A Thief By Any Other Name…is Still a JERK!

For a number of reasons the internet is a wonderful tool for the use of artists of every kind. It allows us to network with our peers and our fans, to take the reins on our own marketing and distribution, to do various kinds of research, and a world of other useful things. It makes our lives and platforms easier to handle and, if we so choose, allows us to share ourselves and our work with the world on a scale of our own choosing.

But there are also pitfalls. One such pitfall that never ceases to destroy my trust in people is plagiarism.

Plagiarism is something I never honestly thought that I would have to worry about. When I was still in school the only kind of plagiarism you ever heard about was kids copying each others’ work or copying entire sections of their essays out of library books. Even as I moved on to the college world the most you really came across was when truly stupid students would copy sections of Wikipedia pages without realizing that Wikipedia is created by volunteer input and is therefore not necessarily correct in any way, shape, or form.

These days, however, I can give you a list of pieces that I have seen plagiarized on the internet. I have several artist friends who have found their drawings/paintings/etc posted on other peoples’ websites with no credit given to the original creator. I know a number of writers who only found out through the help of their readers that other people were snatching their work from sites like FanFiction.net and FictionPress.com and posting it on their own websites with their own names attached. I even know a few people who write for professional websites who have found their articles copy-and-pasted onto other people’s sites with the impression that it belonged to the thief. And just recently my father, who loves photography and regularly posts his photos on Facebook, was informed by a friend that other photographers were ganking his pictures and claiming them as their own. In most of these cases the original creators had no intention of making money from their work, which is why they were sharing it freely, but that does not give other people the right to steal that work and turn around and use it for their own purpose.

Maybe we should just all start attaching these to everything we do.
Maybe we should just all start attaching these to everything we do.

Some people may say that if the thief isn’t making any money off the stolen work, then what should it matter? And I’m here to tell you that it matters a lot. For one thing, if two people are claiming ownership of the same work, how do the fans know who to trust? If, for instance, someone stole one of my stories and posted it on their own site, how many readers might read it on that site first, and therefore assume that I am the thief? Now my name has been besmirched even though I am the victim. For another thing, you have to think about things like exposure and building a portfolio. Take my father for this example. He currently has no intentions of making any money from his hobby, but someday he might, and all the photos that he’s been taking and sharing with the world will be part of his portfolio. But if other people have been taking his photos and claiming them as their own, they will have been spending all this time building up their own portfolios with those stolen photos. They’ve been gaining all the ill-gotten exposure while my father has been simply enjoying his hobby, and if his intentions do change, he’ll be basically starting over from scratch because he’ll have no way to prove that those photos were truly his all along.

There are certain things that an artist can do to protect their work, such as watermarking photos and emailing manuscripts to yourself (so that the email server has a time stamp of how long that particular file has been in your possession), but action rarely stops plagiarizers. The internet is an enormous virtual Universe that is unfortunately filled with quite a large number of jerks, and in the many examples of plagiarism that I’ve seen, the only reason the victims even found out about their work being stolen was because fans found out and informed them of the outrage.

So with that said, I offer a suggestion to the masses: keep an eye out for one another. To my knowledge no work of mine has ever been plagiarized, but for all I know there could be a dozen other blogs out there posting my Final Fantasy novelization and claiming it as their own, and I would definitely want to be informed if someone happened to wander across such a thievery. I’m sure any one of you would want the same. So keep your eyes open, friends and fellow artists. We are a community and we have to have each others’ backs on this one. Don’t let the thieves win!

We are (no longer) experiencing technical difficulties

I understand that I’m not the type of hotshot blogger who, when they go missing for a day or two, causes a mad panic amongst the internet crowd. Regardless, I’d like to apologize for my sudden disappearance over the past five days. I’m sure you’ll understand why I had a bit of an unscheduled hiatus when my father-in-law suddenly had a heart attack on Thursday (don’t worry, he’s alright now!), followed by a rush to get myself packed and ready to head back out West for the first shift of my new job. I spent the entire day today on a plane and have only just now arrived in the camp at which I’ll be residing for the next two weeks, so certainly you can see why I missed a few post days. But fear not! This camp has what (so far) appears to be rather excellent wi-fi internet, and my bluetooth keyboard is working just as nicely as it ever has, so I’m all set to continue blogging throughout the following shift.

