In Defense of Time Spent on Facebook

EPSON scanner image
Bescot Railway Station circa 1962: Photograph used with permission of  Ben Brooksbank, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Every so often I like to lament the future of humanity.

Usually my diatribes are aimed at two places: smartphones and Facebook. I don’t have a smartphone, though I am known to pilfer my husband’s on occasion. I do have a Facebook account, and frequently spend too much time perusing status updates and outrageous headlines. For the past few weeks I’ve been determined to limit my time on social media to a healthy amount, and not let it become my default mindless activity. Then every so often, something will happen, on the book of face, to remind me that it really is a great little tool.

This week, my dad found a Facebook page for Bescot Railway Station, in my hometown of Walsall. The fan page was for all former drivers and their families. He joined, he connected with a few people, and then the pictures showed up.

My Grandad was a driver at Bescot, my Great Uncle was a driver at Bescot, my Dad was a driver at Bescot. I spent most of my childhood leaving for adventures from that station, sitting in a cab with my Grandad (so I’m told) or playing with my Grandad’s signal lamp in his pantry at home. The sights and sounds, and even smells, of Bescot Station are etched into my memory with so much of my childhood. My Grandad died when I was 16; I was his only grandchild. Next to my dad, he was, at that time, the love of my life. He was a wonderful man.

Good old Facebook. Wonderful 21st Century. Within a very short time of joining the group, people were online remembering my Grandad and my uncle. One old friend and fellow driver sent along two pictures. I’m not going to lie, I burst into tears when I saw them, those happy/sad tears you cry when coming face to face with a wonderful memory of a departed loved one.

dad driver
My Grandad is on the right. Images from Martin Lowry, ex-Bescot Man.
dad driver 2
Image from Martin Lowry

These are not digital; they were taken in the 1960s. They have been in the home of a man I don’t know, and will likely never meet, for about fifty years.

If not for Facebook, my family would never have seen these pictures.

So I may lament the mis-spent youth of today. I may regret the twenty minutes I spend scrolling a news feed. My brain may cramp with every article I read entitled, “Fifteen things you never knew about your favorite…” But I can’t deny that Facebook has brought some pretty amazing things to my life, be it connections with my family far away, or with people I don’t even know.

A fad? Maybe. Annoying? Often. Without merit? Not at all.

The 5 Reasons I’m Sticking Up For Facebook

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Facebook has been accessible to the masses for less than ten years. Some love it, some hate it. I’ve had friends log off for good, saying it was taking too much of their time. GeekMom Patricia shared her feelings about Facebook a little over a year ago. A close friend texted me the words ‘Facebook is ugly’ recently, when a very personal event happened in her family and she was afraid more people would find out once it hit Facebook.

I get it. It truly is a place where information can travel fast. It’s a place where incorrect information can live forever. It’s a place full of tempting links full of awful viruses. It’s a place where bullies can run wild and have no consequences for their actions.

But that’s not all Facebook can be. Just like the internet in general, the good stuff is there, along with the bad stuff. It’s our job to make the choices.

I began thinking more about the impact Facebook has on my life after reading a post from, called “The Weird Way That Facebook and Instagram are Making Us Happier”, by James Wallman. The author points out that in the past people generally ‘kept up with the Jone’s’ by acquiring things. In recent years the push has changed from amassing the right products to having the best experiences. As people tweet, Instagram, and share on Facebook their front row seats at a prime concert, or their perfect feet-in-the-sand picture from the tropics, the desire to experience their adventure can be powerful.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Through all of the criticisms I hear, I remain loyal. I have several reasons for my loyalty. In fact, here are the top 5 reasons I don’t have negative issues with Facebook:

1) Let’s start with one of the top reasons I am addicted to my Facebook feed—my 15 nieces and nephews, who live all over the country. Before Facebook I had to rely on rare phone calls, or a few prints in the mail to know what my distant family was doing. Since I’ve been on Facebook, I know when my niece wins yet another horse show. I know that my nephew broke his arm and picked a bright orange cast. I get to see my niece’s wide grin as she hugs the man who just proposed to her (a picture I got to see just moments after the question was popped, in another state!) I am in the loop. With very little effort on my sibling’s part, I know what their kids are up to (and how fast they are growing). I get to feel close to a lot of children who I care very deeply about but rarely get to see. This is reason enough for me to have my Facebook account.

Photo: Judy Berna

2) I know how to read other people’s posts with perspective. I know I’m not the only one who rarely posts the terrible things that happen in our family. For one thing, it’s private, which is a huge deal when you have teens in the household, and generally helpful when it comes to long term marriages. For another, who wants to read a bunch of whining? Most of us would stop following those posts immediately.

I get inspired by happy posts from those around me. It makes my day to see another smiling baby, growing in some faraway place, a place I may not see for many more years. At this point I’ve watched several of my friends’ babies go from announcement of conception, to first day of kindergarten pictures. In my pre-Facebook world, I would have been lucky to have a couple of 4×6 prints for my fridge. Once I’m lucky enough to be with those people again there will be more time for fun, and less time spent filling each other in on the past few years. We’re already caught up, we’re Facebook friends.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

3) I pick my friends strategically. In the beginning I vowed not to accept any friend request unless I knew the person well enough to pick up the phone if they called. I was not out for quantity. I’ve relaxed that rule just a bit, as I’ve added some new amputee friends from around the country, but I’m still pretty tight with my friend requests.

The side effect of this decision is that the people who are my friends on Facebook are people I respect. I don’t allow negativity or harsh political rants on my feed. If a friend starts that pattern, they are immediately un-followed. The majority of my friends don’t post pictures of their vacation so they can brag. They post because they are just so thrilled to finally have a chance for a break, and want to share their joy. Or they’ve seen a really interesting place and want to share it with the rest of us (like virtual travel!). My friends aren’t worried about impressing me, or their other Facebook friends. We share with each other online to keep in touch, not to keep score.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Wink Darling

The friends I have in my feed on a daily basis tend to post about a variety of things that interest me. I have some who are knee deep in raising little ones. They post precious pictures, but also the latest articles about child development and what issues are facing families these days. I have many amputee related posts in my feed – 5K races completed, new sockets broken in, and small personal victories I like to share in. I find many interesting stories (and writing ideas) from the links my Facebook friends post. From the yoga loving friend I get links to informative articles about healthy living. From my mountain neighbors I get articles related to quality trails or wildlife management. Several of my husband’s archaeologist friends post links to fascinating discoveries. I have older friends, and younger friends, which offers a wide perspective. I am friends with a few X Games athletes and Paralympic athletes I respect, which keeps me pushing forward when my old body wants to slow down.

I am seeking a term for the equivalent of ‘well read’, but related to Facebook. Most days, if I read the intelligent versions of the links in my Facebook feed, I feel pretty caught up on the latest news and events, locally and around the world. It’s a quick way to feel in the ‘world loop’.

4) I’ve found just too many long lost friends, that I once again cherish, to ever write off the value of Facebook. In recent years my husband and I have reconnected with many friends we’d lost over the years, and have loved catching up on their lives and seeing their children in online albums. Several of these friends we’ve met up with in person again, thankful for the chance to keep quality people in our lives.

Photo: Amy Smith, used with permission
Photo: Amy Smith, used with permission
Photo: Judy Berna

5) One word – support. There are so many ways that Facebook is a beacon of hope. If it wasn’t for Facebook I would have never known that my childhood friend’s dad had begun to slip into dementia last fall, and quietly passed away just after the new year. She has a large family, and young children, and she never would have had time for dozens of phone calls or hand typed emails. One post on Facebook, and we all knew the situation, and what we could do to help.

My friend who is a new mom and a military wife can be reminded every day, by those of us who love her, that ‘this too shall pass’. As a group, we can tell her that some day soon that baby WILL sleep. And some day soon he will have his first belly laugh and she will find tears streaming down her face from pure enchantment. I would have devoured those kinds of daily messages on my computer screen when I was raising our four little ones, far away from extended family.

On our local town’s page everyone shares pictures of their lost dog, or recently released fire ban updates. My son wanted an inexpensive used mini fridge for his college dorm. Our local area’s buy/sell page found him one within 24 hours. When there was a carjacking suspect in our area, I found out through a Facebook feed update and was able to walk my son home from the bus stop. One comment on Facebook last fall, related to the fact our son was returning from Afghanistan, led to a local Facebook uprising, which led to a huge welcome home party.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I choose how I interact with Facebook, and I choose to see the good. I choose to make smart choices with friend requests, and be brave enough to push the delete button when necessary.

I do believe the author of the Wired Magazine article. I think there is a strong leaning toward embracing experiences vs. material items lately. I think it’s a good thing. Even if a person can’t afford the latest concert tickets, motivating someone to look around and find some local activity to do, offline, is a move in the right direction.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I know it works for me. After I’ve checked in on all those long distance kids I love, then bookmarked the interesting links I want to explore later, I like grabbing the dog’s leash and being motivated by a friend’s picture, posted after her walk along a local meadow. No need to be jealous of her experience. I see it as a reminder that there’s a big world out there. Someone needs to explore it… then share it on Facebook.

Join GeekMom for the Oscars Sunday Night

Image Credit:
Join Rachel and Patricia as they chat on the GeekMom Facebook page about the Oscars. Image credit:

Did you get your invite to the Academy Awards?

“No, despite some of my favorite actors and actresses getting nominations, and the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris hosting, I guess my invitation got lost in the mail….”

Neither did I. I think my invitation got lost too…

If you’re going to be spending Sunday evening watching the big event, feel free to join GeekMom Rachel and me as we live-chat about the Oscars on Facebook starting at 7:00 p.m. EST/6:00 p.m. CST/5:00 p.m. MST/4:00 p.m. PST.

“OOOOoooo… I love watching Oscar night and would love to dish about it with other geeky parents! Where do I go to join in?”

