A paradoxical community

We’ve been talking about community this month and a lot of us have talked about personal communities. Colleges, writing groups–things that are intensely personal. But earlier this week, Kait brought up a point. Our global community has become much more accessible through technology.

Last week, Paris was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks. It didn’t take long before the message spread. Hashtags appeared on Twitter. Photos on Facebook. People posted reactions: sorrow, fear, support. And yes, some hatred.

I saw a photo montage of buildings in cities across the world lit red, white and blue in support of Paris (the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh was not majestic enough to be included, but it was also lit). Thousands, if not millions, of people came together to mourn and express defiance in the face of terror. Regrettably, others supported the terrorists and some used the opportunity to spew more hatred. The point is, we knew what had happend–and continue to learn new facts–almost in real-time.

Now, go back twenty years. Maybe even less. Would the same thing have happened? Maybe eventually, but not as quickly. What changed?

In a word: technology.

Twenty years ago, even fifteen years ago, there was no Twitter. No Snapchat. No Instagram. I can’t remember when Facebook started, but it certainly wasn’t as big in 2000 as it is in 2015. All of these services have allowed people to connect with others across the country, across oceans, across the globe. Our world has not physically shrunk, but it sure has gotten smaller. We used to have to wait for the traditional media to print a story in a physical newspaper. Now we can learn about things hours or even minutes after they happen.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you dwell on it. I’m not on Snapchat or Instagram, but watching my Twitter feed is kind of like watching water come out of a fire hose. A new message pops up every second. Technology has upped the “do it NOW” factor. Email or text messages mean we’re never very far out of touch. The pressure to respond to that alert can be overwhelming.

But at the same time, technology has opened doors that may never have even been known about. The only other Mysterista I’ve met in person is Diane Vallere. And when I saw her at Bouchercon Raleigh, we threw our arms open and yelled “Mysteristas!” I’d never “met” her until that moment. But the community here online meant I felt like I’d known her for months and we could greet each other as old friends. And I’m sure it will be the same when I get to meet my other Mysterista sisters someday.

So yeah, the world has shrunk. And the shrinking means increased pressure. But it also means increased opportunity: to meet and interact with people from differing backgrounds, faiths, nationalities, etc. And that means increased opportunities to grow.

So readers, how has technology affected your community (positive or negative)?

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

12 thoughts on “A paradoxical community”

  1. It’s very overwhelming. My writing helps me process many of the changes facing our world. On the positive side, with all of my children living on different continents, I am very grateful for today’s instantaneous communication!


  2. It is overwhelming. On the other hand, FB has brought together family members that are literally flung from Florida to Hawaii. And I like the instant research abilities and ability to look up synonyms without leaving my chair.


  3. As a reader, I have see both the positive and the negative in reading technology. I can quickly get news of the newest book releases, find the names of other “older” books by authors I enjoy, and keep up with my favorite authors on Facebook.

    I absolutely love that I can carry thousands of books in my purse on my Kindle (most I will never read, but I HAVE them). Anything is at my fingertips if I have to wait to pick up someone (after an event, appointment, school, practice, etc.), wait before a meeting, or if I have unexpected free time. (Oh, wait, I never have any of that.) I especially like to check out e-books from library at home and on vacation and never have to worry about getting them back on time or accumulating late fees. Technology has also made it easier for new authors to “get published” by using the e-book platform. I have also read book by authors I have not previously read because the first book in a series was available as a free e-book to help promote later books. Many times it worked; I read for free and then purchased.

    On the other-side, I don’t find an e-book has the same satisfying feel that a paper book has. I love the weight of the book as I hold it and the feel of the paper as I turn the pages. With a real book I never have to worry if the glare on the screen will make it hard to read or panic when I see that the battery power is low. I also like to flip back through the pages as I read, looking for clues that I might have missed or reminding myself of what happened many pages ago. I just can’t do that with an e-book. Oh yes, I know I can “search” by word, but it just does not give the same results. (OK, I will admit that I also flip to the end of the book, but don’t tell anyone.) On the whole, I prefer a real, tangible, actual, low-tech book.

