I began both Facebook and Twitter with no real poetry intention. I joined because my friends were and it was the thing to do. In the last two years, however, I've discovered the uses of Facebook, Twitter, and this blog to connect with other writers and to build a community that is virtual, but also bleeds into the real world.
Without these ways to connect with other writers, I would often feel very alone and in my own poetry bubble. I've learned about new writers, publication opportunities, and just great poetry projects thanks to these websites and their ability to spread news quickly. If I read a poetry book I really like, I can get on Facebook and search for the poet who wrote it and most of the time they are on there. I can then send them a quick note saying how much I loved their work. This builds relationships and also let's people know that there are people out their actually reading their work and enjoying it. Who doesn't want to hear from a fan?
I know some are very anti-social networking sites. Some fear privacy issues. Others find it self-indulgent and unprofessional. These can be valid points in some ways, but they can also be very narrow views of what these sites can do. Privacy is an issue and I highly recommend being smart and making your profiles private and to keep up to date on the changes these sites are making to your privacy settings. People can still find you, but you have to approve them for them to view all content. How professional or self-indulgent your profile is, is up to you. I try to find a balance between promotion and personal. Many would not call me professional because I talk about sex or post pictures of me in various states of dress, but this is who I am and I've made these choices because I believe in creating a more open society and I am not embarrassed by the things I do or think. I don't, however, post hateful or inconsiderate posts. I also do not get into Facebook or Twitter fights because for me those are not useful and don't line up with my view of social networking. See, we do have some control over what these sites become for us.
We like to think of these sites as something revolutionary or vastly different from what has happened before and they are to some extent, but they are also just a new way to talk to each other. Writers for centuries have connected often through letter writing. Some of these people never met, but wrote back and forth and shared their lives, their work, their successes, and their failures. The internet has just given us another platform for doing that. It is obviously much quicker and easier to find people, but the purpose is very similar.
I find it interesting to get glimpses into other people's lives through social networking. I try my best to not just promote my own work or my blog, but to be a real human being and to reach out to others and to show them my own life. I often fear technology because I don't think it should ever be a full replacement for actual human interaction, yet I can't deny the power of it and the positive experiences I've had meeting other poets, fans, and all-around interesting people.
We are at a point in history where we can help shape the next chapter. How will the poetry world look in five years? In 10? In 20? What will publishing be like? I am not someone who fully embraces e-publishing, but I do believe we have to continue a dialogue about where writing is going and how the internet can help us. Social networking sites are a huge part of that and anything that helps build a community and continue a dialogue I am in favor of and will support.