This year, we’ll be on the GeekMom Facebook page, but if you want to let us know what you are thinking or hearing on Twitter, speak your mind with hashtag #oscarsgeekmom, and we will chime in over there too.

Are you looking forward to Oscar night? What do you enjoy the most about it?

How to Keep Social Media from Eating Your Life

Image: Fran Wilde
Image: Fran Wilde

Let me be the first to say it: This is kind of a horse-has-left-the-barn post for me. My day looks like I ran smack into the opening credits for The Matrix. That’s in part because what social media sites do is incredibly powerful: They unite communities across great gaps of space.

For those of you who still have a life to save from the ever-present pings of social media, I’ve got five quick tips for keeping the information onslaught at bay.

Here’s why doing so is important: Your time and presence are valuable to the folks at Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, Instagram, Goodreads, and all of the rest. They need that time and they think they need it more than *you* need it. That’s why they’re set up to email you about every change and update. They’re lonely. They need you. Please write.

Truth is, they’re not lonely. They just wouldn’t exist without you. (Well, Twitter might devolve to a bunch of Oscar Wilde* bots sending messages back and forth.)

But guess what? They’re all programs, designed to do one thing beyond all others: Whenever you get out, they try to pull you back in.

So here are a few ways to keep them from eating your life (some of which you may already be familiar with, but they’re worth revisiting)–allowing you to enjoy social media sites when you’re ready, but don’t feel the need to come running every time they call.

  1. Digests. Digests are your BFF. Every chance you get, whether it’s on a message board for a favorite interest or group, or a book site, go into your profile and find where they’ve stuck the “send me updates every:” followed by radio buttons with increments like “five minutes,” “daily,” and “weekly.” (this is usually in “notifications” or “emails”.) Checking a desired time frame will keep messages from coming to your inbox every time your nephew updates his status; instead, you’ll get a collected, shortened version, in one handy packet.

    Sample settings. Image: Fran Wilde
  2. Never.  Along with the daily and weekly updates, there’s another choice for how often you are notified about new things: never. You can elect to only see updates for certain sites when you choose to visit them. This is totally freeing, though you may miss out on some news because of the next thing.
  3. Filters. Facebook infamously filters what you see when you’re on the site, based on some mystery algorithm that brings you cat photos while hiding birth announcements and posts about your best friend who moved away coming back for a visit. But you, too, can play the filter game on most social media sites–you can select to always see items from “family” or “inner circle” members that you designate.

    Sample settings. Image: Fran Wilde
  4. Social Fixer, HootSuite, etc. Tools like Social Fixer and HootSuite allow you even greater control over what you see. You can plug in a number of filters on Social Fixer (donations welcome); you can manage multiple social media accounts on HootSuite (for a fee). It feels funny that we’re using overlays to control rampant problems in information flow on sites that are supposedly all about us… but that’s for another post.
    This saves me. Daily. Image: Fran Wilde


  5. A babysitter for your eyeballs. Can’t keep yourself from checking twitfaceboogle while you’re supposed to be writing that article on Social Media management? (ahem.) Or your next book? (COUGH.) Check out Anti-Social 1.0. Once you’ve downloaded it, put in a list of sites, set a timer, push start, and whammo, those sites aren’t available for the length of time you set. Don’t think you need this? Give it a try and see how many times in an hour you actually try to “just check what’s going on.” Better, realize the power of taking back control over when you do check. I’m going to go set mine for an hour right now.

*no relation

Pulp Fiction in Pearl’s Peril

Image: Wooga media

I’ll admit that I’m a casual gamer. Kingdom Rush and Plants vs. Zombies on my phone have gotten considerably more play than any game on my PC, and at the moment I don’t even own a gaming console. However, I’ve never been tempted by the Facebook games that bug your friends to join you and send you things. There’s one game that’s overcome that barrier, however, and I’ll argue that it has succeeded due to its exuberantly pulp fiction plotting. Pearl’s Peril is a Facebook hidden object game (that I play on my iPad) that has held my attention for much longer than any comparable game ever has.

Pearl’s Peril has a straightforward structure: in each scene, you find the hidden objects on the list. The faster you do it, the more points you get. It gets a little complicated with game progression: the more points, the faster you progress. But to unlock new scenes you need to build buildings and decorations on your own personal island. There’s a limit to how fast you can advance, and you can speed that up considerably if you spend money. This is the only game I have sunk more than $5 into in the last several years, and I’ve been playing it for over a year now.

Image: Karen Burnham

For one thing, decorating your island is actually fun in and of itself. You unlock new buildings and decorations as you progress, and they often offer seasonal decorations for limited times. I took advantage of a Halloween special to build a mausoleum with a fiery fountain of doom in front. I’ve also got a research quad (with an observatory, aviary, library, and greenhouse) and a forest going.

But really, the thing that keeps me playing is Pearl, the heroine, and her adventures. Pearl Wallace is the daughter of privilege. In 1929 she is living in America, flying her own plane, when she gets news that her estranged father has died. They say he committed suicide after the stock market crash, but while they weren’t on good terms she’s pretty sure he was murdered. She and her journalist friend Iris fly home to her family’s island (the one you’re decorating) to investigate. Thus begin her adventures that take her all over the world and from the depths of the seas to the peaks of the Himalayas.

There’s a lot to love here: for one, Pearl is fully competent and always clothed. That seems like it shouldn’t need stating, but a while ago I was jonesing for a new hidden object game, so I downloaded a highly rated one for the iPad. In the first scene you’ve just survived a plane crash on a creepy deserted island, so of course the first thing you see is a barely clad buxom flight attendant throwing vampy looks your way. Delete. Pearl always wears her flight jacket and is ready for adventures. One scene is from her private room in the zeppelin, and even her intimate space isn’t titillating: it’s got her dressing gown, but also her diary, college graduation picture, pictures of exotic locales she’s visited—no lingerie for her! And while she does have the occasional romantic interest, they never distract her from the plot.

And what a crazy, pulp adventure plot it is! In each scene you start with some dialog between a few characters to advance the plot. Then you can find three clues. After five scenes each chapter ends with an adventure scene where Pearl has to solve some puzzle, enabling the dramatic climax that leads to the next chapter. In over a year of playing she’s been to New York, Paris, Africa, Atlantis, Russia, the Himalayas, Oklahoma, been on a submarine, cruise ships, and a zeppelin, attacked by a kraken, forged an aegis, found a pirate cove, etc, etc. Just like the old pulp serials, it can go on forever! Some clues immediately pan out and others wait in the background to resurface many chapters down the road. And amazingly, it stays true to history: every time I’ve googled some plot element that they mention, it’s turned out to be historically accurate: from the Graf Zeppelin’s record breaking flights in 1929 to the mystery of Kolchak’s gold in Russia after the Soviet Revolution.

And through it all, Pearl is a focused, competent heroine. Usually the dramatic chapter-concluding puzzles involve her doing some engineering to get something to work: smelting gold, fixing the sabotaged control system of a zeppelin, disabling some guards to steal a submarine, that sort of thing. Very MacGyver-y. Although violence happens around her, she rarely resorts to it herself. It’s amazing how much plot you can get through using just the few lines of dialog and notes on the clues she finds. And just like the pulps, each character has a very limited range of facial expressions/emotional states: I think Pearl herself only has four expressions: cheerfully competent, winsomely affectionate, frustrated/disgusted, and surprised. But you can go a long way with that in an adventure story; this is the casual gaming equivalent of a magazine serial page-turner.

There is a social aspect to the game, although I don’t really take advantage of it. The game often urges you to send energy to your friends on Facebook, even those who don’t play. These prompts are pretty easy to ignore. There’s also a “Captain’s Challenge” section where you do a timed scene and compete against friends to get a high score. I enjoy these, competing against my husband who just picked up the game recently. Everyone plays the same scene during the challenge period, so it’s fun to compare. And you can send each other resources, increasing the amount you can play. So if anyone wants to start playing, send me something in the game and I’ll happily reciprocate!

Keeping Geeky Contact In College

“Miss Us?!” was the caption for this photo postcard sent to my daughter in college. Her brother and I worked hard to get the perfect shot. (Image By Rebecca Angel)

ME: Did you find out if you made it into the jazz ensemble yet?
DAUGHTER: Not yet, but I had my first art studio class today and my teacher is really enthusiastic.
ME: That’s great! HUGS!

It has been almost a month since my daughter left for college, and we’ve been exploring the different ways of keeping in touch. Chatting with some other moms with first-year-college students, we all agreed that modern-day technology is great. Gone are the days where there was one phone for each dorm floor, with students waiting in line.

One mom said she had never texted before in her life, but solved her daughter’s laundry crisis with texts and photos. Another mom said her son set up Skype for her, and she wasn’t sure they’d ever use it, but he needed a heart to heart the other day, and she was so glad to see his face, even on a screen.

For my daughter and I, texting is the casual “I’m thinking about you” mode of communication. The above text is typical, and that’s it for the day. We don’t go back and forth, and I don’t text her more than once a day. If she wants to, I don’t mind!

One of my favorite apps is Postagram. You take a picture, add a note, and the app sends a real postcard with the photo via regular mail. (See the top photo. Heh-heh.) Once you have your addresses in, it takes so little time to send something fun.

There’s also the old-fashioned way of using snail-mail: I sent a fan art card of Korra to remind her to finish up season three. I also sent a box of snacks, and she gets a magazine subscription at home, so when that came in I mailed that out, too.

Email has been used for business things: she forwards us things the college needs, or alerts, or whatever, us forwarding her information about schedule stuff with the family.

My daughter has a Facebook page, but doesn’t post much. I’ve gotten a “like” or two on photos I’ve posted. And she did send a photo of one of her art projects to a few people via messaging. Facebook isn’t so popular now with the younger set?

Skype, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, these are things I don’t use and have no idea if she does. I’m sure there are a dozen more social media sites that could be part of keeping in touch with your kid away from home.

