Why The Internet Is Still Awesome

“They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, 2006.

“The Internet has its charms and its dangers.” – Peter the Librarian, to incoming freshman at Washington University, 2001.

“During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” – Senator Al Gore, 1999.

De de dee da do do do do do…

Since it first graced me with its presence in my home in 1996, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Internet. In the beginning, I instantly fell in love with the dancing hamsters and the ability to find anything my heart desired on Netscape. Soon, I discovered that my crush was accessible 24/7 thanks to a little something called AOL Instant Messenger. My friends were also accessible over AIM and I’d spend many nights sneaking into the computer room to chat, waiting for that magical hum from the modem signaling to me that I was connected me to the internet/my dreams. Sometimes I’d throw a towel over the computer, hoping it would mute out that terribly loud sound and not wake up my parents.

Not only did the Internet connect me with my friends, but it allowed me to listen to all sorts of music I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Thanks to Napster and later Kazaa, I could listen to the greatest hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today without having to spend all of my allowance on CDs. All that money I saved really came in handy in college when I had to pay for things like laundry and Ramen noodles.

Remember when it was “the” Facebook?

Toward the end of college, a little social network called Facebook arrived to the scene. It allowed you to connect with other kids on campus and see what they were up to. At first, it sort of felt like signing someone’s yearbook. You’d leave a little note on someone’s graffiti wall and go about your daily business. Soon, we were able to be friends with people on other campuses. Then, eventually the whole world was invited to join along with everything that has ever been invented. Ever. You could suddenly post pictures, tag people in statuses, check in with people. Lots of information available about everyone including your old boyfriend, his mother, your best friend from middle school.

Fun at first! A great way to keep in touch with friends old and new! But funny things started to pop up. Judy had a party last week? All my friends were there? I wonder why I wasn’t invited. Do they not like me? Staci is backstage at the Justin Timberlake concert again?! She really leads a more exciting life than I do. I need to get out more. Why won’t anyone like my status? Am I not funny? Or interesting?

My boyfriend, according to Buzzfeed.

Thanks Facebook, not only have you exacerbated my fear of missing out, you’ve turned me into a cyberstalker and you’ve wasted ALL of my time. What’s worse is that Buzzfeed has joined the party to take up even more of my time. As if Facebook hasn’t wasted enough time, now there’s an array of easy-to-read (read: mostly pictures), hilarious posts about everything under the sun from news stories to why going to the mall as a child is different from going as an adult. If that wasn’t enough, they now have quizzes. So even though I didn’t go grocery shopping as I’d planned, I do know which writer from history I should have a romantic fling with (Anton Chekov) and which U.S. President I most resemble (Barack Obama). Equally as important, I’d say.

Aside from wasting my time, how about the fact that the Internet has dumbed down our society as a whole?! The Internet is rewiring our brains! Nobody even reads anymore. In fact, if you’ve reached this far in my post, I commend you! Hashtag thank you. Hashtag see what I mean about the dumbing down of our society. Hashtag I hate people who talk in hashtags. Hashtag sorry not sorry.

Some days, I am so disgusted by how much the Internet has taken over my life. As I write this post, I’m staring at my iPad while my iPhone sits next to me. You know, in case someone likes my photo on Instagram, I can instantly respond and return the favor by liking one of their photos.

Just last month, when I hit the peak of my frustration with the Internet and thought about unplugging forever, I was kindly reminded why the Internet is still awesome. One day, upon arriving home from work, I received a small package in the mail. I wasn’t expecting anything so I didn’t have a clue as to what might be in the box.

The mug and the letter.
The mug and the letter.

After opening the box and sifting through the hundreds of styrofoam peanut-looking things, I found a commemorative royal wedding mug and a letter that was typed on a typewriter. It was from a Twitter friend, whom I’ve never met, but who knows how much I loved the royal wedding and everything Will and Kate-related. His mother, who lives in Minnesota, got the mug as a commemorative gift from People Magazine and was going to throw the mug away. Not wanting a good mug to go to waste, my Twitter pal thought of the only person he knew who might want such a thing–me.

The mug was accompanied by a letter, another one of my favorite things. There’s nothing better than receiving a letter in the mail. The thoughtful gift was an added bonus. This encounter happened because of our friendship over Twitter and it reminded me why the Internet is still awesome. It connects people.

Isn’t that why we go online in the first place?