    Technology has expanded the choices for readers, and I have embraced those advances, but I still prefer to hold a REAL book. Besides, no one ever signs my Kindle.


  4. I love technology, but I will love it even more when people reach a point of balance. Right now, I think tech is still very exciting to most people. And it is! But, I also notice that more people entering the workforce have lackluster communication, negotiation, and management skills because they have been TOO focused on their technology, and not enough on people. I love the quick research possibilities at any time of day/night, but I miss visiting the library. Technology means employers can and do expect their employees to be available all too often, without increasing compensation. I miss bankbooks, letters, and birthday cards that arrived by mail. I love staying in touch with folks all over the world. Finding a balance is tough.

    I also love my tablet, and being able to order the next book in a series at midnight (although I shouldn’t!). But, I when I find an author I love, I usually buy their books only in physical form–and yes, get them signed whenever possible!


  5. As a reader, I embrace the choices technology has given me. Not just in how I read but who I read. I can vet a hundred authors in fifteen minutes online, versus four or five in a physical bookstore.

    As a writer, technology allowed me to Skype with a bookclub in Australia. I never would have been able to interact with them without it. It also allows me to get my books into the hands of more readers for less money. Kinda cool.

    Pamela mentioned balance. So right! My oldest granddaughter and her friends instituted the practice of piling up their cell phones face down on the table when they were at a restaurant. The first one who reached for her phone bought for everyone else.


  6. 3 no 7, I hear you. I find my reading preference varies by how/where I am. If I’m sitting at a doctor’s office, or killing time over lunch, an ebook is terrifically convenient (and I don’t have to lug the physical book). But if I’m at home, in front of the fireplace or luxuriating in a bubble bath, cup of tea or hot chocolate at hand, I want the physical book. And it is possible to sign an ebook (Authorgraph comes to mind), but I don’t think a lot of authors do that. I have seen people have authors sign their tablet/Kindle covers, though!

    Pamela, yes. I use ebooks to sample new authors a lot. And if I really like their books, I’ll buy it. And yes, I usually do this when I can get them signed. But with books spilling onto the floor in my den, and no more space for bookshelves, I have to do a serious purge. Only stuff that is near and dear to my heart is going to survive – even if it is signed. 😦

    Peg, what a terrific opportunity – Skyping in Australia! I think this is the kind of wonderful thing that technology has done for readers and authors. A plane ticket to Australia is prohibitively expensive, but Skype is free. And who knows if those readers would even have bothered to reach out – or even read – if the technology opportunity wasn’t there?

    I wondered recently if I was too attached to my computer/tablet/phone. So I went the entire weekend without them (I was on a no-tech retreat). Didn’t miss it at all and didn’t feel compelled to “catch up” when I got home. So if I can ignore the tech for hours, nay days, at a time, I guess I’m doing pretty well.


    1. I’d forgotten about Authorgraph. I always get a kick out of it when I’m asked to “sign” an ebook. Does it somehow migrate to their reader or are they collected in some other way?


  7. I often wonder if this is how people felt during the atomic age? How hard was it to get used to those changes? I seem to be slowing down in my eagerness to embrace technology. Sometimes I just like things the way they are. But then again, I still have a record player.


  8. Peg, I’m not exactly sure. I think you upload the signature as a PDF, then add your books. A reader can request the autograph and you send it to them. Then it appears in the book.

    Diane, I bet they were equally discombobulated. And even further back, what about replacing the horse and buggy with the train? Or the automobile? Replacing trans-Atlantic ships with airplanes? It would take months to get to Australia. Now you can make the trip in a day. Oh, and my daughter asked for record player for her birthday this year. She listens to all my husband’s old records.


  9. Hi Mary, sorry, I have been on the road–again and am just catching up. Great points. I love it that technology has allowed us to bring our world closer together at the speed of…thumbs. I love that it allows me to expand my world by meeting people who share my interests that it would have been unlikely for me to meet even a few years ago. That said, I’m on board with Diane. Sometimes I want to slow down. Savor life. I miss handwritten letters, and the time and anticipation waiting for a response via mail too. I miss the nuance of conversation. But, dang it, I want my news instantly. So it’s a trade off.


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