We’ve had three phone calls. The first one was right away, and she needed to talk about a college paperwork financial thing. The second was two weeks later. I asked if it was an okay time to talk and she said she was studying and would love to take a short break. We chatted about this and that, and I tried not to tell her exactly how much I missed her, but happily listened to all her adventures. The third was a “I need my mom” call after a particularly harsh day in figuring out college social life.

As the semesters go on, I’m sure we’ll get into a familiar rhythm of communication, but this is where we are now. Of course, there is the dilemma of how or even if to tell about emergencies. For example, I decided to send this text at the end of a crazy day:

ME: Everything is fine, but I wanted to let you know your aunt got her finger caught in the food processor. She’s very lucky. We spent the morning at the clinic, but she has her whole finger! Your cousins were freaked out, but everything is ok now.
DAUGHTER: Poor Aunt! Glad everything is ok. Hugs!

Share Pictures With Donate a Photo, Help Worthy Causes

Image: Donate A Photo

Sharing photos online has become the norm for most of us, and now when you share those photos you can also help a worthy cause with the Donate A Photo app.

It’s all thanks to the folks at Johnson & Johnson who are donating $1 to a worthy cause for every photo you share using the app. Which cause? Well, that’s up to you with a selection of ways that you can help people when you share your pictures.

One of the possible recipients is Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and the app will tell you that when you choose them for your donation, that you’re helping to give a baby in the NICU a blanket. You can also choose Save the Children, the Family Equality Council, or any one of the worthy causes they’ve partnered with through the program.

You don’t pay a single thing to download the app as it’s entirely free. Just download the app for iOS or Android, then when you take your pictures, share them through the app. It will even post to your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account so you can share your pictures, and the app, with your friends and followers.

Next time you share a photo, you could be doing more help than you know. #DonateAPhoto

Social Planes: Soar Into New Communication Heights

Too often I find myself reaching out to people via the internet. It’s easy, convenient, and when you want to talk about something uncomfortable, it makes it more comfortable. The problem is that I’ve started to miss good old fashioned communication, preferring to write letters rather than type them or email them.

I discovered this great new project: Social Planes, through one of my favorite sites, Gizmodo. I fell in love with it. Social Planes are paper airplanes with a social theme that allow you to connect in the real world with people around you, without using your phone. For those who were born after the year 2000, this might seem a bit archaic, but believe me, it’s as fun as it sounds.

All you have to do is download the planes via Social Planes website, cut them out, and start having fun. Since I have a Facebook and Twitter account, I downloaded the corresponding planes and took them for a test ride. My first question when I saw the video online was “how well do they really fly?” I made the mistake of testing my first plane in my office at work. Why was this a mistake? Because it flew a little to well and thankfully hit a wall before my boss realized I was playing with a paper airplane.

As an introvert, this gives me a way to interact in good old fashioned writing and still keep a distance from the person I’m communicating with. For kids, this will be a great way to remind them that written communication is still a great tool and can be fun.

Is Facebook My Happy Place?

Do you keep your Facebook timeline real? Or do you keep it happy? I've been exploring my Facebook alter ego recently. Image: Patricia Vollmer.
Look at those smiles on my Facebook page. Do you keep your Facebook timeline happy? Or do you keep it real? I’ve been exploring my Facebook persona recently and I think I do quite a bit of manipulation. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

Please allow me to say upfront that I’m not judging Facebook personae. This is merely an exploration of my own social media livelihood and my thoughts on whether others do the same thing. I would also like to point out that this discussion could apply to any social media, not just Facebook.

A Facebook friend recently said to me in a private message, “I’ve never seen anyone as busy as you seem to be!” She and I have spent time together (in real life) in person in the past, but currently we don’t live near each other geographically. So her knowledge about my recent life is mostly what’s seen on my Facebook timeline.

Another friend — who also doesn’t live near me — once commented that she wished her life could be as happy as mine.

Those statements really got me thinking. I don’t feel super busy these days, although I don’t sit around watching TV all day long either. I’m also not necessarily happy all the time. Just ask my sons how I get when they’re running late for school.

Facebook (along with other social media such as Twitter or Instagram) is a great place to keep friends and family apprised of what’s going on in your life. Every social media user has the choice to post what he/she chooses to post. You can turn your online life into anything you want. Apparently I only post the happier stuff. Why worry people?

Does that make me a fraud? Am I manipulating my posts into a happier presence than I really experience? Am I living a lie in this little online slice of my life? Do I really want several hundred people knowing when things aren’t hunky-dorey? Am I better off posting nothing at all, or should I be doing the Vaguebook thing to indicate that things aren’t perfect?

I can’t tell you what’s going on but it isn’t good.

I honestly never gave it much thought until very recently. I routinely put up photos of the crafts I’ve done, my GeekMom posts, the travels and activities that my family have done, and I share the occasional newsworthy item. In addition, I have several apps that automatically feed items into my Timeline, such as my MapMyFitness workouts. Some folks think I’m on Facebook all the time. To be honest, I’m not directly on Facebook as much as some people might think. I have a “Share This” button on my Bookmarks Bar for links, I post my photos directly from my iPhone, I reply to post comments via email, and several of my apps take care of the rest. But when I actually am on Facebook reading up on my friends, I post occasional status updates about general things going on in my life, such as:

Another happy status. I don’t want to worry or offend anyone…. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

The “Incline” mentioned in the caption above is the Manitou Springs incline, a 2000′ high set of stairs that people climb for fun. I posted a picture from the top later that day.

I thought about the “negative” posts I’ve put up recently. They aren’t earth-shatteringly negative. It turns out most of the information about the bad things in my life don’t go up on Facebook until I’ve had a chance to smile, laugh, or come up with a silver lining about it. I will paint the post into something that should make you laugh, smile, or look on the bright side along with me.

I don’t post super-deep negative emotions. Typically, by the time I decide to write about it, I’m already laughing at myself, so it reads more lightheartedly than if I posted immediately after the fact. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

A bit of a caveat is in order. Since Facebook came along, my life hasn’t been so horrible. I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, my husband hasn’t been fired from his job, nor has anyone close to me died since Facebook became mainstream. My family is in pretty good health, and my marriage isn’t falling apart. I haven’t had any big social-media fallings-out either. I’ve been thinking about how — or whether — I would present such sad news to my online circle of friends. As of this writing, I wouldn’t know what to do. Perhaps I would fall off the radar altogether.

Do you get this way too? Are you shy about posting the bad news in your life? Do you worry that your mother — who might be a Facebook friend — will get concerned and call you? Do you worry that your boss or another work colleague — who might also be Facebook friends? — will use the information against you? Or do you just not want to worry anyone?

Perhaps you want to run for office in the future. Can you imagine how social media histories will be used in the near future for those running for Congress or President?

It turns out there’s been quite a lot of study done on the psychology of social media. Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and the director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, has addressed the issue of keeping up with an e-personality. GeekMom Kay recommended her book, Alone Together:Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, to me and even suggested her TED Talk about it for a great summary of the main points of the book.

I have no plans to really change what I put on social media. I’m certainly not going to try to find sad news in my life to share. I am usually careful to convey a professional image for the sake of my Air Force Reserve leadership position, but I don’t see the harm in keeping positive either.

What are your thoughts on the image you convey in social media? Do you keep it real? Or do you keep things happy and lighthearted? 

First Look and Giveaway–Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives by Randi Zuckerberg

Randi Zuckerberg signing her book. Image: Zuckerberg Media,
Image: HarperCollins

This post is sponsored by HarperCollins.

Randi Zuckerberg is known to most because of her familiar last name. But where Randi and her brother Mark deviate is precisely where she begins her new book, Dot Complicated. It’s that moment where, after an immense town hall event with President Barack Obama goes off without a hitch (though not without an absolute metric ton of work), that Zuckerberg—in her last weeks of pregnancy—realizes that her life can’t be just about the big blue F. That being part of Facebook, a company she joined with reservations and later defined herself there as a forward-thinking (see her involvement in the 2008 elections and her contributions to the conversation) and unforgettable presence, isn’t a good fit any longer. There’s something more, even if at that moment she isn’t sure what it is.

And it’s that event that really propels the book forward and brings Zuckerberg to her new calling, that of a social media guru of sorts, digging beyond the technology and through to the real meat of the matter: the people, the connections, and the complications brought on by social media. Since she’s had such a front seat to the social media boom, she’s definitely an ideal host, and the book is very much an extension of her website, DotComplicated.

Zuckerberg comes to the realization after an extensive tour around the country that her career should be more about the stories and less about the tech. She comes back with all sorts of questions—personal questions—that the rise of social media had provoked among her audience members. They’re questions anyone who’s visited a GeekMom convention panel will likely have heard: How do I protect my kids? How much is too much technology? How do I keep my husband from bringing his iPhone to bed? And she’s got great answers. Because it’s not just about a work-life balance, she insists; it’s a tech-life balance.

What follows are Zuckerberg’s personal stories (her son trying to get a picture frame to play his favorite Barney video is particularly endearing, as is the tale of all the Zuckerberg kids filming a Star Wars homage in their house as kids) and advice on maintaining privacy, balance, and sanity in the online world. Sure, Facebook features from time to time as would be expected, but Zuckerberg’s bright personality shines through. Perhaps no one on earth is as close to social media as the Zuckerbergs, and yet it’s clear that the author still struggles with finding balance, changing her relationship status, and accidentally sharing things that should have been kept personal. That measure of experience goes a long way in a book like this.

But Zuckerberg also touches on the thought behind social dos and don’ts. Particularly informative for the geeks among us are the sections that put the social boom into perspective. When talking about the “grey zone” of privacy, she says:

Before the Internet arrived, the gray zone was there, but it was much smaller. You could be fairly certain that if you showed your vacation bikini pics to your friends, it didn’t mean your aunt and your aunt’s friends and some random guy you once went to high school with were also going to see, distribute, and comment on them.

