Social media – some reflections

I suspect that most of us equate social media with the online communities such as the about-to be-IPO’d Facebook, Google perhaps, our blogs, maybe Flickr and its ilk and the many discussion fora that proliferate. They provide a platform to give, receive and debate information, gossip, images etc..  Arguably a newspaper should also qualify and despite many forecasts of the demise of the genre it still seems to be going strong. ‘Strong’ is perhaps too optimistic but I see no imminent demise of the big publications.  Local and regional papers are more at risk as local news spreads with amazing speed online. If I examine my own ‘newspaper’ habits however they suggest that I may be proved wrong and the days of the hard copy dailies might well be numbered. I am already retired. I grew up in the days of broadsheets not tabloids and daily local evening papers. (I remember my father’s dismay when the Daily Express went from broadsheet to tabloid although he was really only worried whether the Giles cartoon would continue). Today I subscribe to the South China Morning Post, The Economist and that’s about it. But I subscribe online. Nothing comes through the letter box or lands in the porch. I don’t have to venture  out in a thunderstorm to find a soggy copy of The Thunderer. I used to take the FT but a lot of the good stuff seems freely available via Facebook links and hard data is easily to hand through Bloomberg, CNBC, Reuters and a myriad of sites such as Seeking Alpha. I do have ‘hard copy’ subs but they are to specialist publications such as Atropos, British Birds, Birding World, the Oriental Bird Club journals, Birding Asia And Forktail, and a few others. Alas, I am wandering already.

The most frequent gripe about online platforms seems to be the privacy issue. Some people are paranoid, others of us are less so but still, I hope, wary. I am afraid I don’t spend my waking hours worrying about identity theft. I mean who would want to be me? In the many years of being online I can count on one hand the times when something has gone wrong. I was defrauded on E Bay once. I paid, nothing was delivered. I lost GBP2. That is not a typo. Two British pounds. Now I grant you it could have been a lot more. I have bought books online, first editions, for considerably more. All have been safely delivered and in the expected condition. The worst accident was when my wonderful secretary did me the great favour of opening one on delivery to the office. Sadly she also succeeded in tearing the scarce and valuable dust-wrapper. C’est la vie. She didn’t wake up that morning and think: “I know, I think I’ll rip his first edition this morning. That’ll be fun.”  So I bought her a drink. She felt bad enough anyway. My credit card was used to buy some tyres in a garage in Wolverhampton once.  I am relieved to say that I have never been to Wolverhampton and with a fair wind, never will. I was refunded by the credit card company.

I occasionally search under my name on Google just to see if there is anything nasty there I want to be aware of. Nope. Pretty clean. I have a namesake or two, one of whom is a beer mat collector in Australia. I can live with that. There are photos of me around if people really want to be frightened. Perhaps one day I’ll find that someone is living in Ulan Bator under my name and using my identity to hide his past misdemeanors. Lucky chap.

I concede fully that the capacity and perhaps even a propensity for abuse exists and probably I have just been lucky. And that is not really where I wanted to go on this ramble. I was reflecting yesterday on the good aspects of these media. I use Facebook most days. I post my photos and you can look at them or not. I don’t care. I have about 100 FB friends, some I have known for many years and others are people I have met only online. I have only accepted friend requests from people I really know or whom I have seen interacting online for some time. You soon get a sense of whether they are good people or not. I am very careful about which ‘apps’ I allow to share my personal information. I stick to the core functions and I am afraid you won’t find me playing poker or Farmsville. Facebook provides immediate information on what is going on in my local community. Tree vandalism – posted within minutes of discovery. Dodgy planning applications – highlighted and viewable in hours. Interesting events, lost dogs, stray children, you can find them all same-day on Facebook.  I can track photography related sites and kind friends will let me know if they find something that might interest me. And I don’t pay a penny for it. I certainly provide data for targeted advertising and maybe unbeknown to me my personal information does get siphoned off at times. Would I rather have some boring ads on the side of a browser window (that I can studiously ignore) or a heap of paper coming through my letterbox each day, assuring me that I really do need to go to WellMart for their latest BOGOF offer? I’ll take the sidebar ads every time. For the uninitiated, BOGOF stands for Buy one, Get one free. Two for the price of one.