I’m sure that you are all terribly relieved. ๐Ÿ™‚

Stay tuned, because regular posts resume tomorrow! 

If “No News is Good News”, what is Fake News?

I was still in grade school when this crazy thing we call the Internet really started to take off. I can still remember the day when our school got it’s first public-use computer. My best friend and I were two of the students chosen to check it out first. I can remember one of the first things we did was to set up our very first Hotmail email accounts. It was all rather exciting.

Since then the Internet has only grown and grown. It has become a place of endless information. A person can type almost anything into Google and come back with hundreds, if not thousands, of results. The Internet has allowed us to share news, information, thoughts and feelings, habits and hobbies, and anything else we can think of with people from the opposite side of the planet and everywhere in between. For the first time in human history we can know exactly what is going on on the other side of world as it is happening. That’s pretty damn amazing.

But while the ever-expanding World Wide Web is filled with a great many wonderful and helpful things, it is also rife with pitfalls and truly excellent methods to make one look excruciatingly foolish. Everything has become so fast, so instant, and so often irreversible, that it only takes a moment of not thinking clearly or a quick slip of the finger in order to do something dumb. It takes half a second to hit a “like” or “share” button, and in this day of rushed moments and instant gratification we often do so without even bothering to look twice at the thing that we’re allying ourselves with publicly.

The worst offenders of this, in my opinion, are Facebook users sharing “news”.

Facebook has become a great place to share things that are important to us. If we see a news report talking about something we feel strongly about, it is a simple thing for us to share that report on our Facebook wall where we know that it will be seen, and possibly re-shared, by our friends and family and hopefully lots of other people as well. This is a great way to get important issues out there.

It’s also a great way to make yourself look like a moron.

Too often, I’ve found, people have become apt to “like”, “share”, and leave complicated, emotion-fueled comments in response to big, scary-looking news stories…without ever once bothering to read the story.

This past Black Friday there was a very scary-sounding story floating around Facebook. It described a number of brutal deaths at the hands of insane shoppers, including one woman who had stabbed another woman to death in order to secure the last XBox One in Walmart. When I saw the story pop up on my Facebook feed I immediately raised a skeptical eyebrow and clicked on the link to read the whole article. It quickly became evident that the article was a joke. It got more and more foolish as it went on, describing complete nonsense and throwing several outright, completely obvious lies in near the end. Anyone who took the two minutes required to read the entire article would easily figure out that it was a load of bull. If they took an extra five seconds to Google the name of the news source they’d have found out that that particular website was a joke and satire news site, much like The Onion. Everything they report is made up.

From what I saw on my Facebook feed over the following few days, my husband and I were some of the only people who bothered to take that two minutes and five seconds out of our day. Multiple people on my Facebook feed shared that story, along with angry comments about how Black Friday is evil and the big corporations who support it should be ashamed of themselves. One such friend actually argued with people who commented back to tell him that the article was fake, only giving in when people started quoting the ridiculous end parts of the article that he hadn’t actually bothered to read.

These things happen on a daily basis now-a-days because people are much more willing to take the one second required to hit “share” than the two minutes required to fact-check and see whether the thing they’re sharing is true or not. It’s an extremely lazy reaction that allows false information to thrive, and makes otherwise intelligent people look like emotion-driven fools.

Recently Colorado decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Immediately afterward Facebook feeds were pasted with the sensational headline, “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization”. People were losing their minds over this headline, and as well they should have…had it been even the tiniest bit true. The article was posted on a website called The Daily Currant, a website which, when searched for on Google, comes up with the subtitle: The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record. But no one bothered to visit the website. They simply saw the headline, got mad, and shared the link without ever looking into the facts. Whether you agree or disagree with the legalization of marijuana, this is a terrible method for getting your point across.

We are emotional creatures, it’s true. We hate waiting and love moving at breakneck speeds. It’s in our nature. But when we use the internet in the manner I’ve described above, we make ourselves look stupid. We paint a picture of ourselves as gullible fools and destroy any faith that others may have in us as a reliable source. We ruin our image. And a lot of the time, no one even bothers to let us know how foolish we’ve been, because fools like to try to argue and defend themselves, which only makes them look even more foolish.