Suddenly, a yearbook message doesn’t mean what it once did, especially considering that so many of us aren’t just in touch with our high school friends, but in some cases even elementary (or earlier) because of social media. With those connections, though, friendships can suffer. And Zuckerberg is clear that you can’t have it all. Yes, gadgets and connectivity are wonderful—and addictive. But if you don’t take time to take a deep breath and back off, to “retro” and “go out alone” (meaning without devices) every once in a while, you won’t truly experience life.

That sentiment reminds me of a similarly “retro” movie. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris is, without a doubt, a bit of a tech nerd. But he doesn’t have a cell phone. He doesn’t have Facebook. And yet he still understands that there’s so much noise out there, we’re all at risk of losing out what’s really imporatant. In his case, he makes life interesting simply by performing in his own movie and pushing everything to the very limit. But his sage advice is even more pressing now: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Dot Complicated reminds us that life is full of awesome things, online and off, but how we manage it is up to us. A truly fulfilled life isn’t perfect, but it’s balanced and approached with both eyes open. And possibly also carrying a lightsaber. Y’know, just in case.

Dot Complicated is available online and in stores, MSRP $27.99.

We’ve also got 3 copies of the book for our lucky readers. Just leave a comment below by midnight 11/7 and let us know how you keep your life from being too Dot Complicated, and you’ll be entered. We’ll pick three random commenters. 

This post is sponsored by HarperCollins.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Are You In?

Nano: Write Fast, Edit Later © Sophie Brown
Nano: Write Fast, Edit Later © Sophie Brown

Two weeks from today Nanowrimo 2013 gets underway and those of us participating in this year’s event are starting to feel the pressure building.

For those unfamiliar with Nanowrimo (short for National Novel Writing Month although participation is now global), the event occurs annually in November and challenges everyone to write a 50,000 word novel during the month, a target of 1,667 words per day, assuming you stay on track. So far this year, over 100,000 people have signed up to take part.

The official website allows you to add writing buddies who will help you keep on course and offer encouragement as the weeks progress. There are also hundreds of forums where you can meet other writers either by geographical location, age-range, shared genre or by other means.

Between now and the end of Nano I will be posting weekly discussions over on the GeekMom Facebook page. If you are Nano’ing this year then please come along and join us to gloat, cry, admit how late you stayed up last night or share in our permanently open bottle of wine and never ending virtual chocolate box. We won’t tell if you don’t.

PAX Prime: The Next Generation of Geeks Speak Out on Bullying

© Facebook

At PAX Prime 2013, parents and kids of all ages and stripes filled the theater to talk with GeekMoms and GeekDads about raising the next generation of geeks. Also sitting behind the mics for this year’s panel were some of our progeny, who had their own valuable points of view on what it’s like to grow up geeky today.

The panel centered on interactive discussion with the families in the audience, and many parents had questions for the kids on the panel on a variety of topics, from favorite board games to how to share their own passions with their children. (Eleven-year-old Nora Wecks advised meeting kids halfway and embracing your children’s interests enthusiastically as well.) The most engaging topic on the panel, though, was a question from a parent about how the next generation of geeks handle bullying.

Gone are the days where bullying is confined to the bus or playground; today’s kids also contend with mean-spirited peers on Facebook and other social media. At only 13 years old, Lily Wecks has already experienced cyberbullying. Her father, Erik Wecks, spoke about it recently on GeekDad. Lily had more to say on the topic at PAX Prime. “There was a [Facebook] group page, and a couple of people in my class decided they were going to write a post about how obnoxious I was,” said Lily. “And it got really nasty. I ended up unfriending some people and leaving the group, and it really hurt. But it was also a good reminder that I need to choose. I can’t please everyone, so just be me.”

Nora had a similar experience with kids her in class, and her best advice for families was to speak up and get involved. “What really helped me is that I talked to my parents, and my parents talked to me,” shared Nora. “My parents got involved. I had an experience where some boys were treating me badly. And so my dad got involved and spoke to the principal about it. And that made me feel safe, that I was going to be taken care of.”

Rebecca Moore, 21 year old daughter of GeekMom Kay Moore, also encouraged parents to support their children, but realize that they can’t always stop the bad things that happen in life. “Keep an open dialogue with your kids,” said Rebecca. “If you do find out about bullying, you should take those steps to intervene, but know that you might not be able to stop it.

“You have to allow [your children] to build that strength themselves. Definitely step in so that they know you love and care, but you also have to be ready to support them. You can’t stop everything. …It is sort of a growth experience. Don’t be the parent that clings.”

Thanks again to the attendees of “Raising the Next Generation of Geeks” at PAX Prime, and our donors who made all the fantastic prize giveaways possible.

Waze: Exciting News for This Exciting App

Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Thanks to a tip from a friend from the Washington, D.C. area, I decided to try out the Waze community-based navigation app on my most recent road trip. I honestly didn’t know much about it, being that I live in a less-metropolitan geographic area.  I tried it on a couple of local trips earlier in June, and I didn’t get much out of it.  I’ve relied on the CoPilot Live app more recently, and it seemed to have worked well for me.

But I didn’t give up—last week I made an almost-1000 mile drive from Florida to West Virginia. Somewhere around Knoxville, where I hit some traffic, I decided to give Waze a second chance.

I’m glad I did.

Waze started in Israel in 2008 and when it crossed the pond to the U.S. about two years ago, it took the app world by storm. In 2013 it was awarded the Best Overall Mobile App by the Mobile World Congress, thus cinching its position as a must-have app!

I’ll get to the local metro features momentarily, but I just want to share with the world how awesome it was traveling on Interstates 40 and 81 and being among other Waze users—called “Wazers”—as we shared traffic, construction, and hidden police information. My experiences so far have been with long-distance driving; there’s much more it can do in heavier traffic and in areas with more “Wazers.”

You start out as a "baby Wazer". Can you see the pacifier in my icon's mouth? Luckily, that only lasted for 100 miles...a mere 90 minutes on I-40. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
You start out as a “baby Wazer.” Can you see the pacifier in my icon’s mouth? Luckily, that only lasted for 100 miles…a mere 90 minutes on I-40. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

So I’m driving down the highway; the Waze app is running happily on my iPhone (which is mounted to my GripGo mount). Every once in a while I would encounter icons such as these ones pictured.

This is a great all-encompassing graphic, showing another Wazer along with two upcoming hazards. In both cases, the hazards were vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
This is a great all-encompassing graphic, showing another Wazer along with two upcoming hazards. In both cases, the hazards were vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

The pink “Wazer” icon was heading towards me on I-40. It has a crown on its head, designating it a “Waze Royalty”—the top 1% of high scorers in whatever state I’m in (Tennessee, in this case). There are varying levels of “Wazers”; I had to endure 100 miles of being a baby before promoting to a “Wazer Grownup.”

Those exclamation points are identifying hazards. If you tap the icons—easy to do with my GripGo mounted-phone—a pop up window will provide more information.

It's easy to tap the screen to get more information about hazards. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
It’s easy to tap the screen to get more information about hazards. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

You can also get information about hidden police cars and road construction. While I’m not suggesting that drivers spend too much time on his/her phone, for what it’s worth, it’s very easy to mark locations for this information. Three taps on the phone, and you’re done!

The police car information was very helpful and pretty accurate.

In more densely-populated metropolitan areas, there is quite a bit more utility for users. The more Wazers there are in an area, the more information becomes available. You can easily connect Waze with your mobile Facebook app and you’ll automatically be friends with those drivers. Waze will alert you when your friends are on the road, and you can chat with them (which I don’t recommend if you’re the driver). I enjoyed sending “Beep Beep”s to my friends, which only takes two taps on the iPhone.

Waze will measure your device's speed in your vehicle and use it to determine traffic patterns in congested areas. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Waze will measure your device’s speed in your vehicle and use it to determine traffic patterns in congested areas. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

GeekMom Helene, who lives near the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas, isn’t that happy with Waze’s chat function. Her app pops up the chats if any of her friends are within a certain range. She finds that distracts her from trying to get to her destination.

GeekMom Kristen provided me the following pros and cons of using Waze throughout the Los Angeles area. And I quote….

  • Nearly everyone I know in LA loves Waze.
  • I use it every day, even for places I know the way, because she’s taught me new ways to get to work, to the studio, and home. After a while it anticipates where you’re going. I nearly squeaked with delight the first time it said, “Good afternoon! Are you on your way home?” It recognized that I go to the same place every Tuesday at 3:00pm.
  • As an LA driver, the most shocking thing about Waze is how often she tells us to take the freeways. I usually avoid them like the plague—but it turns out that even when they’re jammed sometimes, they’re still the fastest route.
  • Another reason I use her every time I get in the car—unbelievably accurate ETAs.
  • Downsides: That thing where she anticipates where you’re going—if you’re going someplace different than usual and don’t notice she’s asked you if you’re going to your typical place—she will override what you’ve plugged in. I discovered that a couple of times in the beginning. You know a, “Heyyy wait, why am I turning on Olympic?”
  • She will also take you down side streets—which at time has been a revelation—“I’m bypassing all the traffic on the main road!” But I wish she was more intuitive about what side streets have traffic lights. Often she will send you up a side street, telling you to cross a major thoroughfare. Or make a left onto one. Uh, yikes, and hello extra ten minutes added to commute.
  • I love points—it appeals to the gamer in me—and when I’m the passenger I’m always yelling when we get points. My husband will say, “But you don’t GET anything!” My response: “You get POINTS!”**
  • I love her. Yes I said her. Google better not [mess] her up.

**Waze awards you points based on how many miles you’ve traveled with Waze, how many friends you have, and how often you report items such as traffic jams, gas prices, and map problems.

My Waze is all Grown Up! After the first 100 miles you shed the pacifier and can choose a custom Waze icon. Do you like my sunflower? Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
My Waze is all Grown Up! After the first 100 miles you shed the pacifier and can choose a custom Waze icon. Do you like my sunflower? Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

In a timely twist of fate, as several of us GeekMoms were discussing our adventures with Waze last week, Google was busy finalizing their acquisition at the tune of just over $1 billion!

