Giving and Withholding

There it was on my Facebook feed–another “friend” invitation from someone I don’t know. That isn’t unusual, and most of the people I follow on FB are people I do not know in person. Still, we all have some connection–writing, sketching, collage, some worked at companies I’ve worked at. It’s comfortable–I don’t post super-personal information. It’s not the people, it’s FB itself that makes me leery.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.40.40 PMWhat made this different is that within minutes of accepting the friend request, I received another request: to “like” their business page, to join their private group, and for two of them, to contribute to their private fund-raiser.

It confused me. Receiving a friend request is not being invited to someone’s house, but it also seems awkward to ask someone for money you have just friended on Facebook. And yet, I have given money to total strangers–the homeless begging at the side of the freeway or in front of stores. So why not on Facebook?

Because there is no personal contact. One person friended me, then immediately sent me a private message wishing me Merry Christmas.  Immediately after that came a request for medical expense money for his family. The photo could be any family, anywhere. The need could have been real, the request legitimate.

The homeless I give money to are people I “know”–also in a different way. I see the same people on the same corners. Tenuous as it is, it is a face-to-face transaction.

No matter what business you are in–from selling your ebooks to your art to your services–the personal connection is the one that will work. But it has to be real. Once people experience you, your service, your offer, your real work, there is something to react to. It can’t be an instant, one-way tag-game for the soft touch. That has never worked, and it won’t work just because FB makes it easier to connect.

Quinn McDonald is a life coach and an instructor. She knows the value of relationships.


Social Networking Experiment

Kids of about two years of age do something called “parallel play.” They aren’t big on cooperation or sharing, but they play pretty well if in the same room and each has a favorite toy. Once they get a little older, each will immediately want the toy the other child has, even if one has a bike and the other a cardboard box.

I’m seeing a lot of this same behavior by adults on Facebook. A post will be commented on by a number of people each explaining something only vaguely related to the original post. One person posts about a great dinner party they had, and six comments will follow detailing a different dinner experience. One will inevitably be a post that uses the dinner theme to discuss a hurtful remark made at dinner. Sometimes months ago.

The other behavior is what I call “fixing you, fixing me.” Someone tells a story that might be funny or simply a slice-of-life story, and a bunch of people reply with solutions, suggestions, way to change the outcome and, inevitably, a one-upmanship of a similar story in which the commenter is either a hero or a victim.

As a writer, I don’t understand this. The practice of dropping contents without context is better suited for Twitter. Why leave a comment that hijacks the original poster’s story and turns it into your story? Why try to fix people who aren’t asking for help or suggestions?

And while I’m curious, why use phrases like, “You so deserve this” or “Congratulation! You deserve X.” Who is anyone to determine what someone else deserves or not? For the most part, we don’t know the people on Facebook all that well. Sometimes we don’t know them in real life at all, just on how they portray themselves to us, publicly, on Facebook. What someone deserves may well be left to a higher power.

Here’s my goal for this week: In all my Facebook replies, I’m going to focus my attention on the person who left the post. No telling my own story, no hijacking the thread to something I want to talk about, no fixing. No advice unless specifically asked. I wonder how well this will work and how long I’ll last.

My example will be Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Great people talk about ideas; average people talk about things; small people talk about others.”

I’ll get back to you later in the week.

Quinn McDonald is a writer whose life is an experiment in progress. At least she hopes it’s progress.

Sudden Silence, Return to Noise

It was obvious when it was gone, and it was obvious when it came back, but in the middle, it was just fine. During Journalfest, in order to experience a real retreat, I did not check or add to Facebook, Twitter, or my blog. I had blog posts

You get to decide how you fill your calendar.

pre-written that posted automatically. I checked the replies once and answered two people, but then decided it could wait till I got back.

Years ago, I made the decision not to include social media on my phone. It’s busy enough as it is, and I find it distracting if it beeps, vibrates and buzzes–it’s hard not to answer it or “just check this one text” while driving. And I’m not going to endanger myself or my fellow travelers doing that.

So from Monday night to Sunday night I abstained from Social Media. The laptop stayed at home. After all, I was going to be in class all day. And I was. I checked email, because I run a business, but few of my friends use email anymore.

