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Publisher: Bluejack

June, 2009 : Feature:

Social Networking and Other Unexpected Tech

Signals 21

In the past month, I dove headfirst into the tech revolution. In most things, I'm an early adopter—so early, in fact, that my husband, Dean Wesley Smith, has to remind me (repeatedly) not to buy the glitchy first version of some new gizmo. I had a website long before writers routinely had websites. I bought a cell phone back when they were huge monstrous things that actually made other people stare at you if you used it. I got one of the earliest MP3 players so that I could listen to the four or five podcasts that existed way back when.

Over the past few years, I got busy, however, and I didn't keep up. Oh, I had my laptop and my website and my e-mail accounts. I upgraded my cable subscription to digital long before it was required, bundled my cable, internet and phone, and bought an iPod the moment the second iteration came out. I watched YouTube videos before most people had heard of YouTube, watched online episodes of favorite TV shows when I'd missed something important, and have become so adept at web-based research that I found a friend's long missing ex-wife with four simple keyboard commands.

Yet somehow I missed the entire social networking thing. Some of that is my fault; I have a real aversion to time sinks. I know a lot of people who spend all of their time online and get almost no writing done. I figured social networking was simply an extension of that.

Then Dean and I had dinner with Michael Totten and Scott William Carter. Dean and I have known Michael and Scott since they were University of Oregon students who came to our weekly workshop at G. Willicker's Restaurant in Eugene, back when we owned Pulphouse Publishing. A lot has changed since then. Dean and I have written more novels than I ever could have imagined. Scott has owned his own business and gave it up to return to fiction writing. He has sold stories to such places as Analog and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and his first novel will come out in the next year. To support his growing family, he works for a university in IT.

Michael has become a full-time non-fiction writer, who supports himself through his blog. He specializes in the Middle East, reporting from hot spots several times a year.

We have seen each other quite a bit over the intervening decades, but this was a formal meeting about internet marketing. I had a series of articles I wanted to write that I felt needed to be read immediately by consumers in this economic downturn. Normally, I would have written the articles as chapters, turned in 50 pages plus an outline, and waited until I received an advance before finishing the entire book.

This time, I not only needed to get the material to consumers immediately, but I had to make sure they found me. I needed to talk with Scott and Michael about the best way to do this. The conversation was excellent. Dean and I learned a lot. So did Scott and Michael. Turns out we all had different areas of internet expertise, some of which overlapped.

Thanks to the two of them, I'm posting chapters of my Freelancer's Survival Guide every week on my website, I've made certain that the Guide is interactive, so that I'm serving the needs of my audience.

Midway through the discussion, Michael told me about a feature on the social networking sites, like Facebook, that would allow me to let everyone in my network know my news immediately—whatever that news was, be it a new post on my blog or a new novel that has just appeared in a bookstore.

At that moment, I finally understood why younger book editors pushed their newer authors onto Facebook, MySpace, and Linked-In. I had simply thought such sites the modern equivalent of printing up bookmarks and mailing them to specialty bookstores—something to keep the writer happy so that she felt like she was helping with the marketing of her book when she was actually doing nothing.

Turns out that the social networking sites have a direct and immediate benefit. When I note on my Facebook page that I have a new Freelancer's Guide up, I get immediate traffic on my website. I've had help from people on my various social networking sites with research, finding websites, and finding the go-to person at a publishing house for a particular project.

One social networking site that I didn't understand was Twitter. I joined the same day I joined Facebook just because I was joining things that day, and immediately wished I hadn't. A few former students convinced me to continue, to give Twitter a chance, so I did.

I'm a bit stunned that I find Twitter useful. While it too brings people to my website or to my book projects, that's not what I like about Twitter. Twitter points me to blogs I wouldn't otherwise see, news articles that I would have skipped over, and industry news that I would have ignored.

I have a hunch Twitter would be even more useful if I had a day job or a constant cell and internet connection. Because I dislike time sinks, my writing office is purposely low tech. My office, which is in a converted garage, has no telephone, no television set, and no internet connection. The only three techy things allowed in the building are my writing computer (which laments about once per day that it can't find a wireless network for me), my microwave (how else would I make tea?), and my satellite radio (which brings me a constant stream of classical music—something no local radio station on the Oregon Coast does).

If I kept my internet connection open like most people do when they sit at their desk or if I kept my cell phone on and checked it every fifteen minutes, I would get a great big benefit out of Twitter. Sure, there's the silly discussions of what people have had for breakfast. And during Nebula weekend, I really didn't need to see the entire sf community tweeting about missing their plane flights.

But there are also the articles, the links, the discussions, and the notifications that scroll by and then disappear into the noise. I'm only online three times per day, and I've found a lot of information in that short period of time.

Science fiction has long predicted such massive interconnectivity—only (based on my rather flawed memory) it was never with the written word. Always the interconnectivity came through video links or through a neural network, never through typing on a keyboard (no matter how tiny) or through a series of computer networks without a central governing board.

