Bringing Back Mayberry: Reflections on Connections in Social Media

mayberryI just mused over on my Facebook status: “Erika Napoletano thinks it’s possible she’s too connected.”

Which immediately prompted a comment from someone: “Is that possible?”

This is what I ponder on a Sunday night, surrounded by my menagerie of animals with my laptop perched on its namesake, a belly full of dinner and a furrowed brow. I’ve been playing with the subject of this week’s blog for about three weeks now, waiting for the juices to churn and produce something coherent and thoughtful. I think I’ve got it, yet you’ll ultimately be the judge.

The beauty of the interwebz is that we can find anything, anywhere. A few keystrokes, a click and ka-bam! Instant electronic gratification. It’s changed the way businesses market, the speed at which people share information, how we date, and how we hire/fire/validate employees. To steal a vital word from Roland the Gunslinger (likely my favorite Stephen King creation), “The world has moved on.” No longer are we limited in our reach by what’s near and immediate. We’ve become a generation of brats who insist on the instantaneous access that “new media” provides.

Through social media, we’ve brought back Mayberry – the town where everyone knows your name and personalities are as distinct as Aunt Bee’s recipe for fried chicken. Whatever social media application(s) you choose to compliment your pursuits, you can build networks reaching near and far with the same small town feel. There’s the Newscaster, the Traffic Cop, the Drunk and the Town Kook – all are alive and well on our computer screens alongside of their distinct ways of conveying life through words and emoticons. 😉

As I write this, one of my Facebook contacts has just chimed-in with, “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.”

That’s step one.

Step two comes with the admitted perils of small-town living: it’s also about who knows YOU.

As a blogger, Tweep, Stumbler and Facebook Friend, I acknowledge my existence is very public. But small town living is a prime breeding ground for viral thought – the main reason that most of us are attracted to social media in the first place. Good news travels fast and bad news faster, there are days in the social mediasphere that I’m reminded that I have, in essence, surrounded myself in Mayberry with a delightful bunch of nosey neighbors.

See, there’s the bliss of small-town living where you know your neighbors, they’ve got your back and will watch your house while you kick it in the mountains for the weekend. And then there’s the flip side to the coin where the small town you’ve built for yourself gives way to the self-interested, those with ill-intent, the bitchers/moaners/complainers and those who (quite frankly) have no damned business knowing what the hell you’re up to at any given time. On the bliss side, it’s cool to be missed when you occasionally “unplug,” yet it’s kind of a pain in the ass to have it be a surprise that you actually DO unplug.

So I’ve started asking myself: why do I build my Mayberry?

And more importantly: who will be my neighbors?

We might be in a real estate crisis nationwide with housing developments shutting down construction left and right, but social media’s building new Mayberrys each and every day. I’m pretty damn fortunate that I truly adore what I do for a living, as it makes the Mayberry I’ve created and continue to build all the more rewarding. But I want to throw out there some simple rules that I’m learning to live by, as I’m sure I’ve got some remodeling and Department of Public Works tasks that need tending-to in this not-so-little town I’m still developing:

  • Unplug. Step away from the iPhone, close your TweetDeck, ignore your Facebook alerts, leave your StumbleUpon mail unopened. It will all be there when you get back. There’s a world out there beyond that sexy little high-tech flat panel monitor that sucks you in day after day – check it out. And check out.
  • You don’t have to be everyone’s friend. I’ve started asking people on Facebook who submit friend requests, “Hi! How do we know one another?” While I publish how to connect with me on Facebook across all of my blog presences, it’s OK to not be everyone’s friend. This goes for Twitter as well. It’s no mystery to my readers how I feel about too many cooks in the kitchen, and while we’re all out there to grow our networks with useful, insightful partners, I just can’t abide by the auto-follow back concept. If you choose to do it – cool. I can’t deal. I currently have an 800 Tweep gap between my follows/followers, and I anticipate it will only get larger. Hell, I’m just amazed daily that there are 2100 people interested in what I have to say!
  • Altruism rules. It’s pretty shitty of me to ask someone what they’re bringing to my dinner party if I’ve just extended the invitation. So I don’t do it. I started as a listener in the social mediasphere and work every day to become a better one (and that goes for daily life as well). Listening begets sharing. It prompts new conversations, thoughts and concepts to bubble to the surface of the beaker atop the Bunsen burner in our brain. When you listen and share instead of demand an audience, I dunno – personally, it’s made me want to listen even more.
  • Keep it personal. Anyone could sit down at Sheriff Andy’s table, partake in Aunt Bee’s home-cooked concoctions and dish about life in a small town. I am completely annoyed by the pervasive nature of auto-DM’s on Twitter and those who are actively choose to make their Mayberrys as impersonal as possible. Why would anyone send out a form letter via a medium that’s designed to bring people closer together? There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for relationships that have developed with virtual-cum-actual Tweeps like @theclimbergirl, @jennfields, @naomimimi, @justasungod and more! But not a single one of them started with an auto-DM. They all started with: “Wow, I like what this person has to say. Maybe I’ll listen.” I personally liken the auto-DM to getting pulled over for speeding, kicking the cop in the nuts and then asking him to let you off with a warning.
  • Hold a “town meeting” with yourself every now an then. Whether it’s for your social media efforts, your business, personal life or some permutation thereof – give yourself permission to check in on your status. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What has it netted? What do you hope it will bear? Do you know your neighbors? Who are your true friends? What’s in your toolbox? How large is your Mayberry? If you find that your networking has netted a small town that’s growing more like an out of control Deadwood than the Mayberry you envisioned…change it.

