusiasm and my desire to be more involved in the external-facing aspects of the company and offered me a job where I could apply my skills to public relations, event management, advertising, collateral and many other aspects of marketing communications. 25 years later, I’m still working in technology PR and marketing, but for myself and from the comfort of my home, with my own consulting practice that I’ve built over the past 19 years.

Did I follow my dream? Not exactly. When people ask me if I like my job, I always say that every job has good days and bad days, fun parts and frankly, soul-sucking parts. There is the reality: 25 years later I have a mortgage, one child in college and one heading there in a few years and a lifestyle that requires both my spouse and I to contribute. There is also another reality: I’ve quietly pursued my original dream, fiction writing, on the side and discovered something important – while I still love to write, I am probably not cut out for the life of a full-time writer. The reality is that even my so-called dream job has good days and bad days, enjoyable activities and those that are painful.

So what do you do when you discover that your dream isn’t truly what you had in mind? You move on. There are parts of my day job that I still enjoy and parts that I don’t, but all in all, it continues to reward me both financially and intellectually. Separately, I continue to pursue the parts of my childhood dream that fulfill me – taking classes to improve my creative writing skills, penning the occasional short story, continuing to work here and there on the novel I “finished’ a few years ago, when the mood strikes me, and writing this blog.  Outside of work and writing, there are other passion-fueling activities: family and friends, music, sports, great books, food and wine, watching my daughters imagine, explore and wrestle with their own dreams.  Some might say I didn’t follow my dream and I guess I didn’t follow the track exactly. Still, I can’t help but wake up some mornings feeling blessed and lucky, that despite it all, I am living the dream – maybe not the one I’d imagined, but one that fulfills me, nonetheless.

How about you? Did you follow your dream?  Or find another along the way? Do you encourage your kids to follow their dreams? How do you support them in their quest to pursue a dream while still preparing them for the realities of the world?

Rejecting the Kindle: Why I Still Need Real Books

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

Having been both an avid reader and a fan of technology most of my life, it would seem that jumping on the e-reader bandwagon would be a no-brainer for me. I’ve worked in technology for more than 20 years and have embraced it all the way. Between all of us, my family owns five Mac laptops, four iPhones, a desktop Mac, an iPad and a PC (only because I have to for work). We all use a variety of social media and applications including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In other words, there is no technology resistance around these parts.And yet, I just can’t seem to bring myself to make the jump to e-readers.

I figured that owning the iPad would bridge that gap. I wouldn’t have to switch to purchase a reading-specific device like the Kindle; with the iPad, I could use all of my familiar applications and start making the transition to downloading and reading books on that beautiful device. I’ve tried it exactly twice and while I did manage to finish the two books I downloaded, the experience left me…well, cold.

There’s something about the feel of a book, the smell of the paper – whether it’s bookstore-new or an old classic that has been handed down and sitting on a shelf for years. The weight of a the hard cover, the examination of the artwork, the reading of the inside flaps and back-of-book blurbs. Even paperbacks have a charm totally lacking from the sterile screen of its e-reader cousins.

I can’t quite give up the thrill of browsing a bookstore and picking up each title, trying to decide which one to read.  I still love having my own library of books at home, browsing the shelves that hold both new and old. My worn copy of  Gone with the Wind, spine still intact, but pages yellowing, brings back memories of learning to love books at the ripe age of 10. My collection of used paperback classics with their highlighted passages and folded corners recall hours spent in Royce Hall classrooms and Powell library, dissecting characters, motivations and themes. Each spine on the shelf  represents not just the story contained within, but a story that is uniquely mine.  I can’t quite get that same feeling from a collection of electronic files residing on a mobile device.

I know, I know…the Kindle and its ilk are the future. It’s great for traveling, you can pop it conveniently into your purse or bag and take it anywhere. If someone gives you a great tip on a new book, there’s no ordering from Amazon or driving to the Barnes & Noble or heading to the library to see if it’s available – in just a few clicks, it’s all yours. Immediate gratification.

