Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Downside of Immediacy

I'm waiting for a friend to arrive and don't want to start anything in the interim so I'm surfing the Net to kill time.

There was a mini-storm among writers in the blogosphere this weekend. It started on one writer's individual blog but migrated to Miss Snark's yesterday (, and then rapidly picked up speed as the Snarklings descended.

In a nutshell for anyone who hasn't heard the story, a newbie writer hit upon what she thought was a great promotional idea. She had seen in Anna Genoese's blog ( that Anna was interested in reading a manuscript for an "inspirational Jewish paranormal." Anna is an editor for TOR, an imprint of Holtzbrinck that specializes in paranormals. The writer, SRY, wrote a manuscript that she believed fit the bill. She mailed off her query and first three chapters on Friday. All very well and good.

Here's where SRY went awry. She'd started a blog last month. After mailing the manuscript off, she posted a message to her blog, suggesting that Internet users read her first chapter and then send Anna an email asking, "Have you bought SRY's manuscript yet?" I suspect she was so excited about her manuscript that her need to distinguish it from the rest of the slush pile overrode her good judgment. She failed to recognize that most people would see this as an invitation to spam Anna. Of course, someone saw her message and sent it to Miss Snark. The rest is history.

And that's the REAL point of this blog. The Internet has brought us so many benefits that we sometimes forget the downside. Yes, we can now communicate with people across the globe. Yes, we can now instantly access information that would have previously required hours of research. Yes, we can now locate products and services much more quickly.

But there is a price to be paid for all this immediacy, and you see it every day while surfing the Net. Pre-Internet, when someone was angry and wanted to express it, s/he had to pick up the phone or sit down and write a letter. Fortunately, most people using the phone called a friend or family member to vent about the offense before actually contacting the person who had angered them. And, for others, sitting down to write a letter meant having to cool off enough to string together a coherent communique.

That "cooling off" period also applied to spur-of-the-moment "great" ideas. A person who thought he had a wonderful idea would call a friend to talk about how it could be implemented. Frequently, what first seemed like a terrific plan collapsed under scrutiny.

Today, the cooling off period imposed by the old systems of communication has been shortcut. While some people undoubtedly still use the phone to vent, many are far more likely to run and post online. The very informality of communication styles on the worldwide web encourages this dynamic.

There's already been a lot of press about how text messaging and IMs are destroying proper grammar and spelling. I'm not among the people who are especially disturbed by this. I have, however, winced when I've seen a impulsive person post an offensive rant about a person, ethnicity, gender, city or country.

It's not enough to focus on your own needs. You need to be aware of how your message will be received by your audience.

In face-to-face interactions with people, we get immediate feedback when others respond verbally or when we observe their body language following something we've said. On the Internet, we don't have the benefit of that feedback. Instead, we experience a need--to vent, to share or just for attention--and we can discharge that need by sitting down and firing off an email or posting to a blog. The seeming anonymity of the Internet only encourages this.

How many times have you read a blog in which the writer is clearly hoping to attract sympathy or support? Alternatively, how often have you seen a blog in which the writer posts an especially outrageous statement or photo just to attract attention? Or posts a rant with the clear intention of embarrassing others?

The ironic thing is that, when we communicate via the Internet, unlike in one-on-one interactions, there's a timelag before people notice our post and react. So, unlike the immediacy of personal interaction, we don't always get the feedback we need on how our communication sounded until too late. That was the trap that SRY fell into in conceiving and posting her "promotional" scheme to capture Anna Genoese's attention. By the time she got feedback, it was too late.

The lesson to be learned: Before you post on the Internet, stop to think about whether you would be willing to walk up to strangers and tell or show them what you are about to transmit via email/blog. If you wouldn't do it in person, DON'T do it online.

UPDATE (Sunday evening, 11:30 PM CST) SRY has taken down her entire blog, and Anna Genoese has deleted all comments referring to the matter from her blog. The only place where the story remains alive now is on Miss Snark's blog.


-sry said...

Hi Maya,

Thanks for your kind words in the comments section of my blog. I didn't see any new posts over at Miss Snark's blog, but maybe it's something buried in the 57 comments on the original thread?

In reply to your remarks here, the last thing you said, I have to smile. See, I really WOULD walk up to someone I don't know and promote something I believe in. In fact, I've done it. More than once.

I'm not quite a newbie writer but yes, in ALG and Miss Snark's circles, I'm as green as they come. Live and learn.


Maya said...

SRY: You have been on my mind all morning. Glad I was able to give you a smile.

Actually, Miss Snark added a new post this morning that said much of what I was trying to tell you in my comment.

This is not the end of the world. It's a blip, and you'll get past it. Someday--maybe not real soon [g] but someday--you'll even be able to retell the incident as a funny story of something that happened to you en route to being published.

Wishing you all the best.

Warm regards,


Susan said...

Nice post -- and response to SRY, too, Maya.

I expect I'll be dropping by this joint more often; hope you enjoy my company. And feel free to join the fictional fun over at my blog -- I keep it mostly fiction for THIS very reason!

Maya said...

Susan: Thanks for stopping by. I went over to visit your website and blog and will look forward to visiting again.



Don said...

Thanks for the cautionary tale Maya. I have a 24 hour rule when it comes to sending emotionally charges email correspondence and I absolutely will not engage in online chat about something important.

Maya said...

Don: You're a wise man.

Thanks for stopping by.



Emjay said...

Okay, where were you when I dashed off that e-mail to my Bible Class teacher??

He hasn't spoken to me since.

Must have been something I said.

I don't get it; it was only 3 pages of rant.

Oh, well.

Maya said...

Emjay: Your Bible class teacher???

Oh, my.