The truly skilled telepath is admired for her or his uncanny ability to listen to the feelings and thoughts of others. At least that is how it works in my imaginary world of x0, in which any old fool can transmit emotions but only the adept can receive them. Clearly I am making an observation about ordinary conversation as well. Listening is an art, and actually understanding what one is hearing is a high level accomplishment. Yes, most of us do spend our non-speaking time figuring out what we are going to say next. But at least in conversation, we pretend to pay attention to others.
Enter the world of social media. There is no question that I love writing my blogs and I love reading the blogs of others, but in my humble opinion the exchanges that take place in the comments sections can hardly be called conversation. They appear to me to mostly consist of (1) you are sooooo right or (2) you are soooo stupid or (3) the ever popular thanks for stopping by and liking my blog. (I’m not going to count the various spam comments that show up every day saying things like “I simply stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to say that I get actually loved account your weblog posts.” Who writes this crap and why?)
Facebook and the various Pinterest/Instagram type spin-offs are largely ways of shouting out what you are doing and what you like and don’t like. Yes, it is entertaining, but no isn’t conversation either. Maybe if we had a few more choices on the “like” button …… you know, emoticon responses of dismay, embarrassment, maybe a wink….. nah, probably a bad idea.
Then there is Twitter. I’ve had an account for years and I every so often I would read tweets on a topic of interest. I hardly ever tweeted anything, however, because I didn’t see the point. Seldom does anyone have a unique take on a subject and usually dozens of people had already said what I thought. I could hashtag all I wanted, but it seemed to me that I was just one more person shouting “Listen to me! I think this!” Shouting isn’t satisfying and it isn’t the way to make friends.
Then I became an author. To my own surprise, I discovered that I was as desperate to be read as all the other authors you know. “You’ve got to use Twitter” they told me. Okay, I tried. And I found that all of us are out there, shouting about our wares and running little giveaways trying to snag another 100 followers when we can.That’s nuts. All the people out there shouting advice to authors (and there are a lot of those, too) think it is nuts as well. They say you shouldn’t peddle your books, you should engage socially. That sounds like reasonable advice, but I’ve got a problem with it. I am basically posting tweets to sell my books. It’s the truth and I don’t like pretending otherwise.
I found a solution that works for me, and it was in my first book all along. Act like a telepath. Act like a good one. Every time someone new follows me on Twitter, I now try to read their mind. Not really of course, but I pretend. Who are they and why are they there? If the answer is to sell me something, win a contest, or give me no information, I ignore them. But if they write, or read, or support a cause, or create or otherwise have a voice, I try to listen. I spend a few seconds looking into them online and I try to really hear them. Then, I thank them personally for following me and wish them good fortune with their passion. It gives them a tweet to like and retweet, and it makes me smile when they do.
No, I’m not making friends. Two or three 140 character exchanges does not a friendship make. And no, I’m not selling books from this, because my sales haven’t increased either. However, I am having some interesting exchanges and some fun. This “listening” is good stuff, no matter how it works out. Looks like there are ways to do it everywhere.