For the past few weeks, I’ve been on a writing retreat at my family’s place. I only leave the house to exercise and get some fresh air. I’ve been avoiding having a social life here at all. The extent of my social life, if you can call it that, is via the Internet at the moment.
And I must say I feel quite all right with that. My roommate in Wroclaw once told me, “You live in your mind.” This although I was often hanging out with friends and going to parties.
My present situation brings me back to nearly 20 years ago. It was summer, and I was a teenager. I was living in a similar neighborhood to the one where I find myself now. Same family, different time in my life. While everyone else was out sunbathing and socializing, I’d bury my face into the Internet. There was no social media at the time – and as I said before, I didn’t like Facebook or Twitter when they came out. But there was online chat. And it’s the “messenger” aspect, besides the chance to promote projects I care about, that I like most about social media. Not the chance to selfie each other out.
Getting hooked online
The year was 1997. I’d moved abroad for the first time in my life and had to leave all my friends behind. ICQ was the only way to communicate with them without spending a lot of money on phone calls. There was no Skype back then, either. I couldn’t connect with anyone around me yet. So I’d rather socialize on the Internet, while doing my first website project. It was on the Frontpage software, where you didn’t have to know HTML to do a webpage. My parents bought me a graphics CD with which I could design my own 3D stuff. And I ran with it. I wrote little pages about Brazil in English, designing stylized flags, trying to figure out the best colors for the website, for what was to be an international audience.
Eventually I got tired of it, but I guess it must have stayed with me. Two decades later, I’m writing my dissertation about Brazil, in English, and doing a website for an international audience (this one). I wish I’d stuck through and learned some code and design, though, when my mind was a bit younger. It would serve me very well right now. Maybe I could be making some money with that. From anywhere in the world, because the language of code is universal. I like being on the computer but know less about it than some 13-year-olds today.
While I spend the whole day on Microsoft Word and the Internet, my family is out and about. I enjoy the peace of being in my own head. I enjoy the freedom of pulling away from a conversation if it’s run its course or is unpleasant. Needless to say, it tends to be a lot easier to do that online. Socializing face-to-face can take so much effort. Alcohol is definitely a lubricant: It makes me look and sound like more of an extrovert than I actually am. It makes me stay out later than I normally would. But in the middle of my writing marathon, there’s no space for that. Life is cut down to the essentials right now.
What the Internet means for different people
I’d been curious about how other people felt attached to the Internet – especially in terms of writing, posting, communicating – both in their personal and professional realms. So I was hyped that we got different people together to talk about just that at the last Leipziger Buchmesse. Marina and I moderated, and three others from the LeipGlo team talked about their experiences: Christijan, Harald and maeshelle. Two German ladies whose work is also largely web-based also joined the LeipGlo panel: Anne-Christin Tannhäuser and Anne Breitenstein. I’d like to share some of their insights here.
A common thread for all of them is the reach the Internet gives them, which they wouldn’t have otherwise. How much each of them actually “lives” on the Internet varies, though.
Art & Literature
Christijan is an innate writer. Literature is his true passion. Although we’re from the same generation, he strikes me as a person who likes to hold books in his hands most of the time, rather than a digital “resident.” He uses the Internet to reach more people with his writing. LeipGlo gives him a platform for exposure when he is, in his own words, “terrible at self-promotion.” But he’d rather have a few meaningful connections with readers than lots of cursory glances at his stuff.
He added that “there’s a lot of great literature out there, but it’s unread or it’s forgotten. So my motivation for [using the Internet] is to help people remember that. I just feel like we live in this sort of modern era of adolescent culture, I think the adolescent is the main driver in the market… the adolescent has disposable income. I feel like the dignity of culture, literature exists beyond that,” but needs to be brought back. He is careful not to “get lost in a digital space,” making sure to “engage with the world.”
maeshelle is an artist who studies (among other things) millennials, and the Internet is where she goes to find them. Her art is often digital-based, and she’s had to take a break from her social-media obsessed character Pam de Bahr because she was getting lost in it. “Quite often my art involves the Internet, and how people interact on the Internet… I guess I am an adolescent. [Also,] as a performance and installation and video artist, funding is a big question. What an artist needs in order to get that is press.” Via the Internet, she supports other artists by giving them press in English to reach other supporters internationally.
She spends many of her waking hours online, also as a LeipGlo editor: “I wake up and I grab my computer and I just start seeing how many people have looked at the blog, what things they read [and when]… and then see what I need to do for the day. And then I feed the cats.” She takes turns writing at home and at cafés. She’s sociable and has many friends and projects going on at the same time.
Design, Public Relations & Academia
Anne B. has a young firm that does design for other businesses, including web design. She does her job in a co-working space, which means she’s not isolated from the “outside world” while on the Internet: “Of course, this is super inspiring, because there are a lot of people working with us, from super different areas and fields of work.” Nowadays, figuring out the Internet and the ins and outs of blogging is a very important part of building a customer base; she’s eager to keep learning about that as she progresses professionally. It’s also very important information for the companies she works with.
She said that sometimes it’s hard to be able to separate their personal from their professional blogging and posting on social media. “There’s a big personal engagement even now when we are a bit further [in developing the business]. I think you can only use a social media channel if you’re feeling it, if you’re fine with it.” It’s a delicate balance between personal interest and strategies to attract views.
Anne-Christin is a consultant on how to “use information and communication technology to make education better… I love this kind of work because it means taking something that has the tendency to be very dry, like a scientific article for example, but describe it rather as something more story-telling-like, and blog about that… to reach out to more people. From a motivational standpoint it’s really to inspire other people [in education] to do something out of their comfort zone” by engaging with Internet platforms. A big part of her job involves doing public relations for projects via social media and blogging. She gets paid to do it, and often with EU funds. So there are lots of expectations for results, in terms of clicks and impact, to make sure the money is being used wisely.
But it can also be fun and freeing for her and others working in education. As opposed to academia, “the blogging part doesn’t have to follow any rules. You can just write something that’s easily digestible.”
Harald is an academic, so I can relate to his spending time between producing scientific texts and blog posts. He used to blog about his doctoral thesis while writing it, which drew some interest, but has now turned to writing mostly about Leipzig-related stuff for LeipGlo. He finds himself in the position of an internationalized Leipziger who can absorb information and share his insights equally well in German and English. His Internet presence on LeipGlo has been particularly useful for English-speakers who don’t have access to information or an inside view into local history, culture, society and politics. He’d like to write posts that transcend and get across to his many different, self-contained circles of acquaintances.
A lot of his ideas come from the physical environment, walking around Leipzig with his family and dog.
“The Internet allows you to feel at home wherever you are… and I don’t like that,” Harald said. “So that’s my other motivation, to develop a different type of localized Internet experience.”
What about you?
What’s your relationship like with the Internet? We’d like to hear your thoughts, too!