I won’t claim that I’ve never fallen for such a thing myself – I’m fairly certain all of us have tripped over a false claim here and there – but I will point out that blindly believing in something that sparks an emotional reaction is how we end up with situations like this.

Do a little research, friends. The same tool that allows you to share big scary news reports with everyone you’ve ever met, and everyone they’ve ever met, is the same tool that can help you get your facts straight in just a few short moments.

Disconnect to Re-Connect

Recently I read a post on Girls Heart Books in which the author spoke about taking her teenagers on a vacation in a location where they could not (easily) access any Wi-Fi. The post got me thinking about the joys and failings of constantly being connected.

We live in a world where we can be connected to the entire rest of the planet all the time. We have smartphones small enough to keep in our back pocket, with enough power in them to handle almost anything we can do on a larger computer, and for the most part we can constantly have them connected to the internet and everything that entails.

In a lot of ways, having constant access makes life a lot easier. We can check on our work from home (or anywhere else we happen to be). We can contact friends and family members from wherever we are. If we’re lost, our phone’s can show us exactly where we are and how to get where we’re going. If we have a question we can access Google anytime, anywhere. We can talk to people on the other side of the planet. We have constant access to multiple forms of entertainment.

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Image via Flikr WANA Commons, courtesy of Dani Jace.

But as great as all of this can be, it’s also dangerous, because so many of us these days have what’s (creatively) known as “smartphone addiction”. We use our smartphones to check our email dozens of times a day, even though we know there probably isn’t anything new there. We spend more time Tweeting and updating our Facebook statuses than actually paying attention to the world and the things we’re updating about. Our brains have a hard time remember things because we subconsciously know that we can find anything out with the few clicks of the keyboard. We share fewer actual face-to-face social reactions because we can’t get our heads off of online social media. People have even been known to walk out into traffic because they refused to look up from their smartphone screens.

I’m not high-and-mighty; I know that I’m as bad as anyone. I’ve checked my email more times in one day than the number of emails I got in that day, and I’ve been known to not notice people talking to me because I had my head buried in 9GAG. But I know enough to know that all these things are bad things. Many of the habits we’ve adopted because of “smartphone addiction” are huge time vampires, actually take us away from our friends and families rather than bringing us closer to them, and regularly put us in danger (see the aforementioned walking into traffic).

So all I’m saying is to take a break every now and then. Put the Android down and look your loved one’s in the face. Watch the fireworks instead of trying to film them with your iPhone. And for the love of puppies, your text can wait until you have a chance to stand still for a moment.

Have you ever noticed how much time you waste on your smartphone? Have you ever gotten frustrated because of someone else who can’t get their eyes off the screen? Have you, or someone you love, ever gotten into an accident because of smartphone addiction? Please share!

It’s a Bug’s Life

I have a confession to make. I can hide it no longer. I am a Clutter-Bug.

What the hell is a Clutter-Bug, you ask? Well, what does it sound like? My life and my mind are filled with clutter. Mountains of it.

Don’t mistake me for a hoarder, although material possessions are a little bit of the problem. Physically I do have a lot of hoarder-type clutter around my house. I have an entire shelf on my bookcase that is nothing but blank notebooks I’ve never used, and there’s a whole stack of drawers in the dining room that are filled with good old fashioned junk, like rubber-band balls and dead pens. I have a bit of a hard time throwing stuff away, even when I know there’s no point in keeping them.

But the type of clutter that I’m talking about is the kind that distracts, the kind that disguises itself as disorganization and generally messiness. There are almost always clothes on my bedroom floor, for instance, even though we have a hamper in there. I leave my phone, my tablet, and my Playstation Vita wherever I happen to be when I’m finished using them. There are books on top of my headboard that I haven’t touched in weeks. There are boxes of baby clothes sitting in my hall that I simply haven’t bothered to put away, even though it would take five minutes to cart them down into the basement.

I seem to have a mental block that consistently keeps me from ever putting anything away, thus cluttering up my house. It’s an illness. A terrible, debilitating illness.

But it goes further than that, because clutter can be mental as well.