I guess in this world of fast-paced, 24×7, mobile and always-on living, it seems silly or quaint to want to curl up on the couch with an old-fashioned book. And I’m sure eventually, the e-reader will win me over. For now, I have a stack of books to turn to, each one ready to tell me a story. So call me old-fashioned. Or call me Ishmael. I’m just going to keep turning real pages for now.

Summertime….and the Livin’ Should be Easy

It has been more than two weeks since my last post and I can only blame it on…summertime. That’s right, it’s all summer’s fault with its lazy, long days that meld into night, the intoxicating smell of a neighbor’s barbecue at sunset mixed with the faint fragrance of summer flowers, the way the sun emerges from the June gloom daring you to come out and play instead of sitting at your desk all day.

Well, it’s not entirely summer’s fault. It’s true that I’ve chosen long walks in the sunshine, dinners in the backyard, sipping wine and conversing until the darkness forces us inside, and hours in the patio chair with a good book over more productive pursuits.  And of course, my older daughter is home for one week before she heads back to college and summer swim training, so I’m trying to squeeze the most out of every second that she is here.

I am trying my best to enjoy the quiet moments and the slightly slower pace that summer allows. Those who know me know that my very nature fights against a relaxed pace, that I am forever looking to “do”.  During the summer, though, a little voice seems to whisper that life is fleeting, that savoring the moments is the smart pursuit, that maybe in the slow-down, my mind and body can regenerate and renew, preparing me for the inevitable onslaught of Fall, when there will be plenty of time for productivity.

A recent NY Times blog entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap” echoed my sentiments and made the point that Americans in the 21st century, in particular, are constantly self-imposing this “busyness” upon themselves. I plead guilty to what the author describes. It’s true I have plenty of activities to stay naturally busy: I work full-time, have two daughters, and attempt to pursue a second, part-time career by taking classes and working on my writing.  But the pace at which I live my life means that I sometimes try to fill those scarce, quiet moments when they present themselves with even more activity. In living a life of productivity, I realize I sometimes forget the pleasure in doing nothing at all.

I would argue that social media has enhanced our desire to be constantly busy.  We’ve all had to endure the postings of folks who really don’t have much going on in their lives and frankly, no one wants to hear about the fiber content of your breakfast cereal, how many hours you spent at the gym today, that you’re out of toothpaste or that your child finally went “poop on the potty” (yes, these are all real posts). That said, social media can make us feel that we must have something to say at all times, that we should be doing something exciting or productive at every moment — something worth proclaiming (or tweeting and posting, in this case) at the top of our lungs to show the world how busy we are and most of all, I suppose, that we are relevant.

So, I took a two-week break from writing, from the wheel of constant productivity, to try to sit back and enjoy the moments that are not filled with “something to do”.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not very good at it. I like being productive, being involved, contributing…yes, being busy. But it’s summertime. And I’m going to try my best to soak it up.

Getting Used to the Big Numbers…or 50 Things I’m Grateful For

At the end of this year, I will have to face a large number, a number that means I have reached five decades of existence. Why is this so difficult? After all, they say 50 is the new 30, a milestone, to be sure, but certainly not considered old age anymore. And as my husband is fond of saying, “it beats the alternative”. Maybe I fear it because I never imagined getting to this number. Like all kids, I couldn’t wait to be 16 so I could drive a car, 18 so I could go to college, become an adult and vote, and 21 so I could drink (ummm…legally). While I wasn’t anxious to reach the age of 30, I imagined where I would be and what I would be doing at that age (the year my first child was born, as it turned out –didn’t figure that!) and I could even see beyond that horizon to where I might be at 40. But 50? That’s just not a number I ever imagined.

So I’ve decided in an attempt to get used to that frightening number that I ought to start making lists of 50 that are not so scary. Like 50 things I’m grateful for, 50 things I’ve accomplished, 50 things I have yet to do, that I’m looking forward to doing some day.  50 places I’ve traveled and 50 I have yet to visit, 50 great novels (definitely won’t be including 50 Shades of Grey), 50 songs I can’t live without (maybe “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” should be on there), and maybe 50 posts I want to write. By making these lists maybe I’ll become accustomed to that scary-looking number by the time I get there….or maybe I’ll just have to drink a lot to hide the pain.

