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?


Write Me When You Get To Liverpool

At the end of a visit with my grandma, just before we’d go our separate ways, she’d shower me with affection and leave me with a few words of wisdom. One of her favorite things to say before parting was “Skriv till mig när du kommer till Liverpool.” This phrase was Swedish for “Write me when you get to Liverpool.” It was something her mother, who emigrated from Sweden to Wisconsin at age 15, always said to her and in fact, it was what her mother urged her when she set off for America. At the time my great-grandmother set sail for America, the major hub for ships was Liverpool. Liverpool would have been the last city where she could have written home to alert her family of her whereabouts and general state of things before heading to America. “Write me when you get to Liverpool” was their way of saying, “Call me when you get there.” My grandma often used it in a “don’t be a stranger” kind of way. It’s stuck and I often say to people in my family, “Write me when you get to Liverpool” whenever they go on a trip.

As I’ve been preparing to move to New York City and saying goodbye to friends, I find myself using archaic sayings to people when we part. I don’t really like to say things like, “Goodbye, I’ll miss you” or “stay in touch.” At this point in my life, I am surrounded by people who I will always remain close with, so I don’t need to remind them to stay in touch, as we always will. I also don’t like sentimental goodbyes around the time of an exciting move. Sentimental goodbyes imply that something sad is happening and actually, this move is quite the opposite. Instead of sappy goodbyes, I find myself saying, “If you’re ever in Manhattan, look me up.” Like someone could grab a White Pages in Manhattan and be able to find me listed there. It’s also my way of reminding people, “Hey! You now have a friend in New York! Use that to your advantage.”

Similar to “look me up,” I also enjoy saying, “Drop me a line.” These days it’s fairly easy to drop someone a line via text message, Facebook, Twitter, and [insert your favorite social network here], but I envision the line to be dropped in the form of a hand written note. As if a friend in town would write me a note (preferably on parchment paper with the help of a quill) alerting them of their whereabouts and I would then meet them at some dark bistro in Manhattan for a drink and a meeting of the minds.

I’m not one for sappy, dramatic goodbyes. Instead, I prefer a simple “see you later” or “look me up” to remind my loved ones that really, nothing’s going to change except the distance between our respective houses. However, I do promise that I will write when I get to Liverpool.

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!

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.

If You Want to Know What’s Going On in Madison, Wisconsin, Don’t Ask the Local News

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I currently reside, has four major news stations and one major newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. These local news sources, like every local news source across Wisconsin and now America, have been reporting on all of the latest developments of the budget protests in Madison, Wisconsin and providing up-to-the-minute information whenever possible. The protests started seven days ago and when they did, they were given some interesting labels by the local news.  The protests in Madison were referred to as “Mayhem in Madison,” “Madtown Frenzy” and “The Mad City Showdown.

Mayhem in Madison? To me, the word mayhem implies absolute chaos, political unrest, anarchy, maybe even some weapons of mass destruction.

Madtown Frenzy? Referring to Madison by its affectionate nickname in this situation implies that everyone is running around crazy. Frenzy further implies a state of confusion.

I think the one that makes me laugh the hardest is referring to the events in Madison as “The Mad City Showdown.” It’s even fun to say. Mad City Showdown? Seriously?  This isn’t the wild west. Nobody is facing off at high noon, nobody is wearing spurs or ass-less chaps. The best part is that in the seven days of Madison protests, there have been zero arrests!

I am so tired of the way that the local news has been covering the events in Madison that I decided it was time to see the situation for myself. Well, that and I strongly believe in the cause and fully support unions and working families in Wisconsin.

When I arrived in Madison on Day 5 of the protests, the first thing that struck me was that life on the east side of the city (which is how you enter Madison when you drive from Milwaukee) was that people were going about their daily lives completely unscathed by the events at the Capitol. Some frenzy!

Secondly, the protests and rallies in and of themselves were peaceful. That was the whole point. There were even signs posted inside the Capitol reminding folks that “this is a peaceful protest.” The point of the rallies was for union members and supporters to have their voices heard and to stand together in solidarity. The people I encountered were warm, respectful, and passionate. Having the opportunity to voice my opinion inside the halls of our state’s Capitol along with thousands of other people who felt the same way was pretty powerful to say the least.

After witnessing the events first hand and then comparing them to the headlines and articles I  read, I am through consulting local news sources to find out what’s really going on in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve stopped watching Milwaukee’s local news reports on Madison because their depiction of events in Madison versus my experience in Madison are complete opposites.

Instead, to find out what’s really happening in Madison, Wisconsin, I’m consulting scores of alternate news sources such as the Huffington Post’s live updates of events, eyewitness accounts on Twitter and Facebook, footage on YouTube, video montages like this one, and Mother Jones.

Anything other than the local news.

Inside the Capitol.

5 Literary Characters I’d Like to Make My Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day! In the spirit of the holiday, I’d like to take a moment to pay tribute to two things I love (besides the Green Bay Packers): books and attractive men. Inspired by a recent post on a literary blog I follow I read entitled, “Bangable Dudes in Literature” and my love of making wacky lists, here is a list of 5 literary characters I’d like to make my Valentine:

5) Hamlet
Hamlet is full of angst, emotionally conflicted, and depressed. Yes, these might be bad qualities for a long-term relationship, but they are excellent qualities for a passionate love affair. I always admired Hamlet’s drive to determine who murdered his father and I love the creative way he exposed his uncle. The play’s the thing. He loses points with me for the way he treated his lover, Ophelia, which is why I would never want more than one or two rendezvous with this lost soul. What he lacks in serious relationships, he gains back in his beautiful soliloquies. What a piece of work is man, indeed.