So yeah. Those are my reflections on connections. Maybe I’m not “too connected” but rather need to continue to prioritize and check out after I do some scheduled checking-up every now an then. Prompted to write by the fact that I almost used a hash tag in a conversation with a date, it was time for a reality check. The Mayberry I’ve built? I love my neighbors and I learn from them every day. I look forward to getting to know them more personally as time moves on, but I’ll issue fair warning: I do unplug. I will “abandon ship.”  The Redhead’s got a day gig that requires (and deserves) her attention and there’s a crapload of stuff I do that does not involve status updates, TwitPics or other electronic morsels of knowledge. I might have a public presence, but I need to do better at retaining a sense of privacy. Why? Because even in Mayberry, people close their doors.

13 comments
Jon
Jon

As a self-admitted internet addict (even it that's the 1st time that I actually /typed/ those words) I knew that this topic was one that I not only wanted to read when my head wasn't as distracted as it was when you first posted it, but also when I could actually /think/ about doing this in my own life every now and then. I've been online in one way or another since about this time in '95 -- that's a helluva long time. And worse yet, I've been stuck in front of a monitor for most of the day since either late '91 or '92... so long that I don't even really remember. I used to shrug this off by saying "such is the life of the programmer," but you've helped remind me that part of why I am trying to switch careers was to be able to "unplug". Sadly photography has gotten focused (no pun intended) on the retouching more than anything else. You've also made me wonder if somewhere along the way my life would've been better (meaning more fulfilling and satisfying) had I learned how to "unplug" every now and then early on. I know that /if/ I ever have kids, I'll be limiting their computer usage. Now if I could just figure out how to do that myself. :-

Jenn Fields
Jenn Fields

What? I wasn't listening. Glad to be part of your Mayberry. :) Can I start calling you Aunt Red?

redheadwriting
redheadwriting

Welcome to the blog and glad you're enjoying the content! Thanks for stopping by :)

Marianna Hayes
Marianna Hayes

I LOVED your creative writing - and not so subtle strategic wizardry. Strategy for managing mayberry... good stuff. We should all consider the why, when, how much a bit more... nice to meet you.

steve sundberg
steve sundberg

Wow! Excellent, thought-provoking wisdom, Erika. From my own experience, I've found Facebook to be more personal and Twitter to be a way to reach out to expand my social horizon. There are times when I definitely feel overwhelmed by both (Twitter more so than FB) and feel the need to decompress from time to time. Thanks!

pattipdx
pattipdx

Thanks for such a great post. I think you nailed it with the Mayberry analogy. The internet is so big, we all need to create a little bit of home where we dwell. Nice job.

redheadwriting
redheadwriting

@brian - I'm learning to love the "unplugging" as well!

redheadwriting
redheadwriting

Awesome words for a blogger to hear - thanks for the follow on Twitter and I appreciate your readership! Social media is a cool and confusing world - finding how it works best for you can sometimes be a struggle!

Riotred100
Riotred100

I have to say, I just recently joined Twitter and stumbled onto your site and in all honesty, of all the links I've gone to, and all the blogs have not been half as interesting as your writing. In the 5-10 second world we live in, the catch and reel is what it is all about. The esthetics on your page as well as your flare for writing has made this a great journey to a new part of the web for me. Thanks bunches. I will be back.

theclimbergirl
theclimbergirl

Aw, honey - this is another great post. I've been struggling with some of this a bit myself... there are days I find myself just backing away from the computer entirely, 'cause I need a break. I love being a part of my own little online neighborhood... but some days, I just don't have it in me. The days I don't, I spend non-tech, so I think it all balances out. I was just thinking (and, sent a tweet to that effect) that I'm thankful I made a totally separate twitter account to follow my closest peeps from... yes, I could use a group in TweetDeck, but even there I miss stuff. I like logging into my secret, small little "closest peeps" account and in 2 minutes catching up on the days that the 23 people I really want to keep close track of have had. I have been thinking that it's time to do some housekeeping on the big account, myself... need to shift the signal to noise ratio. PS ... had a "moment" last week and channeled you, but haven't had time to email you about it. When I get grief from folks either for things I write on my blog, or say on Twitter, I just think... WWED? I love that.

jamiefavreau
jamiefavreau

Thank you. Relationships and business matter. It does not really matter if you are doing it live or online. If you listen more then talk and act interested instead of being the life of the party. You build relationships that last. I have learned by making meaningful connections you can find a mentor and be the difference. I also think it is the quality of relationships. If you can learn from someone then I think it is a beneficial one.

Paul Beiser
Paul Beiser

As usual, a great read, well written and some advice we would all do well to consider. Unplug and Keep it Personal (and meaningful in some way - humor, a connection, help, help) are probably the strongest messages in this entry, Erika. The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only she who listens can speak. -Dag Hammarskjold

Brian
Brian

About 3 weeks ago I unplugged except for email, and it was awesome.

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  1. […] didn’t already do it (which invariably it does). What inspired me this morning was a new post by the redhead citing Andy of Mayberry, one of my favorite shows during my younger days and well […]