Well, as Kristen suggested above, we hope that Google does a good job with Waze.

Waze is available for free download for the iOS, Android, and J2ME platforms.

Looking at Life Through Facebook

I love TMNT. Can you tell? \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
I love TMNT. Can you tell? \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Many parents start baby books for their children. Looking at my son’s book, I realized he won’t learn as much about his early years through his baby book as he will through my Facebook page and the posts I’ve written for GeekMom.

The other day at my mom’s house, I discovered my baby book. I’ve never seen it before and she warned me not to be disappointed that it wasn’t filled out completely. Having a son of my own, I completely understand that she only filled it in up to my third year of life.

Continue reading Looking at Life Through Facebook

Respect Your Parents or They Will Follow Through

image by Cathe Post

You may have heard about this dad who recently punished his daughter through a video on YouTube. Through writers on GeekMom and various social media venues where the event has been shared, I have seen every opinion in the spectrum of possibilities from chastising the father to praising him.

The video was a very timely topic in our house as my husband and I are preparing to hand over my netbook to our almost-6-year-old as part of her Valentine’s Day gift. We have discussed at length what parameters will be set for her when using the computer (out at the kitchen table, ask first, etc.). All of that aside, if and when we allow our kids to use Facebook, they will be required to have Tim and I as friends (not because I don’t trust my kids, but because I don’t trust other people). I would hope my kids would have the sense to either tell me to my face if they had a problem or tell one of their friends over the phone or in person.

The dad was nice enough to work on the daughter’s computer and put money and time into it for her to use in completing school work. The dad found the upsetting status by going to the family dog’s Facebook page – she didn’t block the dog, so it showed up in the feed. Ranting about Facebook’s privacy practices isn’t going to solve anything in this case since the dad wasn’t snooping. If anything, the daughter should have been a little smarter about airing her feelings in a technology-based public arena when her dad works in IT and is working on her computer.

Finally, the shooting of the laptop: I do not own a handgun, but I have been in competitive target shooting. I commend the dad for following through (and, he has responded to his following through on Facebook). He had told his daughter the FIRST time she pulled a stunt like this that if it happened again, he would put a bullet in her computer – and he did! Means of punishment aside, the dad followed through. You have no idea how frustrated I get with parents who let their children get away with stuff by saying, “if you do that one more time, I’ll punish you,” for the fifteenth time in a row. I have to wonder what buttons this girl pushed on her parents to have a parent have to follow through on a threat of this magnitude.

Personally, I would have just password protected the laptop and hid it in my closet with a post-it saying, “You get the password when I get $130.” Good software that was just paid for doesn’t need to be destroyed when it can be used by someone else.

It’s a sad situation all around. Technology is a two-sided coin; it makes our lives easier and harder all at the same time. I’m sure this girl will need a computer to finish school work. Sounds like she’s going to have to beg to use the family computer or huff it to the library. I’ve also seen some opinions wondering if the father just made the video for his own validation and not to punish the daughter, because with destroying her computer, she won’t see the video. Kids have cell phones. She’ll see the video, and hopefully be reminded she needs to follow the rules or suffer the severe and embarrassing consequences. How would you have handled the situation?

ChatWithTheBand – A Ustream/ Google+ Hangouts-esque Facebook App For Musicians and Artists

If you are a musician, or artist, and have been lamenting over the lack of interactive chat features on Facebook similar to Google+ Hangouts, finally, there is something similar available to those who make use of Facebook fan pages. The app is called ChatWithTheBand. ChatWithTheBand lets you video chat with fans and listen to tracks as a social group right from your band/artist Facebook page. Some may liken it to having your own dedicated room hosted on your Facebook page, but with extra features including video chat, virtual gifts and SoundClound integration (coming soon).

If you’ve made use of Google+ Hangouts to interact with others, you are already familiar with the benefits of having a video chat. The interface for the ChatWithTheBand is a little bit different. Fans are not automatically added to the video chat portion, even if they are part of the chat conversation. They have to be invited by whomever is hosting, similarly to how you’d invite someone to share your stream on Ustream. One benefit to this Facebook app is that your friends can sign-up for notifications when broadcasts begin. That feature is something that is missing on Google+. Another benefit is that it does not appear to have the limited seating that Google+ Hangouts has.

ChatWithTheBand is currently in beta. They are looking for people to join. I personally have not been able to test this app as I am not on Facebook. Therefor, I cannot give a proper review of it. However, I think the premise behind it and what I’ve seen in the demo videos are very useful. I know a good number of independent musicians and artists who’ve had a lot of success using Facebook to interact with their supporters, and I think they could benefit from this app. I also know a good many musicians and artists who’ve lamented about some of the drawbacks to using both Ustream or Google+ Hangouts to host listening parties, live concerts, Q&As. This may just be the answer.

Find out more, see which artists are already using ChatWithTheBand & watch demo videos at or click here to join the beta.

If you do decide to use this app, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts, especially if you’ve used other services such as Ustream and Google+ Hangouts.

Lay-Geek’s Guide to the Facebook Timeline Part 2: Exploring the Privacy Settings

One of the things Facebook is bragging about is improvements to their privacy settings.  How improved are they, really?

Our super-dooper social media GeekMoms posed a question a couple weeks ago. “So how are you liking the Facebook Timeline? Got any questions you’d like us to tackle at GeekMom?

This single question generated so many responses, varying from “I LOVE LOVE LOVE the FEATURE feature!” to “I absolutely hate it…” four minutes later.

I didn’t show all the responses in this screen shot, but there were many. As you can see, they ranged from the first responder’s “LOVE LOVE LOVE…” to the second responder’s “I absolutely hate it…”. Most of the responses were questions about the privacy settings. So on this post, I want to share what I’ve learned so far about the Privacy Settings.

The perception seemed to be that the Timeline re-defaulted everything to public, but I don’t think that’s the case. If you had set a picture to “Friends Only” or “Friends of Friends,” from my experience, the photo should have remained that way.

Unfortunately, I do believe that several items that used to not have a privacy setting at all defaulted to “Public.” An example of this is the data that used to just sit within your “Info” section, such as Hometown, Employers and Education. Those data points are now scattered amongst your Timeline based on the dates you had specified when you first set up the “Info” section and seemed to have defaulted to public.

Let’s look at the various ways you can tune your privacy settings.  In my opinion, Facebook has made the ability to change these settings easier than ever!  The challenge is knowing what to do.

Overall Privacy Settings

First of all, you can start with the main privacy settings page to set a “Default Setting.”  Visit the downward-pointing arrowhead in the upper right corner of your Facebook page, just to the left of the ticker.  It should always be there no matter what you’re doing in Facebook.  Select the “Privacy Settings” menu.

The improved Privacy Settings menu offers a one-stop shop to tune your privacy settings to whatever you want MOST of your posts to be.  The “Default Privacy” selection will apply to all future posts after changing it.  If you want to edit your past posts, scroll down a little on this page for that option.

There are numerous settings here, from editing what non-friends see when they search your profile, to setting your app privacy.  Take a moment to explore these settings.  They’re easier than ever now!

Individual Post Settings

Now let’s say you have uploaded a status or picture that you’d prefer to be public, such as a photo from a music concert that you want to share with anyone who might have been at that concert.  Even though most of your items might be for friends only, you can make individual post changes using the “Activity Log,” whose button is just below your cover photo on your profile page.

Use the Activity Log to change individual privacy settings on your Timeline posts.

The Activity Log is supposed to be able to display EVERYTHING pertaining to your Facebook life. Status updates, comments, “Likes,” photos, changes to your info, etc. Things your friends are doing that pertain to you will show up also, such as if a friend checks you in to a location, or if you get tagged in a photo.  You can use the drop down menu in the upper right, which will start with “All,” to filter out other peoples’ posts.

Click on the icon just to the left of the circle/star in each entry to bring up a drop down menu and select who you want to view the information.  You can also put information on…or take information off…the News Feed page.

Note: If the post in your activity log is owned by someone else, you will NOT see the option to change the individual privacy.  This only applies to YOUR statuses and photos.  You cannot set a comment on someone else’s status or photo.

Do I Want This on my Timeline?

Finally, Facebook has given users the option to present information on the News Feed, but not on the Timeline.  This was great when I was changing my Cover Photo ten billion times in one day.  That kept showing up in my Timeline and was driving more relevant information, such as pictures of my kids enjoying their Christmas, further down.

Click the circle on each Activity Log post to use the drop-down menu. Select how you want the information presented on your Timeline, or choose to remove it altogether.

For Timeline, you have three choices: show on Timeline, hide from Timeline, or “feature” on Timeline.  While “hiding” is pretty self-explanatory, there is a subtle difference between “show” and “feature.”  Merely showing a post on the Timeline will set the post to sit on one side of the page or the other.  In other words, it will be to the left or right of the center line; there’s nothing special about the right or left of the center line. My posts flip to the left and right all the time as I add items to my profile page.

On the other hand, if you choose to “Feature” a post on Timeline, the item will straddle the center line and allow another 851 x 315 px worth of picture.

A “Featured” item will straddle both sides of the Timeline. When you first start Timeline, major life events will be pulled from your Info page, become “Featured” and will default to “Public” visibility. Be careful with these! Click the little icon to the right of the date to change the privacy settings of these posts.

Hopefully this helps you out some!  As the title states, I’m a “lay-geek” when it comes to Facebook, but I figured if I had muddled through this all wondering how it all works, perhaps I wasn’t the only one feeling this way!

What are your thoughts on the new Facebook privacy settings?  Did you find them easier or more difficult?

A GeekMom’s 34 Goals for 2012

Number 17 on my list of goals: Have one thriving crop. This mutant carrot is the outcome of my last gardening attempt. Photo by Cathe Post.