Happy Blogiversary To Me!

cheersToday marks my three-year blogiversary. Quite a milestone, if I may say so! I’d actually forgotten the exact date I took the plunge into the blogosphere until today when my WordPress account prompted to renew my expiring domain name (something I have to do annually).

Three years ago today, I bought my own Tweetupdomain name and started a blog so that I would have writing samples for potential employers. Little did I know that blogging would catapult me into a completely new career path and take me into the uncharted waters of tweet-ups and other social media/blogging-related meetups. Not to mention the countless people I’ve met virtually and in real life thanks to this medium.

I don’t think I ever thought about where blogging would lead me or what would actually become of this blog. I simply just wrote in hopes that someone, at least–if not solely–my parents, would read, enjoy, be entertained, and be challenged by what I wrote.

breakfast sandwichMy first blog post was about a sandwich. I’m a woman of many words when it comes to the foods I enjoy, so it’s no surprise that food posts have made many appearances on this blog. I’ve shared family cooking traditions, expounded upon my own food obsessions, and even passed along a recipe or two.

classroomAnother thing I’ve loved about having this blog is that it’s been a great forum for creating dialogue on social issues that are important to me such as education, health care, and the latest happenings in local government. Facebook and Twitter rants don’t quite do it for me.

I raise my glass to you, Prince William!

Then of course, there’s the lighter side. That’s the great thing about having a blog called Ramblings, I can write about whatever I want. Conversation starters for the socially challenged, gushing over my literary crushes, reflecting on an old celebrity crush, requesting to work for Saturday Night Live in a cheeky cover letter, lamenting the death of romance, ranting about Comic Sans. One of my greatest joys came from solving the age-old mystery from my youth about the disappearance of the other Cinnamon Toast Crunch bakers.

Perhaps the biggest laugh for me is in realizing that Snooki has provided my blog with the most traffic. Thanks to the post I wrote about her publishing a novel, there was always a spike in traffic to my blog on Thursdays just before Jersey Shore aired. Thank you, Google image search!

So, what’s next? What will the next three years bring? More of everything, I hope! For starters, it’s time to get back to a more frequent blogging schedule. Second, it’s time to get more personal. Perhaps throw in a bit more about my own life, only the interesting parts of course! Lastly, I really want to take a look at how I can engage foreign readers. Within the last year, WordPress started keeping stats on clicks by country. It’s really cool to look at the map of top views by country for my blog:

Screen shot 2013-01-25 at 9.47.56 PM

People from Myanmar have visited my blog? Not to mention Albania, Egypt, Mauritius, Australia, and India. It blows my mind! If only I could get this visitors to speak to me and share their stories. The possibilities would be endless. I would love to find a way to foster an international conversation.

We’ll see what’s happen. Here’s to the next three years and beyond!

Champagne toast!
Champagne toast!

I Love It When You Retweet Me

“Will our tales of digital courtship capture the imaginations of our daughters? Will they be impressed when we tell them about that time the text message was misinterpreted, or how the cute boy re-tweeted our Vampire Weekend reference? Will they care?”–Charlotte Alter, “Guns, Ammo, Romance?” Published November 17th in the New York Times.

Romance in the digital age.

When I was small, I never imagined that my heart would palpitate at the sight of an instant message from my real life crush’s screenname, an unexpected text message from a beau, or a retweet. Sometimes it creeps me out how much of a thrill I get from connections in the digital world while ignoring what is lacking in the actual world. A retweet? That’s all I get? No handwritten letter? No surprise visit? No stroll down the lane? No reading sonnets aloud by the fire? No fortepiano duets? No froggy went a-courtin’? Sometimes, I think I was born in the wrong era.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any of this is any one particular person’s fault, it’s just a sign of our times. Things progress as they always do, but I’m just a little disappointed that my stories of romance will never rival the ones my grandma told. I can just picture the tales of romance I’ll recount to my grandchildren some day:

“Hey kids, you want to hear about romance? Let me show you my gchat history! You’ll read some very romantic exchanges in there!”
“Grandma, why is there a 30 minute time-lapse between responses?”
“Oh never you mind. Want to read some of my old text messages? See there was this boy and he texted me to ask me how my day was going and…”
“Let it rest, Grandma.”
“I think I have one love letter somewhere…”
“We’ll take your word for it.”

No, I imagined my stories of romance would be more like my grandma’s. Tales of being escorted home from school by a handsome boy; letters from the WWII front; a man who demanded to paint her portrait, a portrait which hung in her house for 50 years; the man she met at a church fair who later became my grandpa.

