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?

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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.

The First Annual Best of Milwaukee Web Awards 2011

I had no idea I was even nominated for two of the Shepherd Express’s Best of Milwaukee Web Awards until someone tweeted me to say they had voted for me in the category Best Personal Blog. Voted for me? When I mentioned this fact to another friend and fellow avid tweeter, she replied, “Yeah, you were also nominated for Favorite Twitterer.” The nominations came as a surprise, but who doesn’t like being nominated for your favorite local alternate news source‘s web awards?

Last night’s web awards were a good time. Aside from enjoying complimentary hamburgers, wings, and beer samples from Lakefront Brewery, it was fun to be around the friendly, creative Milwaukeeans who do great things on the web. Milwaukee has a great social media culture. I’ve only been blogging and tweeting for a short while, but through that, I have met so many interesting and innovative Milwaukeeans. Interacting with so many different people on Twitter has made the city of Milwaukee feel like a small town (which most of you non-natives probably think it is anyway).

The Best of Milwaukee Web Awards were all in good fun and if anything, I am inspired  become an even better blogger and tweeter. It was an honor just to be nominated. I ended up being the first runner-up in both the Best Personal Blog and Favorite Twitterer categories and my name was printed in the latest issue of the Shepherd Express. Not too shabby.

Hats off to M.A.A.R.S. Attack for winning the Best Personal Blog title (as well as Best Tumblr and Best Band with an Online Presence) and Burp Blog, for taking the title of Favorite Tweeter as well as Best Food Blog. Here’s to another year of tweeting and blogging!

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.

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.

Help Find Joe Sjoberg

Joe Sjoberg (pronounced SHOW-BERG) has been missing from Madison, WI since Monday, November 29th.  Originally from Washington state, 22 year-old Joe Sjoberg was reported missing after he didn’t show up at work or his apartment.  Joe left with his car and cell phone and nothing indicates any foul play connected with his disappearance.

I have personally never met Joe, but he is the younger brother of two guys, Rob and Pat, that I swam with at Beloit College for several years. Because of the fact that there are not many tangible leads in Joe’s disappearance, the most important tool to use in finding Joe Sjoberg is word of mouth.  Joe’s family and friends have launched an online amber alert through Facebook, Twitter, and various other social media outlets.  Through these platforms, detailed information about Joe’s car and last known whereabouts, photos of Joe, “Joe is missing” fliers, and the latest information/leads have been shared quickly and viewed by a  large audience. The more people who are aware of the situation and pass along the information, the quicker we find Joe Sjoberg.

That’s where you come into play.  Even if you have never met Joe Sjoberg or have no direct connection to his family or friends, just sharing the information goes such a long way.  As I said before, the more people who are aware of  Joe Sjoberg’s disappearance, the better the chances of finding Joe sooner rather than later.  Here are some simple things you can do to help find Joe Sjoberg:

  1. Tweet the information. Here is a simple phrase you can tweet: Please RT, #JoeSjoberg has gone missing in WI. Please help us find him. http://bit.ly/ieE12p
  2. Check out the Help Us Find Joe Sjoberg Facebook page.
  3. Join the Help Joe Missing Facebook group.
  4. Post a “Joe is Missing” flier.
  5. Look out for Joe’s license plates.
  6. If you know something or see something related to Joe Sjoberg, contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at 608-266-6014.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post.  Please spread the word about finding Joe Sjoberg on Facebook and Twitter.  My thoughts and hopes are with Rob and Pat and their family as the search continues.

Words, Words, Words

I read a great blog post today that touched upon the most-looked up words of the summer as defined by Merriam-Webster.  One of the points the post made is that the average American doesn’t know the meaning of some  common words such as “despicable,” “inception,” and “frugal.” I tweeted this post which prompted an equally great conversation on Twitter about people’s ignorance of what the post refers to as $5 vocabulary words and common acceptance of words that aren’t really words such as “refudiate.” 

As a certified English teacher and writer, I believe that word choice is everything.  I love a good, strong vocabulary word and I love people with stellar vocabularies.  I am instantly wooed by a person with an incredible lexicon.  

I could go on for days–years even–on the importance of word choice and I already have in my days as a middle school English teacher.  I don’t like this movement away from the usage of $5 words.  How will we ever know what words mean if we don’t use them?

Here are a few examples of what I mean.  There are so many great words that can sum up what you’re trying to say so beautifully. For instance, there’s no need to say, “This new medication really makes my pain go away” when you can say, “This pain medication alleviates the pain.” Instead of saying, “I can’t stand people who talk with their mouth full,” why not say, “I abhor people who talk with their mouth full.”  Having the proper documentation will not speed up the process of becoming a legal citizen, it will expedite the process.

In order to continually expand my vocabulary, I keep a list of words that I like to use so that I don’t forget to use them in my writing.  Here are some of my all-time favorites:

  • asinine
  • ascertained
  • exacerbate
  • harbored
  • heinous
  • insinuated
  • matriculate
  • meticulous
  • pagination

All in all, you must find the right words to say what you mean! No need for circumlocution.  Expand your lexicon!  Incidentally, please share some of your favorite vocabulary words with me.  I’m always on the lookout for good ones.