A friend of mine recently published her professional website after months of preparation. One of her premier posts shared 30 things she would like to do this year in honor of turning 30. It’s not a milestone birthday year for me, but the idea made sense. In an effort to set reasonable goals instead of unattainable demands, I’m going to follow in IndieKate‘s blog-steps and create a 34 in 2012 list. Here it goes…

  1. Work on getting in shape – I just signed up for Fitocracy so I can log all of my Dance Central time in Workout Mode.
  2. Keep up with my blog – I would like to share more on my personal blog than a log of articles I write for GeekMom. Some blogs I read just share one moment from the day that their readers can identify with. I’d like to do the same, if I’m not cleaning up the mess from said moment…
  3. Social Butterfly – I want to put myself out there more. I am on PinterestFacebookTwitterGoodreads and Google +. I hope to cross share through all of these platforms at least once a week.
  4. Keep up with Phineas and Ferb this summer – There is a calendar. I printed it for my daughter last summer and we only did about a third of the things that we wrote on it (let alone the ideas that came with it).
  5. Watch less TV – My husband would probably not understand this one. I listen to Netflix shows while I’m on the computer. If I listened to audiobooks or podcasts instead, I would probably be better off.
  6. Read More – I HATE reading. Due to my astigmatism, I end up reading the same line in a book multiple times before getting past it. It makes book reading less than fun. It’s “better” now that we have a Kindle Fire, because I can show one paragraph per page and increase the font size, but it still hurts my eyes – I have to really be interested in the book.
  7. Learn at least one more of my husband’s miniature games – I played Warhammer Fantasy with my husband for a year. It was great fun. But, I played the season, won the tournament (and a really cool sword) and left it at that. So now I should catch up and learn Blood BowlHell Dorado, and Dystopian Wars.
  8. Learn an activity with my daughter – I don’t care if it’s Heroclix or something non-geeky – we had a lot of fun learning Pokémon together (have you heard the recent GeekMom podcast?). Mother/daughter bonding is good.
  9. Earn my Tournament Organizer’s title for Pokémon – Since I keep running computers for Pokémon tournaments, I really should have a copy of the program on my computer. In order to have that, I need to earn my stripes!
  10. Drink water – 8 glasses a day…blah…blah…blah…
  11. GeekMom – The responsibilities of a core contributor on GeekMom are not unreasonable, and yet I find myself fighting to keep up from time to time. I would like to work to 125% of what is required, because GeekMom is a great community to be part of. I keep find myself saying, “That would make a great article.” So, sit down and write the article already!
  12. Pre-school – This would be a goal for later in the year. As my youngest nears turning three, I look at the pre-school choices and cringe. The idea of teaching him myself is daunting, but doable – and he’d love it.
  13. Eat more veggies – I eat veggies twice a day on a good day. I could be better about it.
  14. Ride my bike – Even riding my bike once this summer would be more than I did last year.
  15. Edit out the virtual garbage – This would include cleaning out the backup hard drive, deleting old documents, and having everything backed up and organized in one location…instead of three.
  16. Make headway in the yard – We put in a playground (swings and a slide thanks to my parents) this last summer. We have a small rectangular backyard. I would like a third of it to be raised gardens and a stone oven for baking pizza/bread, a third lawn, and a third playground. It means DOING IT.
  17. Have one crop thrive – I have a black thumb. Enough said.
  18. Go back to church – I haven’t been in a year. Again, if I make it once this year, it will be a step in the right direction.
  19. Vote – I missed our last local election and felt guilty about it for weeks. If you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain about how your taxes are spent.
  20. Date – My husband. I need to make that clear. I have known my husband since 1993. We started dating in 1998, and were married in 2003. Several times we’ve misplaced the romance. We seem to find it if we can go on a date.
  21. Pet the cats – Isn’t it scientifically proven that animals can reduce stress levels? I have four cats, so I should be four times less stressed, right?
  22. ADHD – I need to learn all I can about this. My daughter was diagnosed with it, and I think it is a HUGE source of the behavior issues we have had in the last three years. Learning how to help her deal with her symptoms will be a relief.
  23. Remain close to my parents – I am an only child. My parents live less than 5 miles away. I have tried very hard to be there for them this year as my mom has taken on difficult volunteer tasks and my dad has undergone chemotherapy. This year can only be better for them, right?
  24. Have a cemented financial plan – Being in a one income household is hard. I am thankful that my husband’s job provides a roof over our head and food on the table. GeekMom Judy Berna had a similar resolution this year.
  25. Learn how to fix one thing – My husband is very handy. He cooks, he sews, he fixes the stuff that needs fixing. Just once I should take initiative and learn to do it myself instead of asking him.
  26. Attempt to potty train – My 2-year-old wants to do everything his sister does. So, perhaps this summer I will have the guts to attempt to teach him how to use the potty. Isn’t it as easy as throwing cheerios in the toilet and having them do target practice?
  27. Write a book with my daughter – She loves drawing and telling stories. It would probably be a great geeky story – an epic tale even!
  28. Start a video podcast – The hubby and I have been watching Hank and Katherine Play Super Mario Brothers Wii! on YouTube. Where my husband is inspired to play his ukulele and make videos someday like the DoubleclicksMolly Lewis, or Pomplamoose, I want to make a board game blog. We shall see if I can get anyone to help me – I can’t really play board games by myself.
  29. Brush up on my sign language – I used to be fluent, but if you don’t use it, you lose it.
  30. Run a D&D campaign – I don’t know that RPG Kids would count. But I would run a one-shot game in a heartbeat.
  31. Add to my client base – It would be nice to have a couple more clients to tutor in the art of running a computer.
  32. Make one item out of one of my craft books – Complete a large fiber project  (like an afghan) or a project from a craft book. I have a shelf full of craft/fiber books that are fun to look at, but I haven’t done anything other than look at them. I have done a few projects from the GeekDad books, but I want to complete ALL OF THEM.
  33. Do one Arduino project – This is an intelligence challenge. Can I be smarter than the programming language? (I wasn’t in college – that’s for sure).
  34. Enter one photography show – Just one. Just enough of a commitment that I have to attempt to take artsy-fartsy shots throughout the year.

I don’t think this list is unattainable. It will take some work, but there isn’t one thing on this list I can’t finish (maybe 33, but I will at least attempt it). What are your goals for 2012? Do you have some of the same crazy plans as I do?

In-Your-Facebook: A Look at the Latest Wave of Big Changes on the Social Network Everyone Loves to Hate

As you’ve no doubt heard, Facebook rolled out some major changes this week—and even bigger changes will be hitting your Wall in the weeks to come. (More on those in a minute.) Many Facebook users were caught off guard by the new “ticker” that now appears in the upper right corner of the News Feed page. The ticker is a sort of mini-news-feed, designed for what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls “lighter weight” information. It’s a constantly refreshing scroll of your friends’ comments, likes, and other Facebook activity, magnetically pulling your gaze over and over again.

A TOTALLY UNSTAGED screen grab of my ticker. And by “totally unstaged,” I mean “yeah, we totally staged that.”

Here’s a really important thing to know: if you comment on a friend’s status update, the privacy level of your comment is determined by whatever sharing setting your friend chose for that update: public, friends-of-friends, friends only, or a customized group. This has always been the case—the difference now is that your comments are popping up in your friends’ tickers, and they’re much more noticeable than in the news feed. If you leave a comment on an update with a “friends of friends” setting, that comment will appear in your friends’ tickers, even if your other friends don’t know the person whose update you’ve commented on.

I’ve seen a lot of confusion over this issue in the past couple of days. For example, I wrote an update and shared it to “public.” My friend Jenny commented on it. Her friend Brian—a person I’ve never met—saw Jenny’s comment in his ticker, and clicked through to join the conversation. This is totally fine; I’d made the post public intentionally, and Brian made good contributions to the discussion. But it surprised the heck out of Jenny! She knew Brian and I had no connection other than that she is friends with each of us, and we’re friends from vastly different corners of her world. Suddenly, there we all were chitchatting together. If you’ve ever experience the jolt of worlds colliding on Facebook, brace yourself. The collisions are happening at the speed of light these days.

Like I said, it has always been the case that Brian could have left a comment on my friends-of-friends or public update, since we have a mutual friend. But before the ticker, the conversation probably wouldn’t have hit his radar unless he happened to notice a “Jenny left a comment on…” note on Jenny’s wall. The ticker is the game-changer here: it puts Jenny’s commenting and liking activity right on Brian’s news feed page. And vice versa.

You can hide a friend’s comments and likes by hovering your mouse over her name, then hover over the “Subscribed” button, and deselect the things you want to screen from your ticker. But there’s no mass setting for you to hide your own comments from your friends’ tickers—the visibility of your comments is always determined by the post you’re commenting on.

So just be aware: if you’re chiming in on a public or friends-of-friends post, people you don’t know will most likely be viewing your comment in their tickers. Even if all your own friends do that hover/deselect thing I mentioned above, your comments are still visible to strangers (and always were, on this kind of post—but now they’re not just visible, they’re decked out in neon lights).

How do you tell the privacy setting of a friend’s status update? Look for the gray icon below the update, to the right of the timestamp. If the icon is a globe, that post is public; if it’s a person’s head, the post was shared with friends only; and if the icon is a gear, the post was shared with a custom list. Hover over the gear to see details about the list—it may say “custom,” meaning it’s probably a smaller pool than the person’s whole friends list, or “friends of friends,” which is of course a much wider pool.

There’s a wave of “you hide my comments, and I’ll hide yours” sweeping over Facebook this weekend. That’s a whole lot of manual deselecting going on—but do be aware that this semi-fix doesn’t really make your comments private, it just means they won’t show up to the friends who’ve complied with your “please hide ’em” request. And let’s face it, the friends most likely to honor your request are probably the very people you don’t mind reading your random comments in the first place.

