Category Archives: Living on the fringe

“It’s like Gossip Girl, Mom.”

My daughter’s school administration called for an assembly this week, because of this “Formspring” thing that has been causing such anguish for dozens of students and consternation on the part of school authorities.

Formspring is a networking site, the newest social media platform keeping kids glued to their computers and mobile phones. On Formspring, an account user invites readers to “ask me anything”. Participants in this real time press conference then type in questions and can choose to leave their own usernames, or remain anonymous.

Launched just last November, Formspring appeared on the microblogging site Tumblr as a way for bloggers to answer questions from readers. Naturally the feature went crazy viral, spiking to 50 million unique visitors last month.

Given teens’ rather unsettling willingness to talk about themselves, Formspring’s popularity comes as no surprise to me. It’s a brilliant and highly addictive combination of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Participating in a Formspring session can make anyone feel like a celebrity doing a Q and A.

Yet I have seen highly engaging conversations on the Formspring accounts of responsible, mature users: from the very erudite (discussions of books being read; existentialist debates) to typical morning-after chats about the latest episode of Fringe.

Our Very Own Gossip Girl

However, in the scenario being played out in this particular school, students have been posting opinions disguised as questions. Some may appear innocuous enough (“guy in my English class: hot or not?”). But when kids can hide behind anonymity, the statements are attacks: direct, hurtful, malicious; and yes, names are named.

School officials are at a quandary as to how to ferret out the abusive posters, but in the meantime, guidelines have been issued for reaching out to the victims of this treacherous new form of gossip. Like my daughter put it, “It’s like we have our very own Gossip Girl.”

My daughter was at one of the assemblies held simultaneously across her private high school. A graduating senior this year, she’s a digital native who has moderated online discussions and participated in various online communities since she was about 12. She was an active participant, eager to share possible solutions.

What surprised me was how little administration seemed to understand about how Formspring – and other networking sites – worked. And how stopping the abuse will take more than just “shutting down the site”. The perps simply set up another account – like ninjas disappearing into the mist, then resurfacing right behind you.

I’m no educator or psychologist. I just happen to really like technology. And I like keeping up with what teens are up to – it was part of my job as a journalist and music-and-media practitioner. But I’m a mom too; and thankfully my teenagers think it’s cool that I know what’s what. By listening to what they listen to (we swap playlists on our iPods) we are often hanging out in the same places; their world is not alien, unexplored territory to me.

Sandbox Mentality

Kids are blindingly fast in identifying what’s cool and the most tech-savvy amongst them are also very early adapters. What if school administrators weren’t so late to the networking site game, the way corporations belatedly accepted Twitter and Facebook as marketing tools? I make no generalizations here, but maybe authority figures in our kids’ lives need to be thinking more like Millennials – don’t come late to the party (or worse, not get invited at all). Maybe host a party once in a while.

Colleges and universities have already come onboard the Twitter bandwagon, I know. So here’s an idea: what if high schools found Formspring before the bullies did? What if some cool English teacher hopped on the Formspring bullet train as a teaching tool (“ask me anything….about Macbeth”). Or what if the guidance counselors had a Formspring account so students could anonymously “ask anything”? As a bonus, said guidance counselors would be able to monitor or at least shadow (in a benevolent, Jedi kind of way of course; not like stalk students) every kid at school with an account?

The real-life community that is my kid’s school is generally a safe environment; but kids are in their virtual sandboxes all day long. Maybe more of us should get in there with them – sometimes playing alongside, but mostly, keeping a watchful eye so they learn to play nice.

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Filed under Living on the fringe, Teens

My 2009: A Status Update

On my best writing days, I can slam words together without much effort. It’s like I’m possessed and the word flow is unstoppable. Ordinarily though, it’s a painful, laborious process.

Yesterday I came across a shortcut for story-telling. It tells as much about how we are expressing ourselves in our SMS society, as it does about what we did last summer. And last spring. And in the last few days of the year.

Here is my 2009, a story stitched together using The Best of My Status Updates.

500 words before I sleep * is grateful her kids don’t mind McDonald’s for dinner tonight * is staying up to watch history in the making * actually went for a run…and liked it * welcomes home her two little wanderbunnies * is living the dream * lo and behold a shopping trolley in my bedroom. must be Moving Day * loved offspring’s reaction when we came home from shopping and gave her a new amp * is eating pink sorbet * listening to Bjork on a Saturday morning * is ready to see her daughter switch that tassle. Thank you my friends, for the free-flow Moet * Up at dawn for a walk on the beach with my dad, then pancakes and sausages * eating cereal at 2am and thinking: my daughter moves away to college next week * loving all the sweet tea, warm biscuits, and Southern hospitality * back in the Windy City: hello, deep dish pizza * why can’t I nurse a coffee the way I nurse a drink? * is going shopping in her closet * coffee makes it all better * hopes to see shooting stars tonight *

The quotidian can surprise, too.

What was on your mind, in 2009? Do share.

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Filed under Cool Stuff, Living on the fringe, Writing

Mad Daemon

What makes me think I can write? Why do I even dare call myself an artist of any kind (the label is a badge; oh yes it is, and one of the main ingredients of coolness which is why I covet it so)? There are days (like today) when everything I jot down is quite simply, just painfully awful. And I just want to curl up in a little ball and make Alternative Life Plans that have less to do with creative pursuits, and more to do with raising eight cats, or watching other people’s children.

Many years ago, a musician friend and I were fantasizing about our future fantastic rockstar selves over really bad coffee while the entire In Uteroalbum played softly in the background. I rambled on and on about the plot of my pending Great Breakthrough Novel; he rambled on and on about his ideas for The Great Breakthrough Indie Film he would write, produce, and direct.

“Dude. You have a muse,” he said, squinting as he sucked deeply on his cigarette. (He said it in the same way someone might say “Dude, you have a flake of dandruff on your shoulder.” Matter-of-factly with a touch of gentle concern. Or warning, even.)

“Where.”

“Seriously. Dude. If you don’t listen to what she says, she’ll go find someone else.”

I believed him. Still do. And then I stumbled upon this video. Elizabeth Gilbert shares her theory about creativity, which came to her as she pondered what she calls the “freakish” success of her novel Eat Pray Love.

What goes around once comes back again, and then kicks you right in the butt.

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Filed under Coffee and Cocktails, Living on the fringe

Because Mom said so

Learn to type with all ten fingers (otherwise you look unschooled). Dress up when you go for a plane ride. When conversing with someone, let the other person do most of the talking. These were tips I included in an article I wrote a few years ago, when I interviewed successful career women on the best advice their mothers ever gave them. To this list I added a few examples of my own: Before you date a guy, watch how he treats his mother; and teach your children how to drink wine at home so they don’t make complete asses of themselves in college. (Media Guy’s helpful input: Teach them what it feels like to get drunk and they’ll never attempt it on their own. Ever.)

I came across a few more life lessons you’ll never learn in school. There are 45 of them. Some of them (a lot of them, actually) are a bit too touchy-feely for my tastes. But I do try to abide by #13 and #17.

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Filed under Living on the fringe