4) Nick Carraway
I’ve always been partial to Midwestern boys and Nick is just that–a Minnesotan boy out to explore the charms of New York City. I love his reflective nature and overall storytelling abilities in The Great Gatsby. Although he does not talk much about his love life, he did get a little fresh with Daisy Buchanan’s friend. It didn’t work out, however, which was fine because I think he was searching for something deeper. I can respect that.

3) Atticus Finch
A widower raising two children all by his lonesome! Makes me melt a little. Atticus, a hard-working lawyer, stands up for what is right and true even when it makes him the most unpopular man in town. Very admirable. He seeks to break down racial barriers in his small Alabama town while at the same time teaching his children good morals. Not an easy task for just one man. I admire a man who can take a stand and has strong convictions and at the same time can be a caring father. All that is missing from Atticus’s life is a woman to keep him warm at night. I can help with that.

2) Theodore “Laurie” Laurence III
I always had the inkling that Laurie was good-looking because the March girls were instantly drawn to him when he became their next door neighbor. Laurie becomes the brother the March girls never had and becomes particularly good friends with Jo, the tomboy. Laurie mistakes this friendship for love (who wouldn’t?) and eventually proposes to Jo. Jo, like an idiot, refuses this proposal and Laurie seeks solace in Europe. Who wouldn’t want to marry their lifelong friend, attractive, and did I mention wealthy next door neighbor? In Europe, Laurie crosses paths with Amy March and he consoles her while she mourns the death of her sister, Beth. Laurie eventually woos Amy which is understandable because he offers her a strong shoulder to cry on. Amy and Laurie marry because they love each other and Laurie wants to be a March for once and for all! I love Laurie’s determination and love of the March family. Nothing beats a true family man.

1) Gilbert Blythe
All Gilbert wants to do is love Anne of Green Gables, but she won’t have any of it! That does not stop Gilbert from making Anne spelled-with-an-e realize that she does, in fact, love Gilbert deep down. Persistence. I like that in a man. Gilbert will not take no for an answer. Fight for your woman! However, I don’t suggest trying to woo your woman by calling her “Carrots,” a nickname she despises. Anne is sensitive about her red hair and Gilbert calls attention to that on her very first day of school in a new town. I suppose I can let that one slide because after all, Anne and Gil were only about fourteen. Teenage boys don’t exactly have the smoothest moves.

Another great thing about Gilbert is that he loved Anne for her brains. She was the smartest girl in the school and the two of them often duked it out for the highest honors in the class.  There were plenty of other pretty and popular girls in Avonlea that liked him, but Gilbert only had eyes for Anne. I appreciate a man who likes a woman for her intellect.

I always admired Gilbert’s undying devotion to Anne. He did not let their silly quarrels ruin their relationship. One of my favorite moments is when he and Anne both become school teachers. She has been assigned to a school in a town far from her home in Green Gables, while Gilbert has been assigned to the local school.  Matthew recently died, leaving Marilla to be the only one to look after Green Gables and the farm land. Gilbert learns that Marilla might have to sell the land because she has no one to help her so he trades places with Anne so she can be close to home and help Marilla. The ultimate sacrifice for the woman he loves. Brings tears to my eyes.

All this talk of these attractive literary characters has made me late for my Valentine’s Day pub crawl! Happy Valentine’s Day, people. Whatever you decide to do today to celebrate your love of [insert object of affection], just remember: don’t write on your lover’s Facebook wall. Save your words of affection for your chocolate fondue date. Your friends thank you in advance.

A Vacation From the Internet

Last week, I enjoyed a fabulous, all-inclusive vacation in Mexico. I spent the week with family and friends on the Caribbean Sea, sipping drinks on the beach, enjoying 80 degree weather, and working on my tan in January–oh and visiting ancient ruins in Tulum.  I could not have asked for a better vacation.  At the end of the week, I was truly sad to leave which can be a rare feeling after a family vacation.

One of the most surprising highlights of the trip was taking a vacation from the Internet. I never thought I would be so happy to ditch my iPhone, my laptop, Twitter, Facebook, gchat, Tumblr, WordPress, etc.   It wasn’t until I started having digital separation anxiety days before the trip that I realized just how addicted I am to the charms of the interwebs. However, once in Mexico, I let my iPhone go dead and didn’t look back! No chatting, no updating statuses, no Facebook creeping.  Instead of tweeting every five minutes, I tweeted once during the week vacation (I guess you can’t quit Internet addictions cold turkey). Taking a vacation from the Internet was just what I needed to curtail my social media addiction and here is what I found:

  1. Ignorance really is bliss. I don’t need to know what everyone else is  doing, thinking, feeling at all times. In fact, I’d prefer not to.
  2. Face-to-face conversation trumps all other forms. Social media is a fabulous way to keep in touch with people, but nothing beats meeting with those people in person.
  3. Make time to stop and smell the roses. I hate being that person who is always on their darn phone looking at Twitter updates, so it was nice not to have that option. It really forces you to soak in your surroundings and live in the moment!
  4. I really do prefer Twitter over Facebook. At least this week. Twitter doesn’t bombard you with tons of useless information as Facebook tends to.  I really like 140 character limit on Twitter.

Because of the way technology has advanced and the rising popularity of social media, it’s silly to think that a person should spend their entire life offline and not on a computer. However, now that I have taken an Internet Vacation, I have found a much-needed balance between my digital life and my real life. There is a time and a place for being connected and that time is not all the time.