For instance, in my closet there is a huge stack of jeans taking up a good three square feet of space. None of them fit. They vary between being a size or two off to being so tiny that I would have to get liposuction and a stomach staple to ever have a chance of fitting in them again. And not only are these jeans clutter in the literal sense of taking up space and never being used, they’re clutter in the mental sense because I have to think of them every time I look at them. Every time I open my closet I see this stack of jeans and they make me miserable just for the sheer fact that I know I can’t fit into them. I know I could fit into them if I worked really hard and restricted my calories and stuck to a daily exercise regimen and completely stopped drinking anything other than water and so on and so on and so on…you see? Mental clutter.

Most people do this kind of thing to themselves to some extent, but I, my friends, am an expert. I am the Queen Clutter-Bug. May all lesser Clutter-Bugs bow before me.

Original pic via photoalbum.davison.ca
Original pic via photoalbum.davison.ca

For another example, I have this habit I call “self-fulfilling failure to fulfill”. Basically, I have a mental list in my head of all the things I want to do, or need to do, and no matter how many things I am able to cross off the list I manage to add twice as many more. In this way my list is never complete, and my internal list-maker starts twitching like a drugged-up jackrabbit. It doesn’t matter if I’m working my ass off or sitting back and trying to relax, I have this never-ceasing mental clutter of half-finished to-do lists gumming up my brain.

It’s a horrifying condition for a writer because while I should be writing and working on my platform, I’m instead obsessing about a million other things. I can’t get any writing done around my husband or daughter because I’m so easily distracted by everything they say or do. I can’t get any writing done in my own bedroom because I can’t stop thinking about that basket of clothes on the floor or those damn jeans in my closet. When I do get around to writing I’m plagued by a thousand non-work-in-progress-related thoughts like whether I should be planning some blog posts in advance to give myself more time, or whether I should scrap this fan fiction stuff and just concentrate on my original work, or should I log onto Twitter and see what the other writers are doing? It’s a constant barrage of voices in my head yelling at me about everything except what I’m supposed to be writing about.

“Why aren’t you more active on Twitter? How do you expect to gain followers when you never say anything interesting?”

“Why are you focusing so much on this stupid supernatural romance stuff…it will probably just ruin your image for when the zombie horror novel is done.”

“Oh crap, did I write a blog post for tomorrow? Crap, I didn’t… Crap crap crap!”

It spirals on and on, until I have so many thoughts in my head that I can’t pick out any one particular one. And then I get very, very tired. Queen Clutter-Bug begins to slow down. She crawls into a dark spot and the other Clutter-Bugs swarm around and begin to eat her.

Image via science.kqed.org
Original image via science.kqed.org

But there is hope! Or so I’m told. There are cures for rampant Clutter-Bug-ism, such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and – if you’re a particular kind of person – alcohol. Scour the internet and you will find a million different suggestions for calming the shouting voices in your brain, the ones that keep you from ever being calm or satisfied. There are methods, if only one chooses to seek them out.

Or if you’re like me you can find your own release; little joys that keep you from going utterly insane. How do I dispel Queen Clutter-Bug? I do things that are completely against her nature. I purposely pick something that I know is material clutter and I toss it in the trash, sighing pleasurably all the while. I snuggle up with my daughter and watch cartoons – great brain-blanking animations that somehow keep your mind from thinking about anything else. I watch B-movies with my husband – films so absurdly terrible that you can’t help but just sit and laugh the world away.

My methods may not be ideal, nor might they work at all for someone else with similar Clutter-Buginess issues. But we all must deal with our issues in our own way, and for me these things are Clutter-Bug Raid.

Which reminds me, my mile-long mental list includes spraying some Clutter-Bug Raid. Excuse me, I really must get to that ASAP.

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 28

My blog is not what you would call a “big deal”. My readers mostly consist of close friends and family members who click on the links that I post to Facebook. I get approximately 30 views a day on average, and it’s quite rare that any of those viewers bother to comment on any of my posts. And that’s okay…I’m still just budding, after all.

