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.

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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?

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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.