My inaugural list is 50 things I’m grateful for. Here goes:

1)   My health and that of my loved ones.

2)   My husband and the fact that his personality is the opposite of mine.

3)   My daughters.

4)   My Mom and Dad.

5)   My friends who are still my friends.

6)   My friends who are no longer my friends, but who helped shape me.

7)   The people who loaned me money in college.

8)   Every teacher who told me I could do “it”, whatever “it” was.

9)   My first love.

10) Being able to attend, and graduate from, UCLA.

11) Working from home for almost 19 years now.

12)  When I was still commuting to work every day, getting to drive down PCH every morning.

13)  All the clients who have hired me, those who have referred me and most especially, those who have hired me repeatedly to do work for them.

14) A good night’s sleep, when I get it.

15) The fact that my husband likes to cook.

16) The fact that one of my daughters has already taken after him in the cooking department.

17) The unconditional love of dogs.

18) Getting to spend part of my childhood in La Jolla.

19)  Music, music, music.

20) Books, books, books.

21) Daffodils in the spring.

22) Good wine.

23) Good, strong coffee.

24) Mint chip ice cream.

25) The scent of fresh lemon.

26) Pilates, without which I would be an injured, aching mess.

27)  Nordstrom’s customer service – can you beat it?

28) Getting to sit in the front row of the David Cassidy concert when I was 9 years old.

29) Getting to sit third row and front-row, center, respectively, at two Dave Matthews concerts as an adult and experience it with each of my daughters.

30) Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.

31) The beach.

32) Sunsets, especially at the beach.

33) Bangs…without them I might have to resort to Botox.

34) Online shopping.

35) Being able to live in California.

36) Not having to live in Texas.

37) Watching sports on a big screen TV.

38) Sunday’s Los Angeles Times…in print

39) The trip to England, Scotland and France I took with my best friend for high school graduation.

40) The opportunity to spend time in my husband’s native Sweden.

41) Dishwashers.

42) The advice of friends and colleagues who experienced things before me and shared their wisdom.

43) Clothes that don’t wrinkle.

44) The iPhone.

45) Summer.

46)  The Hollywood Bowl.

47) Writers.

48) Getting to watch my older daughter swim at Olympic Trials.

49) Friday evenings.

50) Getting to watch both my girls mature, follow their passions, learn from their failures and enjoy their successes.

Why Do We Procrastinate With the Things We Love?

Sunday morning admission: I am currently suffering from a bad case of procrastination. If my children read this, they will laugh and feel vindicated. I am not the family member who typically suffers from this condition. I’m the one who gets things done, who takes control and finishes what I start.  I do this at work, with the household chores, with activities that need to be scheduled and arrangements that must be made. Why then, do I find it so difficult to do that which I profess to love so much?  Why am I procrastinating with my writing?

Writing is the thing I’ve most wanted to do since I can remember. All of us have ideas about what we will be when we grow up, but then life happens and oftentimes, we don’t end up where we thought we’d be. I have no regrets about my educational and career paths, but about ten years ago I felt something was missing. Turns out it was the writing. As a kid, I spent countless hours penning stories and poems in my room. I kept detailed diaries and rarely missed a day’s entry. I wrote letters to friends and relatives and even to my girlhood celebrity crushes (David Cassidy, I apologize for the stalker-like notes I’m sure I sent to you). My best friend and I created “magazines” for our own amusement and when we temporarily lived in different cities, receiving her magazine in the mail and creating one to send back to her was often the highlight of my week (by the way, this friend, Ms. Caitlin Rother, is now a very successful writer…go figure!).