But since my blog is not exactly the “next big thing” in Internet entertainment, I can’t help but get a little giddy when people actually do drop by. This week, to my surprise, I got three new blog followers, as well as a handful of Twitter followers. It was a very pleasant surprise, so I thought I’d mention it and wave, “HI!” to the newbies who are dropping in here. Love you guys! Please keep coming! I’m so lonely! ๐Ÿ˜€

Health and Body Image Goal

Hahahahaha… Over the past 28 weeks I have not dedicated myself enough to see any really decent results. If you’ve been reading, you know this. I lost maybe 1 or 2 pounds, and a (small) area or two may have toned up a bit. And over the past week I believe I have somehow managed to undo even those tiny victories. I don’t know how it happened, but without gaining any actual weight (according to the scale) I’ve somehow managed to get bigger. Half of my clothes are tight and the other half I can’t get into without breaking the seams. Even my bathing suit refused to let me into it. I feel really rotten about it, if you want to know, but you probably don’t want to know, so let’s move on, shall we?

Editing Goal

I’m still plugging away at my supernatural romance, hoping to get it finished by the end of the month. I didn’t get to look at it much this week, since I spent a good chunk of the weekend away from home for a wedding, but I’m getting there, really. I swear.

In addition, because of what I’ve been reading in craft books and some tips I’ve been stumbling across online, I’ve got lots of ideas for the revision and editing of my zombie apocalypse novel when I get to it. I feel really good about making it a better novel over all. Very exciting.

1,000,000 Word Goal

I definitely didn’t get as much writing in this week as I had originally planned (*cough*hoped), but a few words are a few words, I suppose. I managed to squeak in 4490 words, which isn’t the worst I’ve done, anyway. I’ve been finding it hard to get myself in front of a computer these days. Also, I’ve been trying to read all the craft books that I got, which is slowing me down because I’m taking my time and trying to really understand what I’m reading. On the upside, what I’ve been reading so far is giving me ideas for blog posts, so there’s a small victory. ๐Ÿ™‚

I completely botched the 750 Words challenge as soon as I got home from out West, but things are calming down now, so I think I’m going to return to it, if only to get some ramblings out of my head each morning. What I write there probably won’t be anything worth sharing, but it will keep me writing and get my brain flowing, or so I hope. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Until next week!

No Page Left Blank: Lifehacker Edition

Everybody has their little “life hacks”; little tips and tricks that make life easier in some way. In fact, there’s an entire websites dedicated to them. With the joy of the Internet, people are able to share little bites of wisdom such as using strips of masking tape if you don’t have a lint brush, or easy steps to learning how to be a speed reader (some hacks are more useful than others).

Today, spurned by a shopping trip with my daughter, I thought I’d share one of my own little life hacks, something my husband and I have all but perfected.

Every year, come the holiday season, we watch people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They desperately run around looking for specific toys that are sold out everywhere. They visit every store while becoming more and more agitated that they can’t find a damn thing that their mother-in-law might actually like. They struggle with the money it will cost to actually get their kid the specific thing they asked for. They pitch fits because something that was everywhere in the summer suddenly doesn’t exist, and dammit it would have been the perfect gift!

Every year my husband and I sit back and watch this chaos with grins on our faces, because for the overwhelming part, we are not part of the insanity. How do we manage it? It’s simple, really.

We shop for the holidays all year through.

File this image under one of the lamest things I've ever done.
File this image under one of the lamest things I’ve ever done.

It sounds horrifying, I’m sure. Shopping during the holidays is bad enough; shopping for the holidays all year throughย must be absolutely sickening, right? Right?

Wrong. Let’s examine the pros, shall we?

Pro #1:
If you keep your mind open for possible holiday gifts all year through, you’re more likely to stumble across something that a loved one would like, rather than wracking your brain at the last minute trying to think of something. I can’t tell you how many gift ideas my husband and I have come up with in the middle of the summer that saved us losing our minds as the shopping days dwindled come the end of the year.

Pro #2:
SALES. Sure, sales happen during the holidays too, but generally it’s only on the stuff the stores are trying to convince you to buy. However, sales happen all year through as well, and if you’re paying attention to them it’s very likely that you’ll manage to pick up a gift for significantly cheaper than the same item will cost you if you’re buying it in December. This pro goes hand in hand with things like sidewalk sales, clearance sales, and store closing sales. I’ve picked up tons of toys at store closing sales for a fraction of the price they normally cost, and simply stored them away in a closet where my daughter isn’t allowed. Easy peasy and saves a ton of money.