I also post images on Flickr. I don’t get a lot of views and if the comments get into double figures the organic lemonade is uncorked. What I do get from Flickr is the pleasure of seeing some amazing work from people I will mostly never meet. Many are specialist amateurs, some are generalists and some, like me, dabble in all sorts of things. From the United States to Australia I enjoy interacting with folks. They share knowledge, humour, (hopefully) honest feedback and offer camaraderie round the clock. As I am turning in for the night others are just starting their day – somehow the interaction flows seamlessly around the clock in violent contrast to the Hong Kong traffic, which rarely flows at all. In some cases we have exchanged biographies and you learn to discover the human face behind the online persona.

I find it extraordinary the effort people will go to in an attempt to help the clueless. I asked a question in a Flickr forum recently and then subsequently in a Lightroom forum. People wrote reams trying to help me find a solution. One person offered to help via remote access! Madam, that is beyond the call of duty. Did I fix the problem? Well, no. There were plenty of ideas but when one person said “this is what you need to do” someone else would chip in and say “no, no, no….. very dangerous. Don’t do that. Do this.” And at the end of the sometimes not so diplomatic ping-pong of advice I was so confused that I went into a catatonic state and, as usual, did nothing but alternately gibber and whimper. Not a pleasant sight.

And I blog. You know that because you are reading it now. Thank you. Blogs fall into an infinite range of categories as far as I can see. Daily journals, analysis, news, outpourings of personal troubles, highly instructive pieces by seriously well-educated people, book reviews, photo reportage, you name it and you’ll find someone writing about it. All secretly hoping to be discovered and be signed up to write a column for the Sai Kung Express. Until the blogger’s block hits. My efforts strangely seem to defy classification. I write because I enjoy it. I stay away from the controversial as much as possible. I have not gone anywhere near the “locusts” saga that is boiling under the surface in Hong Kong. I haven’t voiced my opinions on any of the GOP candidates although I applauded the voter who, when asked in Nevada for whom he had voted answered “the least worst”. He meant Romney. I don’t blog about the Middle East or China.  I stay well away from religion on well, religious grounds. I may lob a gentle jibe at the odd politician but then they are by and large a pretty odd bunch, who deserve all the opprobrium they get. I mean how on earth did that dreadful woman get to rule Australia? I’d have put Yvonne Goolagong in charge. Have Maria Bueno running Brazil, Vijay Amritraj  in India, Maria Bartiromo running the USA, Ilie Nastase steering the derestricted Autobahns of The Bundersrepublik Deutschland and Sue Barker in charge of Britain.  Oh and I steer clear of any sexist comments too. On reflection, scrub (metaphorically at least) Ms. Bartiromo. I think John McEnroe would be a fine choice with Jimmy Connors as his Vice President and Chris Evert as Secretary of State. 30-15.

I think this blog falls under the tag of miscellaneous.  And that may be a generous assessment.

In summary therefore I am a strong supporter of the modern media, social or antisocial. So, the $64 question (it used to be worth more but the budget cuts got to it) is would I buy shares in the Facebook IPO. Now I am not an investment adviser and based on my track record so far I should stay in that happy state. But I will pass on a piece of advice from that great philosopher of the past, W. C. Fields. Never give a sucker an even break.

To close, today’s photo that shows just how busy my home town can be and why I have so much time on my hands.

Another busy day in the metropolis of Sai Kung.

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2 thoughts on “Social media – some reflections

  1. Great set of thoughts here, Andrew. As you and I met more or less via Facebook (and Steve Gingold), I’d have to say social media works. I tend to focus most of my attention on my blog, but do enjoy sharing images on Facebook and Twitter. Flickr, I enjoy, but simply don’t have the time to comment on others’ images the way I’d like. All of it is a great source of camaraderie though, for which I’m grateful.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  2. Thanks Greg. Yes the Nature Photographers forum on Facebook has been kind to me and I now enjoy a good range of contacts, all of whom demonstrate rare skills and generosity of knowledge sharing. I was saying to Alister Benn online this morning that I am rather intimidated by things like WhyTake but it really does inspire. I know what you mean about Flickr. It needs a time investment that I struggle to meet. I’ve never been near Twitter!

    Best wishes,

    Andrew

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