While all of these things are all still possible, technology has taken away the urgency of face-to-face contact. As an obsessed avid iPhone user, I definitely enjoy a surprise text or tweet, but it doesn’t really make for a great story. I don’t quite know what the answer is, except that I want stories that could at least be in the same category as those tales of romance my grandma once told me.  In the meantime, I guess I’ll settle for a retweet.

14 Pearls of Wisdom From the 20 Something Bloggers Summit

“You know you’re a twenty-something blogger when your friends and family think you have imaginary friends.” – Jenny Blake, 20sb summit keynote speaker, author, and coach.

This past weekend, I attended the 20 Something Bloggers summit in Chicago. Featuring two days filled with informative sessions and vibrant speakers, the 20 Something Bloggers summit taught me more than I could have ever imagined about blogging, building communities, connecting with brands, coming up with creative content, and vlogging. Not only did I learn a lot, I also connected with other bloggers and creative minds. There is nothing more energizing than spending time with creative, motivated and smart people who share similar passions and goals.

We got free tacos from the Gap taco truck.

Even if you’re not a blogger or very active in the social media space (or a twenty-something), you can still benefit from some of the pearls of wisdom that came out of the 20 something bloggers summit. Here are 14 pearls of wisdom that I compiled from the seven sessions that I attended at the summit:

  1. Progress begets progress. (via Scott Belsky, keynote speaker)
  2. Ideas don’t happen because they’re great. (via Scott Belsky)
  3. Organize yourself with a bias to action. (via Scott Belsky)
  4. When trying to make a point, think about the craziest thing you could do to get that point across and then go from there.
  5. Push yourself. Stretch outside your comfort zone. Do it over and over again.
  6. Think about yourself in a year from now. How would you feel if you hadn’t made any changes to your life? (via Jenny Blake)
  7. Big goals require blind faith. (via Jenny Blake)
  8. Embrace uncertainty.
  9. Know your personality. Some people are not suited to work remotely. They get distracted by laundry and cats.
  10. When you get to where you want to be, don’t stop networking. Keep building those relationships.
  11. Offer a new viewpoint on something that people experience regularly.
  12. Take a break when you get stuck.
  13. If something spectacular is happening, don’t lose the moment by introducing yourself.
  14. Just do it. Make it happen.
The free Vera Bradley bag from Day 2 was nice, too.

I hope you’re feeling motivated after reading these words of wisdom. If not, perhaps you should read these. Or go for a jog. Anyways, I’m feeling energized after attending the 20 Something Blogger Summit and I’m hoping to take apply some new ideas here on my blog. So, sorry in advance for some of the awkward vlogs I’ll be posting in the near future.

Here’s to the Newlyweds! And They’re Not Even Friends on Facebook!

I went to a beautiful wedding in Connecticut this past weekend and would you believe it that the bride and groom are not even friends on Facebook?! A married couple, both with Facebook accounts, but not even Facebook friends. That’s right because these wonderful people don’t need a social networking site to prove to the world that they are in love and that they are going to have a long and happy life together.

Unlike most modern couples, their relationship did not unfold in real-time as a

What do you say we snap a photo of our marriage proposal and put it on Facebook?

series of Facebook status updates and photo albums. They did not document their proposal and subsequent engagement in an album called “The Night He Took Me To Chili’s And Then Got Down On One Knee.” They are not tagged in one another’s profile pictures and they’re not even listed as in a relationship with one another (you can’t do that if you’re not friends).

In this Facebook relationship status obsessed culture, it is a breath of fresh air to see that two people are actually enjoying a loving and committed relationship together without documenting it all on Facebook.

When I see incessant Facebook posts and photo albums featuring one’s significant other, it leads me to believe that maybe the poster needs a little convincing that he or she is happy in his or her relationship. It’s as if these posts are screaming, “Look at me! I’m in a fun relationship!” If you were really having that much fun, I would think you wouldn’t really have the time for so many posts and pictures because you’re just having too much fun.

For some, the Facebook relationship status is a source of serious anxiety. This anxiety comes in several forms. First, there’s the “why won’t he change his status,we’re in a relationship for crying out loud” anxiety. There’s also the “why won’t she list the fact that she is in a relationship with me” anxiety. There’s even the “why won’t he accept my friend request” anxiety.

Isn't it obvious how much fun I am having?