Pro #3:
The most obvious one…by the time the holidays start to creep up and everyone around you begins to lose their minds, you could actually have almost nothing to do. This past Christmas, aside from a few small things, my husband and I basically had our shopping done by mid-November. All I had to do was wrap everything.

All it really takes is the littlest bit of extra effort. If you happen upon a big clearance sale, take a few minutes to browse through and see if there’s anything one of your loved ones would like to have. If you’re at the mall and your kids are rampaging through the toy aisles, take a look to see if anything you know they like is on sale. And even if nothing is on sale, if you happen to be shopping and see something that makes you think “so-and-so would LOVE this”, just get it! Unless it’s some kind of food item it won’t spoil while it’s sitting in your closet for a couple of months.

Trust me, it’s an outrageously easy method to make the holidays 200% easier. As I type this there are so many toys, arts and crafts stuff, and kids books hidden in my closet that we probably won’t have to even buy anything for our daughter come the holidays…and almost every item in there was on sale when we bought it. Two birds, one stone, zero stress.

You’re welcome.

Keep Yourself Out of Internet Mud…or You Might Never Get Clean Again

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking a bit of time to read some “craft books” on writing, and the first one I’ve been looking at is Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines. The focus of her book is social media and how writers can use it to create a working “author platform”, but she also touches on other subjects such as traditional vs. indie publishing, marketing, and occasionally a little bit of (related) neuroscience. Yeah, you heard me.

One of the side-topics that has come up in what I’ve read so far (enjoying it so much!) is this idea of ruining your platform without even realizing it. In other words, turning your name to mud by accident. In a world where everything can be re-Tweeted half a million times before you blink, it’s easy for one stupid mistake to go viral and effectively ruin your good name for, well, for good. This doesn’t only apply to writers (or the celebrities we so often see spiraling the metaphorical toilet bowl); it applies to everyone. That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, because this is the kind of thing that everyone should know, but which most people never think about.

I’ve spoken before about how anonymity does not truly exist on the internet and how we should watch what we do and say because it can come back to bite us in the ass. In that previous post I was focused on what I called “The Golden Internet Rule”, which is simply “don’t be a jerk on the internet”. This time I’m not talking specifically about being a jerk, but simply about understanding that whatever you choose to talk about on the internet has now become searchable, findable, and quite possibly eternal.

mud
Don’t want to be wearing this for the rest of your days, do you?

I’ll give a personal example, because what better way to show people what you mean than by sharing your own morbid embarrassment?

When I was in university, studying to be a technologist, I had ups and downs. I had chosen my path partially on a whim because of a stressful situation (the course I had originally chosen was cancelled two months before the start of the semester, so I had to pick something else quick or simply not go to school). The result was that I often wondered if I’d chosen the right thing, whether or not I should drop out and choose something else, and was I really suited for this kind of career? I kept pressing forward because change is scary, and eventually I found myself in the fourth and final year of program, having an all-out panic attack. It began to occur to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I didn’t know what kind of jobs I was even qualified for, how I would go about applying for them, where the work would end up taking me, or whether I would even be any good in the field. Sure I’d made pretty great grades in school, but the real world is a lot different from the class world. I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing, but I was pretty confident it would not be writing short lines of computer code to set tiny LED lights to flash on and off at timed intervals.

One night when I was particularly stressed, I went online to a forum that I frequented in those days. I wrote a long post about my concerns, my worries, my stress level. I ranted about things like “wasting time and money on a degree I don’t even understand” and how I would disappoint my parents if I suddenly up and decided to do something different, and how I was terrified of the idea that I might have to move away from home for a job and “why oh why didn’t I choose a career path with a clearer future?!”

It was a rant born of stress, passion, and an overwhelming desire for someone to wrap their virtual arms around me and say that it was going to be okay. I did get that virtual hug from my virtual companions, but I also made a teeny tiny mistake. Within the confines of that rant, I used my full, real name. It wasn’t a concern because most of the folks on this forum knew my real name anyway, but in this particular post I wrote one line that described what my diploma would look like when I graduated, with my full name in the center of it. I added that bit in to make a point concerning my rant, but I didn’t consider what adding my full name in actually did to that post.