What did I miss. A thousand photos of slogans, 500 photos of a cat dressed like a taco, 400 posts about small, daily events. I enjoy those. I post those. But I also was fine without those. I had a few surprising realizations:

  • I wouldn’t pick up the phone to share those events, but I’ll read them on Facebook.
  • I do nothing about what I read except nod my head, smile, frown, shake my head in disbelief, leave a few comments and move on.
  • When I close out Facebook, I don’t remember much of what I’ve read.
  • I complain I don’t have enough time.

During the week I was at Journalfest, I had enough time. I explored the town. I practiced what I learned in class that day. I read. I walked. I meditated. I went to bed at a decent hour. Much like Facebook, I talked to people I didn’t know, but it felt more meaningful because it was face to face and the conversations lasted longer and focused on one topic of mutual interest.

Milky Way watch from

True, I didn’t have to take care of the cats, cook dinner, clean the house, do laundry, pay the bills or other chores. But I became aware of how much time I spend on social media.

As an introvert, I like social media. It’s easier than meeting people, talking to them, holding up a conversation. But it’s also flat. I post stuff and see who replies. There are conventions to follow. To be nice, you click “Like” on every comment, whether or not you really like it. You look up people who leave comments, and leave them comments. There are rules that don’t appear anywhere that everyone knows.

Social media is an amazing tool, but I’m not sure it’s a real conversation or that the people we meet there are real friends in the old-fashioned sense of friendship. I understand the world is changing, and I’m a fan of change.

I didn’t announce I’d be gone for a week, and when I started posting, no one noticed I’d been gone. That’s less likely to happen in a classroom, a religious circle, a restaurant where you are a regular.

But after being gone a week, I realized it was good to be gone, and good to be back. And it’s good to think about how you spend your time, because every hour that passes is irretrievable. Gone. Forever.

And I keep looking at how much I got done while I was away.

-Quinn McDonald is aware that she has fewer years left than have passed. She’s watching the clock a little more closely.

What I Learned from Social Networking

Social networking hasn’t been around that long, and I’ve been using it for maybe two years. In that time, here are some important lessons I’ve learned, largely from making mistakes.

1. You will not change someone’s mind by replying to a post. This is true about their opinion on politics, religion, food, music, or anything else about their life. Trying to explain it just one more time in another comment doesn’t work either.

Image from:

2. Do not turn the angry person who posted a nasty comment into a pen pal. Do not answer them at all. Seriously. You will not make them go away or (see #1) change their minds. They will have another quote, another link, another argument. If you don’t answer them at all, their comment will just hang there.

3. Do not get off the high road to wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty, and the pig will enjoy it. The late Gordon Bowman gave me that advice the first week I was working for him, 20 years before social networking.  It was brilliant then and it is still brilliant now.

4. When someone whines, is looking for sympathy, or is proud of an achievement, be nice. Do not tell your own story in the comment section. Empathize with the person posting. Instead of “I know how you feel,” say, “that must have been really [great, awful, fun, no fun].  You may then unfriend them, if necessary.

5. Be useful. Be helpful. Re-tweet interesting messages. That includes your own blogs. “Includes” means there is more than the thing listed. Don’t link to just your blog or website all the time. It’s a big world, find other interesting sites to share.

6. Strangers become friends in a strange way in social networking, but they may not act like friends. Practice one of the following: “Thanks for the feedback,” “How kind of you to offer,” “Interesting information, I’ll think it over.” You really don’t know these people well enough to say, “Are you crazy? You don’t know my mother! That will never work, she will never, ever love me, and you don’t care either!”

7. Say half of what you think. The practical, useful half.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and social network user. She learns slowly.

Twitter: The Good, The Bad, The OMG!

If you don’t use Twitter yet, but have a burning desire to know about it, maybe I can help. Maybe not. By the time I click “Publish” on this post, everything may be different. Still, I’m going to try.

Twittering magpie

Twittering magpie

Twitter is a website on which anyone can write about anything as long as it takes up 140 characters or less. (A character is a keystroke.)  Posts are called tweets. People who use Twitter are called Tweeple. Twitter users are a real slice of life–there are serious business people, scammers, stoners, intelligentsia, cat lovers, event-goers, and at least one mature writer-coach-trainer-artist. (That’s me.)