Pictures just make this anxiety worse. What’s he doing next to that girl? Are they really just friends? Why does she still have pictures tagged with her ex-boyfriend? My favorite, though, are the we-just-broke-up-and-I’m-so-bummed-so-I’m-going-to post-thousands-of-pictures-that-show-me-all-dolled-up-out-on-the-town-having-the-most-fun-and-doing-cool-things-but-really-I’m-just-trying-to-cover-up-the-pain-and-show you-what-you’re-missing-out-on-you-big-fat-jerk photo albums. As if the only way to prove that you’re moving on from a relationship is through Facebook photo albums.

The best way to eliminate all this silliness is to simply do what my newly married friends have done, avoid being friends online. They’re already married in real life, what more do they need? The internet isn’t going to have an impact on the way they relate to one another.

If you’re using Facebook to broadcast the entire progression of your relationship or your relationship status, your relationship is probably not that serious. Or at best, superficial.

I’d like to raise my glass of champagne to the newlyweds one more time and wish them a long and happy life together in the real world, beyond the reaches of Facebook friendship. To the newlyweds!

Support Refugees Worldwide, Get a Blue Key

The camp population is still growing, topping 17,000- a small city. Day starts early, with a long trip along the brackish marshland, through whitewashed villages, to the border,  and then all day in the sun and wind,  thousands of  anxious, tired, hungry, people desperate to go home or, in some cases,  anywhere else.  Hearing the stories of those coming out of Libya, the depth and sheer brutality of the racial  discrimination there,  even more than the violence, makes you angry at the regime. One Eritrean could not even bring himself to speak of the humiliation he had experienced. –Andrew Purvis, UNHCR worker, “Diary from the Field: Excerpts from Tunisia.

A few weeks ago, I was particularly struck by this particular post on Spin Sucks: “Get Your Blue Key In Support of World Refugee Day.” This post shed light on the Blue Key campaign which supports the 43 million refugees around the world and the workers at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) who support them. For $5, you get a blue key to show solidarity for refugees and those who care for them.

Upon reading this post, I immediately thought, there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t do this. I can certainly spare $5 to show my support of the world’s most vulnerable population. It’s the least I can do. As much as I may gripe about what I like to call “first world problems,” I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be forced from my home and then subjected to unthinkable violence. There is simply no comparison in our own experiences to the experiences of refugees.

Who are the world’s refugees? (Facts courtesy of the UNHCR.)

Ivorian refugees in Liberia, awaiting registration. Source: USA for UNHCR Facebook Page
  • 43 million people worldwide have been forced out of their homes since 2009.
  • Of these 43 million people, over 26 million people have received aid and protection from the UNHCR.
  • Around 41%  of the world’s refugees are children under the age of 18, 11% are under the age of 5.
  • 47% of refugees are women and girls.

What Can I Do To Help?

  1. Get a blue key. Show your support for refugees by sporting a blue key.
  2. Spread the word about the blue key campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Donate a tweet a day.
  3. Follow the USA for UNHCR on Facebook to get frequent updates on their work.

Thank you for your help in spreading the word about this great cause and helping the blue key campaign reach its goal of distributing 6,000 keys by World Refugee Day on June 20th.

 

Twitter for Beginners: How to Join and Use Twitter

Most of my close friends do not use Twitter. I guess that’s not too surprising given the average Twitter user is 39 years-old and as a twenty-something, the average age of my close friends is considerably lower than 39 years old. Since Twitter is such a part of my daily routine, I find it difficult to relate my Twitter experiences to my non-Twitter user friends. They know my enthusiasm for the site, but they know little else. Many have asked me to teach them how to use Twitter. I encourage every non-user to join, so in honor of my non-Twitter friends and readers and anyone looking to plunge into the Twitterverse, I offer you my “Twitter for Beginners” crash course.

Twitter for Beginners: How to Join and Use Twitter

Step 1: Setting up your account.