Haven’t figured it out yet?

It made me instantaneouslyย  and easily locatable on Google.

For the most part this was a non-issue. I was a nobody that no one cared about. Who would even go looking up my name on Google, and if they did find my post, why would they care? At least that’s what I thought until someone did happen to Google my name and did click on the link that led them to my post. It was my uncle. I can’t recall the reason that he searched my name in the first place, but when he did he happened upon my post, read it, and subsequently wrote me a very long, very concerned email.

I was mortified.

My uncle was just trying to be helpful and calm my concerns, and he was very sweet. That’s not the mortifying part. The mortifying part was that he read my post in the first place. When I wrote that post it was with the intentions that only my internet friends ever see it. I just wanted a little bit of anonymous support from people who I never had to deal with face-to-face. For good or ill, I’ve never been the kind of person who can share their pains and emotions with their closest loved ones, so when one of those close loved ones found my whining, complaining, melodramatic post I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. And while in this case I had the opportunity to go back and change what I’d written (posts on this forum were editable), in another place I may have been stuck with what I’d written forever.

This is what we’re dealing with when we put ourselves out there on the internet, and my example is absolutely nothing compared to what some people have put themselves through. Every one of you reading this right now has seen at least one photo of someone who uploaded their pic on a social network site only to realize later that there was something excruciatingly embarrassing about it. One particular photo that comes to mind is of a teenage girl who took a “selfie” of herself and uploaded it to Facebook before noticing that her vibrator was sitting in plain view in the corner of the pic. As if that’s not mortifying enough, before she noticed it dozens of people had copied it and posted it elsewhere. The picture went viral. Because this girl failed to take a few seconds to actually look at the photo before posting it, she is now an internet meme that will never die.

Whatever you say, whatever you post, whatever you do, it only takes one opportunist to back-up your mistake on his computer before you can backtrack. In this way the internet is forever. Ask anyone who has ever found themselves depicted as a cruel jape on sites like 9gag. It doesn’t matter how much you beg or cry or scream, you can’t erase something from the internet once people have decided to use it at your expense. Even if it is an extreme example and you have grounds for legal action, it only takes one person to store the quote/pic/post away to whip out again at a later date. And the bigger a deal you make out of trying to abolish a bad rep, the bigger a deal people will make out of making sure that it never dies.

This is why we have to be careful, not only when dealing with touchy issues like religion and politics, or when letting our tempers get the best of us online. We also have to be careful with everything we say or do on the internet. Before you say or post or upload, step back and think. Think about how you would feel if your parents (or your children) happened across your post. Think about the repercussions if your employer saw that pic. Think about the veritable shit storm you might inadvertently stir up with your status update.

Basically, just THINK. It’s something we don’t do enough of these days, and with the Internet playing the part of devil’s advocate, one stupid mistake can mean that you name is mud for a very, very long time.

Have you ever said or did something on the internet that came back on you in an embarrassing or painful way? Do you know anyone else who has had to deal with this kind of unintentional reputation ruining? Thoughts and comments?

The Golden Internet Rule

Yesterday on her blog Kristen Lamb spoke about the “three NEVERs” of social media. Without going into too much detail (you can check out her post if you really want to know…it’s a good one!), what the “three NEVERs” basically break down to are “don’t be a jerk to people on the internet because it could come back to bite you in the ass”.

It’s a good point, one that I thought could bear repeating, because so many people are so very, very bad for this. A lot of times it’s unintentional – people say terrible things in the heat of the moment, and social media makes it possible to express those terrible things immediately and to millions of people – but many and more times it’s just people being flat-out jackasses.

The anonymity of the internet gives people a false sense of security in being able to act like a jerk without consequences, but what most people fail to realize is that the internet isn’t as anonymous as it appears. If people really want to, they will track you down, and most of the time we make it very, very easy. How many of us have Facebook accounts, linked to Twitter accounts, linked to personal websites, linked to forum usernames, and so on and so on? And once something is on the internet, it’s pretty much there to stay. Just ask the plethora of celebrities that have tried to have unflattering images cleansed from the world wide web, only to have a billion and one more copies pop up in the blink of an eye.