I suspect we're in the vacuum tube era of massive interconnectivity at the moment. We'll look back on this decade and laugh at how primitive the systems were. But I'm having trouble predicting what the systems will look like fifty years from now. I'm not sure we'll have neural nets nor am I sure we'll want them. We've had video phone capability for more than twenty years now, and generally we only use it for business conference calls. (Although my friends in the military tell me that the video calls home are absolute lifesavers.) Most of us prefer the anonymity of the audio only phone call, so that we can answer the phone dripping wet, wrapped only in a towel (or not), the shower still running behind us.

What I can see a bit more clearly is the future of e-books. In this mad dash toward new technology, I realized that Kindle™ 2.0 had just come out. I'd been wanted an e-book reader since I first saw the Sony at Borders several years back, but there wasn't enough content in those dark days to justify the price of the reader. Then Amazon introduced the Kindle, which I saw as a godsend. I live in a small town with several excellent used bookstores, but no new bookstore. If I want current up-to-date books, I have to order them—either through my bookstore pals or through an online bookstore.

The Kindle made good sense to me. It didn't make good sense to Dean until Kindle 2.0 came out at the same time that our local newspaper started charging $35 per month for home delivery while cutting back on content (and publishing two-day old Times wire feed stories as its national news). Suddenly, the Kindle, with its $10 hardcover new releases (although it's weird to call an e-book a hardcover), and its $10 per month newspaper subscriptions became cost-effective. I could get books I would get anyway for $15 less and I could get timely news, thicker papers (again the terminology is weird), for $10 per month instead of $35. Even adding one dollar per day for the upfront price of the Kindle, I still would save money over the course of a year.

The money convinced Dean, but the Kindle itself convinced me. I use it more than I thought I would, although I don't buy as many books as I initially thought. I use the Kindle to read dense blogs (the kind that have 15,000 words of content) as well as newspapers from all over the globe. I read a lot more online magazines than I used to as well. The difference between reading them online or on my Kindle is simple: I can focus when they're on my Kindle. When I'm online, I'm tweeting and e-mailing and researching and watching YouTube videos (often at the same time).

With the various phone applications now that allow you to do e-reading online (and with the iPhone's Kindle app, which allows you to continue reading on your iPhone exactly where you left off on your Kindle), I think reading will increase rather than decrease. It's so much easier now. I can't get the full version of The New York Times anywhere on the Oregon Coast nor can I get a single version of England's Guardian newspaper or France's Le Monde. But I can now. Before my Kindle, I never read an entire issue of Salon Magazine from cover to cover. I have now.

I get all kinds of e-mails from folks who want all of my novels in electronic editions. Reader after reader tells me they live a mobile life or they live in a small apartment, and don't have the space or the inclination to maintain a book collection. They want novels by their favorite writers on demand, and in electronic form. Because of those letters, and because of my own Kindle experience, I'm now working to get my entire backlist into electronic form.

Will the e-book take over the regular book? I don't think so. Some of these same correspondents tell me that they have gone out and bought a hard copy version of a novel they've read in electronic format, so that the novel remains on their "keeper" shelf. But this is only anecdotal evidence. Right now, e-book sales are a small percentage of total book sales and while they've grown, they haven't grown into something that will overtake the book—yet.

After this month of technological immersion, I wish I could give you a coherent prediction for the future. After all, most non-sf readers believe that sf's job is to predict the future. Those of us who read the genre know better. It's our job to imagine a future, maybe not a future we'll ever reach. And if we manage to predict something that will come true, well and good. But it's not required.

What is required is an understanding of now. And the present is moving at a rapid clip, changing so quickly that even the most informed among us feel a bit behind. I have no idea if I'll be tweeting at this time next year or if the social networking sites will retain their value.

I do know that I'll still be reading on my Kindle. But some of that is just me: Of all the new tech I've acquired in the past few weeks, the Kindle is the closest to the sf future I imagined as a teenage geek. When I sit at my kitchen table, eating my oatmeal, and holding onto the pristine white slab of plastic with a screen in the middle, I feel like I've stepped onto a Star Trek set. People may not have had hand-held computers in Andre Norton novels, but they did have constant interactions with their ship's computers.

I feel just a bit futuristic when I'm reading about the global economy or viewing the latest pictures from the Hubble telescope on my e-reader. And I gotta say that for a science fiction nerd, that's one of the best feelings in the whole world.

Copyright © 2009, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. All Rights Reserved.

About Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a Hugo award-winning writer who was, once upon a time, a Hugo award-winning editor. She has published fiction in almost every genre under a variety of names. Her most recent science fiction novel is Diving into the Wreck which Pyr
published in November. Her novella, "Recovering Apollo 8," won last year's Asimov's Readers Choice Award and was nominated for a Hugo. The novella has just been reprinted in Russian. For more information, go to her website at


Jun 4, 02:40 by IROSF
Comment below!
Jun 14, 15:41 by Janine Stinson
How reassuring that someone who (I presume) is younger than I can also get a bit lost in the techstream. :) Excellent article, thanks very much. Time to update my Facebook page. ;)
Nov 27, 13:45 by
Very interesting and interesting, I have to check it out. And if you ever get bored then I recommend you take a look at the page Surely you will find lots of entertainment there :)

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