It’s true that no matter who you are (or how old, or how fast you can type with your thumbs) there is a lot of Twitter you won’t care about. Before you sniff snobbishly, let me remind you that the same is true of TV shows, the interwebs, the library, and your extended family. In other words, you can pick and choose who shows up for you on Twitter.

Unlike Facebook, you can follow people on Twitter without being friends with them. Following them means you can go to their home page on Twitter and read what they post. You can also post.  And if someone isn’t what you wanted or expected, you can simply take them off your list without “unfriending” them.

You can run Twitter on your computer or on your cellphone or mobile PDA or all three. If you want to control your connection addiction, run it solely on your computer and check in with it periodically or post when you have something useful to post.

How do you know whose posts to read? Twitter has a search engine, and you can look for topics that interest you or people that interest you. Pete Harbeson (follow him at who comments here frequently, made a great suggestion: in the beginning, follow a lot of people. Trim down the list when you figure out what you want to read.

You can also use Mr. Tweet to make suggestions once you get a start–Mr. Tweet bases your suggestions on your description of yourself and your follow- and following-list.

What’s the difference between Twitter and Google? Google looks back on the contents of documents and arranges it by how many people looked at it. Twitter plugs in to what people are talking about right now.

I promised you the good: Twitter is fresh, you can find out what interests large groups of people, news buzzes, and updates of events you can’t attend.

I promised you the bad: Twitter is the e-version of the cool kids’ cafeteria table when you were in the seventh grade. You will never be cool enough, but you can carve out a niche.

. . .and the OMG!: Right now, “SXSW” is on almost every post. It means South by Southwest and it’s a media, film, and music festival happening in Texas March 18-22. After the 22nd, SXSW will vanish for something else.

Not OMG! enough? OK, here is a random post–a lot of people seem to like to post what they ate for lunch. I’ve left out the name to protect the guilty: “me to matt: what did you have for lunch? / Ramen Noodles / That’s not very nutritious / well, I had cookies too.”

Follow me on Twitter at:

Next: hashmarks, who to follow, and some links to other articles that demystify Twitter.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, life- and certified creativity coach. She is on Facebook and on Twitter. She was not one of the cool kids in seventh grade, but has carved out a niche.

Cyber Networking Introductions

New to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? In this cyberspace, where “friend” is a verb (as in “Mary is friending you,”) there are ways to make networking seem more natural.

Image (c) Elizabeth Perry. See her link below.

Image (c) Elizabeth Perry. See her link below.

When you are asking someone to join your circle (called “friending” in Facebook and “connecting” on LinkedIn, you create a list of contacts and the program sends an automatic invitation. You can add a personal message. In fact, you should.

I’ve received a number of letters that leave me confused. “John Doe wants to friend you. Before he can see your profile, please tell us you know John.” I may know John, but I’m not remembering him or placing him in context. To me, at that moment, he is a blank.

If you’ve lived long enough to be a functioning adult, you know hundreds of people in former jobs, volunteer events, high school, college, graduate school, choir, 10K runs, and charity auctions. The names and identities don’t always connect quickly.

The same people who ask to connect with me would never behave that way in person. And to make cyber networking easier, act as you would in real life. Attach a personal message with your notice. “We met at the half marathon in Santa Barbara and discussed running shoes before the event. I’d like to put you on my LinkedIn networking list.” Giving the other person a hint about your identity and how you know each other is not only polite, it makes for a more likely positive response.

If it is a business connection, add a sentence about your business connection, even if your last met socially. “I’m the non-fiction writer specializing in creativity, we met at the writer’s conference” tells the recipient a lot about you, including that you are thoughtful.

I’ve never felt comfortable with people who come up to me at an event and say, “Do you remember me?” I’m one of those unfortunate people who wouldn’t recognize my best friend if I met her out of context–at the grocery store, for example. When confronted by “Do you remember me?” I am always tempted to say, “Why should I?” But, of course, I don’t. I say, “Of course I do, but I can’t remember your name!” And hope she tells me.

The advantage of adding information to your request for cyber-networking is that you are sparing yourself a senseless additional exhchange of emails, or worse, connecting with people you don’t know.

Keep it short, give detailed information, and give the person a reason to agree to be linked to you. Cyber networking doesn’t have to be lonely.

—Image: Elizabeth Perry draws every day. See her blog here:

—Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who is on Facebook and is learning to Twitter. Slowly. She has had a website, QuinnCreative, for nine years.