As kids (I’m looking at you, know-it-all-teens) we can be forgiven a bit of stupidity…we think we know better, and later on we find out we’re wrong and (hopefully) smarten up a bit. But as adults, and professionals, this kind of bad behavior is unforgivable and just plain idiotic.

Recently an old schoolmate of mine posted a status update on Facebook. She’d done an interview on a prospective new hire for her employer, and afterwards went on Facebook to look up the interviewee, as many companies are wont to do these days. What she found was a scathing remark about how the prospective hire had apparently had to dumb down everything he said so the “moron” doing his interview could understand him. What do you think…did she hire him?

It’s a sad truth that people simply don’t think when posting their every thought and whim on the internet. They don’t take two seconds to think about the possible consequences of what they’re about to say. Everyone is guilty of this, even me, but some offenses are much worse than others.

I’ll give a personal example. Though I haven’t been the victim of many trolls or cruel internet japes in my day, I did come across one particular individual during the time I spent at the Critique Circle. This individual seemed to take a deep pleasure in writing scathing critiques of everything he came across. Nothing he read was good enough for him; everything was drivel, pretentious, blatent wish-fulfillment, and so on and so on. Nothing he said was constructive, he simply enjoyed telling everybody he came across how absolutely terrible their writing was in every way. The result? Very simple: no one would critique any of his work. On a site where the entire point is to upload your work and have people beta-read it, he’d ostrasized himself so that no one would touch anything he wrote with a (digital) fifty foot pole.

It all boils down to this: when you’re about to write a Facebook status update, Tweet something, or make a comment on someone’s blog or website, consider for a moment the impression you’re creating and the possible consequences you might incur. You wouldn’t tell an interviewer to their face that you think they’re a drooling moron, so why would you say it online where that same person could easily find it? You wouldn’t tell your editor or publisher that you think everything they do is crap, so why would you say the same thing to people who are supposed to be helping you become a better writer for free?

I’ve heard it said a million times, but rarely do most people seem to listen. None-the-less, I’ll say it again because it needs to be said:

If there’s someone you wouldn’t want reading it, don’t post it on the internet.

Have you ever said or done anything stupid on the internet that you later regretted? Have you ever been in a position to “reward” someone for being stupid on the internet? What are your thoughts on this lovely digital trend of ours? Please share!

The Trick is to do it Sneakily…

Despite the fact that I currently have no fewer than four projects on the go (not counting the manuscript I’m in the process of editing) I have recently had one hell of a case of writer’s block. On new than a couple of days I found myself staring at my notebook for hours, unable to come up with the words. Even worse, when I did find words they were terrible ones. The bits that I was managing to get onto paper were making me gag.

It was with that gag reflex in tow that I found myself searching the Internet for ideas on battling that great evil we know as writer’s block. I skipped past a number of ideas and suggestions before landing on a list of writing exercises, on which I found a simple prospect: observe the world around you right now…describe it in as much detail as possible.

I whipped out my pen and notebook and began immediately, but soon found my pen stalling. While an interesting idea, it wasn’t exactly exciting to describe an industrial control room…it’s pretty much just desks and computers. But then I got a different idea…I glanced at the coworker to my left and began describing him: his face, his clothes, his mannerisms…whatever I could see or knew from having talked to him. Then I moved on to the next coworker and the next. I wrote everything I knew about them or could see by a quick glance in their direction. I wrote about the bosses and the secretary. I wrote about the field technicians who came in the discuss issues. I wrote about the engineers we share the building with. I wrote thoroughly and honestly. Over the course of three days I wrote over 3000 words just on descriptions of the people around me at work.

I thought this turned out to be an excellent exercise for two reasons. For one, character descriptions is something that is difficult to get right when writing fiction, since you want your reader to be picturing the character the way you do, but you don’t want to bore them to death by ranting on and on about physical details and personality traits. I found over the course of this exercise I slowly got more information in while being more succinct. The other reason is that when I was finished with my exercise I found myself presented with approximately two dozen perfectly viable characters. Names would have to be changed, to protect me from my own brutal honesty, but other than that I now have a small smorgasbord of possible characters to choose from the next time I need a new addition to one of my stories.

What do you think? Does my exercise sound like a worthwhile one? Will you give it a try? Or have you done something similar before? Please share! ๐Ÿ™‚