I went back to my creative writing roots several years ago by taking some courses through the UCLA Writer’s Program. I started with short stories – the first of which was dreadful, as I’m sure my former instructor would attest. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised and when it’s not, well, the results are less than stellar.  But with time and practice, I reconnected with my writing passion and finally had one of my stories published. Soon after, I realized that I really wanted to write a novel. I had an idea – I just needed the time and energy to execute it. At the time, I had several demanding clients in my technology PR practice, my kids were young and equally demanding, and life moved at a frantic pace. And yet, somehow, I was determined to write, and at the end of three years, produced a first draft.  I began pitching and querying agents, embarking on what I’d hoped would eventually be a new career. Of course, as any experienced writer will tell you, it’s just not that easy and, now, I realize that maybe the novel just wasn’t that ready. After many promising responses and requests to see more pages or the full manuscript, I ended up with a drawer full of rejection notes and a bad case of the writer’s blues. Things got busy on the work and home front and I put my novel aside.

But the writing bug didn’t disappear. Seven years later, I’m back in a writing class, trying to rewrite the novel.  It’s a painstaking process that often involves revising the same five pages fifteen times.  I know that the odds are against me and that perseverance is the main ingredient for success, and after all this time I have to ask myself if I truly want this as much as I’d thought when I was a ten-year old, scribbling stories in my room.  The answer may be no and if it is, I have to be willing to just enjoy the process for what it is. The good news is that there are now a myriad of other publishing options (self-publishing, ebooks and the like) and new, creative outlets for writing that never existed before, like this blog.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: procrastination. It’s easy to understand why humans procrastinate when it comes to mundane or dreaded tasks like laundry, grocery shopping or reorganizing a closet. But why do we procrastinate when it’s a task we presumably enjoy, an activity that is supposedly so close to our heart’s desire?  In the past two weeks, though I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about my novel, I’ve yet to put more than a sentence on the page.  Even for this blog, I realized that my goal of a weekly post is two days overdue and getting myself to sit down and type this required two cups of coffee, a completely silent kitchen and more than a little self-bribery (i.e. trying to tell myself that I could look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds and the Sunday paper only after knocking off a full page of something – anything!).

At the end of the day, do we procrastinate on the activities we love out of fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? For myself, I can only think that it’s a little of both. If I write and fail, I will wonder what the point was, why I spent so much time in pursuit of a dream that may not come to pass. If I succeed, I will wonder how I can possibly meet the expectations and requirements of the editing/publishing process, how I can ensure that my novel is not a one-hit wonder, and how I might balance my current, financially rewarding career with writing. Procrastination is my defense mechanism, the thing that makes me pause and question myself, the process of reminding myself that nothing is quite as perfect as we imagine it might be. Succeed or fail, there will still be good days and bad, things about writing I love and things about it that I hate.

For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that for a few moments this morning, I managed to conquer the procrastination monster and pen a few paragraphs for this blog.  I’ll reward myself by reading the Sunday paper and wasting some time on social media…until I realize that my writing class deadline for the next installment of my revised novel is due on Tuesday…and I go to battle with the procrastination monster all over again.

Get on board the technology train…or get left behind.

If you have a teenager in your house, you probably don’t need this Los Angeles Times article to confirm that teens are texting more and using traditional phone calls less. Use of land lines is rapidly declining, given the ubiquity of smartphones in every household, and teens are leading the charge when it comes to use of social media like Facebook and Twitter – not surprising to anyone who has 12-18 year olds in their home. The question is, are you using these tools yourself and if not, why?

I have a friend – let’s call her Margie – who refuses to participate in any social media. She has declined to join Facebook or Twitter and doesn’t even like email because “it’s all one big time-suck” and she isn’t interested in connecting with “ex-boyfriends from high school” or “posting personal stuff”. Fair enough. Those of us who use social media or have children who do, know that it certainly can be a huge waste of time and must be monitored. As for connecting with people from your past you’d rather not talk to or posting personal information you’d rather not share, I’d argue that is all at the discretion of the user – you can choose not to accept requests to connect and not to post things you’d rather not share. The thing is, I can’t help but feel that my friend is missing out on a valuable opportunity to understand and connect with her kids (and others), not to mention, protect her little ones from the dangers of the cybersphere.