  1. Pick your angle. Before you even sign up for an account, think about what you’d like to tweet about. Maybe you want to become a food blogger so you’re going to tweet about your latest food adventures. Maybe you’re new to a city and you want to meet more locals. Perhaps you’d like to tweet a little bit of everything. Maybe you’re looking to break into a new industry. Think about how you want people to know and recognize you because that will help you set up your account.
  2. Pick a Twitter Handle. Your  handle shows up as @_____. How do you want to be identified online? Your handle is your personal brand. You can be as anonymous or as real as you want. I started out with an alias, but I am @sjwhipp because I want my name to be recognized. Whatever you decide, it’s also good to know that you can change your handle at any time without losing your page or information.
  3. Define yourself in 140 characters. Create your bio in 140 characters or less. When fellow tweeps  stumble upon your  page, they will look at your bio, see if you are interesting, and either follow you or not. Some things you might want to include in your bio:  your interests, a personality trait or two, work information, especially if you are looking to build professional contacts.
  4. Pick your avatar. That’s your profile picture. Again, you want something that will represent you to the extent that you want to be recognized. If you’re going to be using several different social media sites to promote whatever it is that you’re promoting, it’s good to have the same avatar for all of those sites.
  5. Make your tweets public or private. If you make your tweets public, they will show up in Google searches and will be annexed in the Library of Congress. Keeping your tweets public makes it easier to connect with all kinds of people on Twitter. If you choose to make your tweets private, no one can read them unless you pre-approve their follow request.

Step 2: Follow and Be Followed

  1. Start following other users. On Twitter, you follow people. That is similar to the like function on Facebook. It’s much easier on Twitter to follow people, organizations, businesses, bands, etc., because all you have to do is click follow and you’ll automatically get their tweets in your live feed. No waiting for requests to be accepted.
  2. Follow your interests. Think about the kinds of things you like to do or have always wanted to try and then search for those people who share your interests. When I first joined, I searched for published authors because I wanted to learn more about how to become a published author. I follow the Green Bay Packers because I’m a huge Packers fan and I want to know their latest updates.
  3. Follow local businesses that you support or would like to give feedback. I love following as many Milwaukee restaurants as possible because I frequent them and they provide information on specials and deals on Twitter. I once was ordering lunch from Molly Cool’s in downtown Milwaukee and I couldn’t decide what to order. I sent them a tweet and they helped me pick my lunch right on Twitter.
  4. Gaining followers takes time. There is no secret formula for gaining followers on Twitter. It takes time, but remember quality is more important than quantity. It took Charlie Sheen one day to get a million followers, it took me about a year to gain around one thousand followers. You don’t necessarily have to follow every single person that starts following you, but if you find their bios interesting, definitely follow them back.

Step 3: The Basics of Tweeting

  1. Treat Twitter like a cocktail party. If you entered a cocktail party and didn’t know a single person in the room, how would you strike up a conversation? The same goes for Twitter. You want to engage people with the same politeness that you would a stranger at a cocktail party.
  2. Join the conversation. Find out what people are talking about and jump right in to the discussion. The search bar is  a helpful way to see what people are saying about your topics of interest. The trending topics show you what’s the most talked about item at any given moment.
  3. What you should tweet. What you tweet is really up to you. It’s all about how you want to come across. I’d say as long as you avoid extreme profanity and are polite to others, you’ll be fine.
  4. How to have a conversation. When you want to talk to someone on Twitter, all you have to do is start your tweet with their handle. For example: @sjwhipp It was great to finally meet you. To see what @sjwhipp says back to you, click on your at-replies or mentions. These conversations show up in the live feed. If you want to say something privately, send a direct message.
  5. Retweet. When someone tweets something that catches your eye, you should retweet it to your followers. That’s a polite way to show you are interested in what your followers have to say. You can retweet by hitting the retweet button or by cutting and pasting their tweet and putting “RT” in front of the tweet before you tweet it to your followers. I like retweeting the old -fashioned way.
  6. Use hashtags. Even if you’ve never been on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen hashtags. They’re those words or phrases that look like this: #_____. Hashtags are a way to tag tweets. If I’m talking about my plans for Halloween, I might use the #Halloween hashtag. If you click on a hashtag, you can easily find all tweets on that topic. I think of hashtags as ways to file tweets in the same way you put files in a filing cabinet. Make up your own. The more clever, the better. #Justsayin
Step 4: Twitter Extras
  1. Use different Twitter applications. Once you get the hang of tweeting, you can use other Twitter applications to tweet. The most popular ones are Hootsuite and Tweetdeck. They make it easier to organize your feeds and your tweets.
  2. Partake in Twitter traditions. On Fridays, you’ll probably see a lot of tweets with the #FF hashtag. #FF stands for Follow Friday and this is a way of giving shout outs to your favorite followers and fellow tweeters. List a group of followers that you think everyone should follow, say why,  slap on a #FF and tweet away.

Once you get the hang of Twitter, you’ll find that it is an invaluable tool that will provide you with more information than you could ever imagine, breaking news updates, business connections, new friends, insights into every topic imaginable, new experiences, and if you’re lucky–free stuff.