On February 4, 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and a few other friends at Harvard created Facebook for the purpose of staying in close touch with other friends. Two years later, Zuckerberg created the ever-popular (and oft-criticized) NewsFeed to allow Friends the chance to know what other friends were doing, and with whom.
In that same year, 2006, Jack Dorsey created Twitter, which has gained equal acclaim and criticism for being the Internet’s premeire SMS feed.
Now, in 2009, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace have over 200 million users in the US alone. While many use these information feeds and social networks for entertainment or personal purposes, it is no surprise that the immediacy of this technology is proving to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the connections established (and re-established) as well as the ability to reach a large number of people instantaneously is unprecedented.
On the other, the inability to hold thy tongue and forego “publishing” emotional outbursts and reactions makes those 200 million vulnerable to scrutiny and condemnation long after the fists have stopped pounding the keyboards and the tears have been wiped away. Just this past week, several major writers have come under fire for reacting to reviews and other published comments on their work.
Most recently is Alain de Botton’s reaction to a review he received in the New York Times for his book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. The review, written by Caleb Crain, accuses de Botton as mocking the people he interviewed for the book.
de Botton returned the favor by posting a comment on Crain’s blog that, according to the UK’s Telegraph, stated, “I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon – so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer. You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review. . . .I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude” (see the full article here).
de Botton’s comments have created a strong reaction on Twitter and throughout the various social networking communities. de Botton has one thing right, in my opinion: the review of his book will certainly hurt his sales in the US, but not because of Crain’s words as much as his own reaction to the review. de Botton did himself a far greater disservice by not having the patience and strength to resist the immediate counterstrike available at our fingertips, 24/7.
It is unfortunate that writers, who are trained in using restraint in sharing their work until they have painstakingly worked through revisions and edits of their manuscripts, cannot apply the same discipline when it comes to keeping their emotions in check.
Just last year, Stephen King used his website and other means to blast Noel Sheppard’s one-line comment about King’s public statement in April, “I don’t want to sound like an ad, a public service ad on TV, but the fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don’t, then you’ve got the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that. It’s not as bright.”
A month later, Sheppard posted the quote in his column with the statement, “Nice sentiment when the nation is at war, Stephen” following King’s words.
King launched an e-attack against Sheppard, and the international coverage diminished King’s credibility, even among some of his most loyal readers. The media frenzy traveled fast and furiously along Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, instantaneously bringing those 200 million followers in the debate, with many of them forming instant opinions and judgments.
Writers, especially, need to be cognizant of how the immediacy of newsfeeds can change the direction of their careers in a matter of, well, a few tweets. There is no doubt that Facebook and other social networks have shattered the lines separating the personal and professional sides of our lives; the new question is: will the inability to accept those shattered lines be the ultimate downfall of our literary giants?