If you hate the ticker altogether, there are browser extensions that will let you hide it: here’s one for Chrome, and one for Firefox. (I haven’t tried these, so feel free to report back with your experience.)

As for your own status updates, don’t forget to check the setting of a status update before you post it! Another new wrinkle is that post settings are sticky to the previous update—so if you post one update to “friends of friends,” your next update will have that setting by default until you change it manually.

WELL. That’s a lot of change, but really, we ain’t seen nothing yet. At Thursday’s f8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the advent of the Timeline—the new, bell-and-whistle-filled incarnation of the current Facebook profile. (Here’s a link to Zuckerberg’s keynote address.)

Your Timeline will be a scrollable compendium of everything you’ve ever posted to Facebook, and—if you so choose—just about everything you ever do for the rest of your life.

Screenshot of Timeline from f8 video presentation

Everything you’ve ever shared on Facebook will be rolled into your Timeline—every photo, every status update, every like. (You can go in and alter the visibility settings for each item individually, after the fact.) A key component of Timeline will be serious app integration; users will be able to connect, say, a cooking app that allows them to chronicle and share every recipe they attempt, or a running app that uses GPS to log favorite routes. Facebook is partnering with Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and other media outlets to bring music, film, and television viewing right to the Facebook screen—and whatever you’re watching or listening to, your friends can do the same with a simple click.

Sound cool? Or seriously creepy? I’m hearing mixed reactions. Many Facebook users feel uneasy at the thought of handing over this level of personal detail to a social network that already has notoriously complicated and ever-changing privacy settings—and uneasier still at the thought of how much data on lifestyle habits all this Timeline and app integration is going to provide advertisers.

Once the Timeline rolls out (you can sneak it in early now, via the steps outlined in this Mashable post), the ticker will become even livelier, displaying updates off all the offscreen activity your friends are reporting via their shiny new apps. Kristen is running in Central Park. Ruth is cooking pad thai. Andrea just played the word “stalker” in a game of Words with Friends.

“Now,” said Zuckerberg in the keynote, “even before I start using Spotify, I can see what my friends are listening to live, in my ticker.” He went on to explain that patterns that emerge in all this ticker activity will be pulled into your main News Feed, as a story there. If several of your friends are watching Glee at the same time, that tidbit will appear in your feed. And if you want to watch the same episode, all you have to do is click.

A friend asked me what my take is on Facebook’s new direction. Here’s what I replied:

I’m extremely wary. I think the whole thing is a brilliant and seductive mechanism for deep, deep data-mining. Timeline has some mighty appealing characteristics—no longer do your old status updates disappear into oblivion at the bottom of your page. Now you have easy, crisply organized access to every morsel of your own Facebook activity. You can enter new info & photos for years past, all the way to the day you were born. It’s a giant digital scrapbook, and I think a lot of people are going to love it.

It’s cleverly done and has boatloads of appeal, and people will pay for the convenience by providing advertisers with even more information about lifestyle and spending habits than we already do. There’s a reports feature that lets you compile a report on your own (or your friends’) reading/watching/eating/travel/etc –and you just know that if we can compile these reports about ourselves, so can the app developers we grant account access to.

It’s like saying, Dear Advertisers, here’s my entire life: profile away.

For a lot of users, though, a decision to walk away from Facebook isn’t a no-brainer. It’s no secret I much prefer Google+ as a social networking interface (although Google’s rotten “real names” policy has considerably dimmed my enthusiasm)—but if I were to kiss my Facebook goodbye, I’d be missing out on the riches it does give me: a peek at the daily doings of a lot of people I love dearly, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t doing their online sharing anywhere else.

What’s your take? Is the ticker ticking you off? Or are you counting the minutes until your Timeline goes live?

Yes, It’s Another Social Network: Erly’s Claim to the Event-Based Social Niche

I caught wind this past week of a new social network that hit the airwaves on September 14th., started by Eric Feng, the founding-CTO of Hulu, is deeming itself a “new social platform for organizing and sharing your personal content.”  It’s attempting to shift our perspectives on social media: while most of our social media experiences have been individually-driven, Erly is attempting to collect social media based on events.

Based on my short time on the site, there appears to be a lot of potential in this, but the website needs to be populated before we can see most of this come to fruition.  I predict that with enough members, if someone were to post a Facebook album called “Muse Concert: 12/12/11”, Erly will data mine for other pictures from the same concert and recommend them to each other.  Over the weekend I took a short visit to the site and gave it a go.

For starters, it appears that Erly doesn’t want to have much to do with you without a Facebook login.  There’s a link you can click about this that explains that Erly doesn’t store passwords and by just using Facebook, there’s no need to learn another login and password.  But if you read between the lines it’s also getting its first batch of media with which it can populate the network.

Just register with your Facebook account. After that, you have the option to connect with other social media.

I chose to link my Picasa photo albums to Erly, since I had a couple of topics in mind.  First of all, I was going to try to bring together all my albums that included flowers.

The assumption is that it won’t be my own collection.  You will be plunged right into starting your own first “collection”.

I titled my collection “Flowers” and started filling it with photos.  But as you can see above, you can also add links, notes, and videos.  There’s also a “Request” button with which you can ask Facebook friends to contribute to the collection.

It was really easy to bring in the pictures, but I’m having trouble with cataloging and arranging them for now.  It reminds me of sharing photo albums on G+: the pictures are randomly sized and ordered.

Pictures are very easily brought in from existing Facebook and Picasa albums. Still trying to crack the code on sizing and ordering them though.  Slide the bar at the bottom to scroll left and right through the pictures.  The orange-colored blocks are the pictures.  Also, note that I added a “contributor” on the left, one of my Facebook friends who also takes a lot of flower pictures.

Like other social networks, you can edit captions and comment on the assorted pictures.  But Erly lets you go a step further, and this might be where it can make its money compared to Facebook and G+: adding links, video and notes to the same collection.

You can see a Wikipedia link I added about oleander flowers in the upper left, and I started to add a Chinese hibiscus wiki article on the right. These will sit in the collection side-by-side with the pictures.

You can also add a note. I could see this coming in handy like an announcement to a group of guests to add pictures after a wedding.  I also tried to move the Wiki articles to the right.  You can pick up and drop the modules, but I still can’t crack the code on resizing.
My deployment collection. Between Facebook, Picasa and Blogger, I had online video, photos and stories of my 2009 deployment that I could bring together in one easy-to-share location.  I linked to all my deployment blog posts in the upper left, and to the right of that I included a link to my duststorm video that I had taken in February 2009.  PS: That’s a Chia Homer on the right that I had received in a care package.

In summary, here are the pros and cons of Erly based on my one-weekend-worth of exploration:


  • LOVE LOVE LOVE being able to drop relevant links, notes and videos into the same album as your photos.  Facebook isn’t quite there yet with their own albums.
  • It’s expected to be event-cataloged, rather than individually-cataloged.  So attending rock concerts, NFL games and state fairs will likely be cataloged into “related” photo albums.
  • If you don’t mind linking your albums, this is very easy to do.
  • Pulling the media into the collection was quick and simple.  It’s wonderful bringing together several social networks and photo sharing services.


  • Organization needs some work.  I was presented with a sample set of Facebook albums to choose from for my “Flowers” collection and it was missing several.  There was no way to get to my older albums.
  • A search function would be good for finding the media in Picasa and Facebook.  If I had been able to search “Flowers” in my Picasa album list, I’d have saved a lot of time assembling the collection.  While Picasa has a decent search function for your photo albums, Facebook’s isn’t very good and Erly probably can’t make things any easier.
  • The website hung up several times.  I got the “X-eyed” computer that Chrome presents when the webpage freezes up.  This happened about 5 times while setting up my two collections.  I’ll attribute that to growing pains.
  • The two-dimensionality of the collections became troublesome.  I haven’t maxed-out the size of the collection yet, but I’m wondering how wide I can make a collection.  Sliding the zoom bar left and right (at the bottom) wasn’t quite as responsive as I’d like.
  • At the moment, if you don’t have a Facebook account, you’re excluded from this experience.  Considering about 18% of the population is on Facebook, I doubt they’ll have trouble populating their network.

If you’d like to visit the two collections I’d made, please feel free to check them out and see what you think.  Collections — Flowers and Collections — 2009 Deployment.

Does Legislation Guarantee our Children Online Safety?

SB242 is currently making its way through the California legislature and according to

“Under the proposal, social networking sites would have to allow users to establish their privacy settings–like who could view their profile and what information would be public to everyone on the Internet–when they register to join the site, instead of after they join. Sites would also have to set defaults to private so that users would choose which information is public.”

For those of us who are long-time Facebook users…that might sound vaguely like a return to the terms of use we initially agreed to when we created our accounts, before Mark Zuckerberg redefined privacy. I, for one, would prefer greater control over my personal information than I currently have using Facebook. At the moment, it feels as if I am buying my monthly social-networking access by giving away small pieces of my self in the form of soul-shaped personal anecdotes, childhood photos, and “likes.”  As time goes on, I am wondering if this degree of access into my personal landscape is equitable or advisable…

According to NBC Bay Area, there is a second component to this bill that has even further-reaching implications, in that it would essentially give parents editorial power over their children’s Facebook accounts:

The bill’s language also states that social-networking sites would have to comply with parental requests to remove information or photos from their children’s pages or accounts. The new bill “would require removal of that information regarding a user under 18 years of age upon request by the user’s parent, within 48 hours upon his or her request.”

Ironically, I had a problem with that portion of the legislation. It took me a little while to suss out exactly why I felt it was misguided, though. Sure:

  • It puts the greatest responsibility for a child’s online safety with the entity least-invested in the interests of the child: that is, the social networking site; and
  • It creates a false sense of online safety in which parents may feel that they don’t have to discuss the sometimes scary or uncomfortable pitfalls of social media (and can opt to simply protect their children) because they are “in control” of their child’s accounts; and
  • It has nothing to do with lowering gas prices, controlling health care costs, or creating jobs–which, as far as I’m concerned, are the only things elected officials should be working on right now–all of them (I don’t care WHAT committee they sit on…)

But those points weren’t my issue.