Let’s use another example from a population even more reluctant to connect: seniors. I’ve been trying to convince my Dad to use email, join Facebook or just play with a computer for years.  He has the computer-phobia that is typical for many of his generation, a fear of “breaking” the computer if he touches it. I’ve tried explaining that he really can’t “break” anything, but his fear of the new and unfamiliar is hard to overcome. Since my kids and I rarely have time for a weekly two-hour phone call to fill him in on our lives – particularly now that my oldest is in college – I can’t help but feel that he, too, is missing out on a valuable means of staying connected with us.

For anyone who has been shying away from the technology of the 21st century, as Margie and my Dad have, I’d like to offer three good reasons why you should move forward and jump into the fray:

1)    Your kids need guidance and protection as they navigate the cyber world. It’s hard to protect your kids from something you, yourself, don’t understand.  If you aren’t familiar with how Facebook works, how can you provide the proper guidance so your children learn to use it wisely?  I know many parents who signed up for Facebook so they could be ‘friends” with their children, but don’t really understand how to use it themselves. They haven’t figured out, for example, that simply being friends with their children doesn’t mean they are seeing everything that is posted to their kids’ Facebook wall. In an age of cyber-bullying and Internet predators, it goes without saying that you want to make sure your kids are safe in cyberspace and are acting as responsible cyber citizens themselves. But did you also know that colleges and employers now routinely patrol applicants’ Facebook pages and other social media to ensure they know just who they are accepting/hiring?  At the university where my daughter is a student-athlete, the athletic department actually employs a full-time person to monitor the athletes’ social media, ensuring that they don’t post inappropriate content. Furthermore, a recent AP story reported that some employers want to require applicants to hand over their Facebook, Linked In and other social media passwords before they will hire them. This may be an overreach (not to mention, an invasion of privacy), but it points to the importance of teaching your kids how to properly use social media. If you don’t know the ins and outs of using it, how can you possibly impart those skills to them?

2)    Technology can actually bring you closer to those you love. It may seem counter-intuitive, but technology can bring you closer to the people in your life. I’m a big believer in putting away the cell phones and turning off the TV every night at dinner, and spending time with your family and friends away from phones and computers. That said, technology can absolutely help you stay in touch and feel connected to your family, friends and community.  Now that my oldest is away at school, I’m so thankful for texting, Twitter, Facebook and Skype – all of which have helped me embrace her independence and still feel that I’m a part of her life.  My husband’s parents – at the ripe old ages of 82 and 89 – recently acquired an iPad and began using Facebook. They are thrilled to be a part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives in ways they never were before – viewing videos of their grandkids’ swim meets, photos of school events, skyping with them so they can actually see how much they’ve grown since the last visit, and conversing via email or Facebook posts whenever they want, with no concern for the 9-hour time difference. While all of this technology can’t replace a face-to-face visit, it certainly helps to fill in the gaps between visits in a way that wasn’t possible twenty years ago.

3)    Technology keeps you informed, can help your business, and it’s fun!  Despite my 20+ years in technology, I’m pretty traditional. I still like to read the Sunday paper – in print – with my coffee and I still buy hard cover books. That said, I love that when I’m traveling, I can sit in the airport and scroll through my Twitter-feed and very quickly get up-to-speed on the news of the day. There’s a reason why so many companies worldwide now employ social media directors – entire social media departments, in fact – to use and manage these tools. These organizations have discovered that Facebook, Twitter and the like can connect them with customers, partners and clients, and can help get their message out quickly and cost-effectively. Finally, technology is just plain, fun. Why else would your kids want to spend hours of their time on their laptops, smartphones and tablets surfing the web, tweeting, posting photos on Instagram and using Facebook chat?  I’m not suggesting you let them have free reign, of course, nor should you use technology unchecked. Technology can be addicting, as this San Francisco Chronicle article points out, and most kids are using smartphones and social media long before they are emotionally and intellectually ready to handle the responsibility. That’s why it’s so important for you to not only understand and guide their technology usage, but to be a good role model in your own use of technology.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure I’ll convince Margie to join Facebook or my Dad to try Skype, but there’s no question in my mind that the technology train has left the station, and those willing to take a ride will benefit the most.