by Hugh Gilmore
The online social networking service known as Facebook was launched on Feb. 4, 2004. Within the year, more than a million people had signed up to use the website. Facebook quickly became an integral part of world social media culture and today is available in about 70 different languages. The corporation, now traded on NASDAQ as “FB,” saw its income rise into the billions. As of September 2013, there are putatively 1.19 billion users of its many services.
In February of 2013, nine years after Facebook was started, a curious middle-aged man named Hugh Gilmore decided to join. He’d heard about Facebook for years, but usually scoffed when it was mentioned to him. He thought it was a fad and of interest only to young people and the sort of married women who tended to linger too long in the greeting card aisles of the pharmacies. He felt the fad would go the way of goldfish swallowing and telephone booth stuffing.
Mr. Gilmore (Hugh to his current friends, having dropped the “y” in Hughy after some gray hairs appeared above his temples) considered himself to be the open-minded sort. Never the first to try the new, neither was he the last to put the old aside. Everyday, though, nearly everywhere he looked, he saw references to Facebook.
People said it helped them find old friends. And they could stay in touch with dispersed family and anyone they ‘liked’ in an instant, sharing photos or videos, both recent and past. According to Gilmore, though, “Hah! I’m already in touch with everyone who matters to me.”
But then a certain kind of insistent voice began announcing a new message to him, insisting that he “needed” the “social media.”
Mr. Gilmore, when he’s not raking leaves, is a writer. He writes a newspaper column about reading and writing. He also has published novels, a story collection and a few e-books about subjects as diverse as bullfighting and redneck-noir literature. He loves to write.
Though he finds that the process requires hard work, he has never experienced “writer’s block.” He considers himself to be a man who has things to say and a knack for saying them. What he doesn’t have … are readers. This gap – between what he wants and what he has – he shares with 99.728 percent of the writers on planet Earth. (Commercially, the same problem is faced worldwide by everyone attempting to sell a product in a finite marketplace.)
The new message being touted to Mr. Gilmore was that he had no chance in hell of selling any of his books if he didn’t join Facebook, create a personal blog and learn to Tweet. Better yet, be Twittered about, i.e., “followed” on Twitter. “Well,” he said, “I already had a blog, and no one ever read it.”
But those in the know, those who publish advice in the writers’ trade journals and elsewhere, claimed that every writer needs to make his work known via the new media. Don’t wait for the reviewers and critics to notice you, they say, publicize yourself.
Mr. Gilmore described himself as “Holding my nose like I was jumping into the deep end of the pool” when he joined Facebook 10 months ago. At first, he said, he was bewildered by the ins and outs of how to use this magnificent social tool to further his personal ambitions. Before long, however, he had formalized (accepted) friendship offers from many other Facebook users.
Most of them turned out to be former students. He received many kind and thoughtful notes from them, all of which he answered. The net effect of these exchanges, however, was, “It reminded me of when I taught school. The students would all say, ‘Are you coming to our prom? Please come to our prom.’ And when I did, they rushed over to greet me and fuss over me for a minute and then went back to hanging out with their friends.” Not that he expected more than that, he quickly added.
But that’s what Facebook felt like – being the older person in a room full of kids. Only the kids are now young adults and swapping stories about their children and sending jpegs from the fancy restaurants they’re at that very moment eating at, and so on.
Gilmore said that industry statistics show that only 5 percent of people in his age group actively use Facebook. Of that number, most simply want to connect to their grandchildren. “I have some acquaintances on Facebook,” he said, “but not friends.” He added with a chuckle, “I ‘interface’ with my real friends via email and the telephone.”
“But what about using Facebook to promote your writing?” he was asked. His answers were interesting, though rather typical of people who seek fame and fortune the easy way.
To be continued next week…