The big question I came away with after reading through this legislation is: In the world where this bill passes, what happens on the day after a child’s 18th birthday? Will he automatically emerge into adulthood hard-wired with the skills necessary to negotiate the online world safely and effectively? How?

In a possibly-related news story, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that:

“A majority of college presidents (58%) say public high school students arrive at college less well prepared than their counterparts of a decade ago; just 6% say they are better prepared.”

What (I immediately wondered) has changed in the last decade? Is it possible that in the wake of the financial crisis and the World Trade Center attacks we have responded culturally to a justifiable feeling of physical and economic vulnerability by becoming more protective of our children? If so, is the resultant protective response actually serving us or our children well?

Do not believe for a second that I am instead advocating to allow children unfettered, unguided access to social networking sites–the news is too full of tales of social media use gone awry. Children need to be taught appropriate online behavior just as they need to be taught the etiquette of “please” and “thank you.” The people best equipped to accomplish this, though, are their parents, teachers, librarians and all of the other trusted adults personally-invested in their well-being–not someone trying to sell them something.

I realized as I thought on this that I subscribe to the type of solution that Dr. John Duffy proposes in his new book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. Like Dr. Duffy, I believe that my primary job as parent is to provide a safe environment for my child to learn, explore and make mistakes.

In the chapter entitled “What Never Works,” Duffy had some logical suggestions regarding social networking and teen development:

[Regarding] updates on social networking sites like Facebook…there is an element of public domain here. Inappropriate or overly revealing messages can absolutely present a safety issue, especially for younger children…Trust your instincts to know when your child is ready, and keep an eye on your child’s Facebook page. For the first couple of years, you should share her password so that you have access anytime.

The challenge, of course, is to be involved in your child’s online life while simultaneously keeping the following in mind:

If we choose to rescue our teen from every potential pitfall, we unwittingly disrupt her process and take some critical opportunities away from her. First, we take away any opportunity for learning from the experience. We also take away the satisfaction and pride that come with a problem well-solved. While we’re at it, we take away her ability to prove her competence, both to herself and to you, the parent. In doing so, we give her the false impression that we will always be there to pick her up when she falls. We create a wholly unnecessary dependency. Now, this may provide us as parents with a role to play, parent-as-hero, but it robs your child of the opportunity to ever feel like a hero herself.

What Dr. Duffy seems to be saying is that the best strategies to guiding children into the online world involve “scaffolded support” where the child is only helped in the areas where he cannot flourish independently; as the child gains proficiency, adult support is “faded out.”

When I think about it, I can see the allure of SB242–it sounds so simple and definitive in comparison.


(I received a copy of The Available Parent for review purposes.)

Postmodern Parenting Worry of the Week: Are You Raising a Narcissist?

Sorting through the daily influx of press releases that journalists like me face whenever they brave their inbox, this one caught my eye: “Are You Raising a Narcissist?”

Having an only child makes me constantly on alert for signs that we’re spoiling, coddling or otherwise crippling him through our well-intentioned parenting, so I read the release with interest.

“Do you blog about your children?” it asked. Yes. Professionally.

“Do you share photos and information about them over Facebook and Twitter?” Um, yes.

“You may be raising a narcissist,” the release decreed.

Uh oh.

Not only do I do the normal mom stuff, posting cute photos and heartwarming achievements (none of them, I hasten to say, have ever been potty-related), but my risk factors for raising a narcissist are compounded by my job: I write about parenting and family travel for magazines and websites (like this one) that often include first-person experiences with my son.

The kid has had his picture in so many newspapers and magazines, including national ones, that when people comment on it, he just shrugs and says, “Yeah, that’s what my mom does. I’m used to it.”

But I am not so naive that I’m going to call my lifestyle into question over the first three sentences of a press release. I’ll wait until sentence five or six to rush to judgment. First off, who or what is this press release touting? Turns out, it’s for psychologist Larry A. Bugen‘s new book, “Stuck on Me, Missing You: Getting Past Self-Absorption to Find Love.”

The Austin-based Bugen, who has 30 years of experience in marriage counseling, asserts that well-meaning parents who broadcast their children’s achievements, photos and milestones online could be setting them on a path to self-absorption and failed relationships later in life.

Here’s Bugen’s explanation, as seen in the press release: “Studies show that 81% of the world’s children have an online presence before the age of two. That means that four out of five children have a projected ‘image’ before they have personally shaped an ‘identity.’”

What’s harmful about that online image? It’s incomplete: It shows only the good parts of our kids, the release posits. “When did you last see a parent blog, tweet, or post that their child didn’t make varsity soccer or failed a chemistry exam? Instead, we surgically suture together a perfect family image within which we narcissistically attempt to prove our worth through our kids’ lives,” it reads.

The release goes on to explain that “once children become accustomed to being ‘featured’ within cyberspace, they develop a hunger for more. The endless stimulation of the Web literally hooks older children, releasing ‘feel good’ brain chemicals such as Dopamine. Before we know it our children are getting high on themselves – on the very images that were originally shaped by their parents many years before.” Despite a flagrant misuse of the word “literally,” the release makes an interesting correlation: That our seemingly harmless sharing can lead to relationship trouble for our kids. To paraphrase Yoda, overzealous self-interest leads to self-absorption, self-absorption leads to narcissism, and narcissism leads to crappy relationship skills.

Do you find this assertion alarmist? Or is there some truth to it? Personally, I wouldn’t tweet that my kid flunked a test. It seems, well, mean. But I wouldn’t hide that information from my close friends, classmates’ parents or family. Is that potentially harmful to my kid in the long run? What are your thoughts about Bugen’s web-based narcissism theory?



Candy Corn: Demon Confection or Harmless Fun?

IMGP4389W.jpg-1I really hate candy corn. Growing up in a family with a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth, hating any candy, let alone such a classic symbol of pure unadulterated sugar love, was a capital crime. Come Halloween we’d dress up and lumber over to my Grandmother’s house to meet the rest of the cousins for some hardcore trick or treating in Nana’s upscale neighborhood. I remember scrambling in the front door and making a beeline for the living room, anxious to see what delicious candy she’d chosen to set out.

Every holiday, every year, our Nana would set out tiny bowlfuls of colorful candies placed strategically around the house, in key snacking locations.  Christmas featured rows of Andes mints and mini candy canes. Easter was Cadbury Eggs and pastel peanut M&Ms. At Thanksgiving she’d mix it up with some roasted nuts, and if we were lucky, caramels. But Halloween was always dangerously unpredictable for a kid with extreme candy prejudices. Would this be a Reese’s and M&Ms year? (Oh Please!) Or would those glittering crystal bowls be filled with my dreaded flavor nemesis, the Candy Corn? Talk about Halloween Horrors!

Originally created in the 1880s by Wunderlee Candy Company, candy corn was designed to imitate, well, corn of course. (What was up with boring candy back then? Who thought making a corn shaped candy was a great idea?) Its primary ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, color and binders. The original recipe was considered a “mellow cream” — a type of candy with a marshmallow flavor.  In fact, they achieved this flavor by throwing marshmallows into the slurry as they cooked it. This slurry was then poured into molds using a three pass method, to create the  tricolor that is candy corn’s signature.

Now while this is the official recipe, I think anyone that grew up in the 60s and 70s is likely to agree with me that at some point, a major component of that recipe, was replaced with wax. In fact personally I think the recipe was revised to just corn syrup and cheap wax. How else do you explain the pale “wax bloom” present on the hard coating of most candy corn kernels? Combine that with the crumbly cheap

crayon texture, the persistent orange finger stain of candy corn addicts, and the ability to write on paper with the bitten off ends of these things, and I think we have very good reason to suspect that all the candy corn of the past century was really manufactured by a defunct crayon company looking to unload some cheap product. And I’m not alone in my candy corn conspiracy theories! (VIDEO)

For many, candy corn has become as familiar a marker of Halloween as pumpkins. My friend, artist Ash Evans tweeted to me: “Candy corn is like the kid your Mom made you invite to your party. Nobody really wants them there, but it is required.” She’s got a very good point. Candy corn sticks around because it hits all the right nostalgic notes with people. It’s only available seasonally, which means we don’t get jaded by the sight of it the rest of the year. In fact, its presence in the stores signifies the beginning the winter holidays, and triggers warm and fuzzy childhood memories.

For years I’ve conducted an informal poll on the nature of candy lover’s relationships to candy corn. And my research has borne out the nostalgia over taste hypothesis. Do people love what candy corn symbolizes? Yes. Do they actually EAT the stuff? Not necessarily. When pressed to consider the question, I’ve found very few people who actually admit to liking the way it tastes.

Shockingly, one of the rare exceptions I’ve found is, alas, my own daughter. While she’s definitely inherited the family sweet tooth, I’m happy to report she exercises restraint, and has a discerning palette. Well, I should say she usually has a discerning palette. Her love of candy corn is clearly a tragic lapse in good taste. After I got over my initial shock to the horrifying revelation, I of course quizzed the little candy traitor thoroughly.

“Why do you like it!” I demanded.

“It’s fun! It’s colorful! It’s Halloween!” she shamelessly declared.

I suspected as much. My own daughter has been thoroughly brainwashed by the candy corn Illuminati. “But what about the texture? The taste?” I cried.

“Mom!” she rolled her eyes. “You can’t just eat any brand! Brach’s is the best!” Why? Well, my daughter reports, it the only brand she’s found that has a “flavor”.  In fact Brach’s now has many “flavors” of candy corn aside from the original. Somehow that feels like cheating.

Ugh, what’s a mother to do? The Candy Corn Demon has come after my own kin! Next thing you know she’ll be joining that candy corn lovers group on Facebook.

Maybe I’ll just make a Facebook group of my own. (Insert maniacal laughter here).

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