“Now if you make a pilgrimage, I hope you find your Grail.
Be loyal to the ones you leave with, even if you fail.
And be chivalrous to strangers you meet along the road
As you take that Holy Ride yourselves to know.”

–Warren Zevon, “Ourselves to Know”

Inspired partly by this post by Phillip McCollum, and partly because it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, here’s a list of some of the wonderful folks I’ve met on social media over the years.

Andrew Crowther: The Secretary of the W.S. Gilbert society and an expert on all things Gilbert, as well as P.G. Wodehouse and plenty of other writers, Andrew is also quite the quick wit in his own right.

Eurobrat: A modern-day Jonathan Swift, with a real knack for very dark satire. Also a delightfully friendly and funny blogger, when not conjuring bleak and all-too-plausible dystopian scenarios. Her writing talent is undeniable, whether you agree with her politics or not.

Barb Knowles: Barb’s blog is funny, moving and thoughtful. What I admire most is how she can write about very personal subjects in an emotional and yet detached way. The way she can document even normal day-today events and make them funny or interesting is also wonderful.

Patrick Prescott: Sadly, Patrick no longer blogs. He was one of my first readers, back in the days when I was on Blogger, and he taught me a ton about both writing and history. Too many things to list, really, but here are two examples: I’d never heard of the Peterloo massacre till he told me about it. And second, whenever I write one of my rushed, description-light first drafts, I can imagine him telling me “nice skeleton, but there is no meat to this.” Then I go back and add some.

Carrie Rubin: Carrie is awesome. She’s a doctor, a novelist, a first-rate writing and health blogger… and also, she posts some really funny home life anecdotes on Twitter.  I am grateful to her for so many things, including kindly and thoughtfully answering my rambling questions for an interview.

Eileen Stephenson: Before reading her book, I could not have told you the first thing about the Byzantines. Now, between her book and her blog, I’ve learned a ton about a whole period of history I previously knew nothing about.

Maggie Swanson AKA “Thingy”: Along with Patrick, I’ve known her since the Blogger days, when she would provide encouragement by commenting on my poetry, giving me some reassurance that I was, perhaps, not simply a lunatic mumbling nonsense into the void. Her work ranges from poetry to artwork to novellas, and her blog includes delightful commentary on politics, culture, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

Russ Sype: Another Gilbert and Sullivan fan, and a very funny blogger for many years. But rather than talk him up too much, I’ll just let this video speak for itself. It gets better every day.

Ben Trube: Ben wrote the book I always wanted to write, but never could–a neo-noir, cyberpunk-y thriller set in our own hometown of Columbus, Ohio. He also shares my love of fractals–but he knows a lot more of the hard math stuff behind them.

I’m sure there are others, and so apologies in advance to anyone I’ve left off the list.

There’s a lot to hate about social media.  From idiot trolls to widespread fake news stories, there’s some reason to believe social media is responsible for many of the problems in the world today. In fact, I’d say social media is a net negative for humanity.

(This is pretty ironic, because I used to be in charge of social media for my employer.  And also I’m writing this blog, and I’m going to tweet the link after I’m done.)

But social media does sometimes have benefits.  The other day I was doing what most millennials do with Twitter: used it to look for some good Gilbert and Sullivan information.  Quite by chance, I came across Dr. Alison Vincent’s Twitter account.

Dr. Vincent is the CTO for Cisco UK and Ireland, and an all-around cool person. Her C.V. is very impressive, but the reason I recognized her was from some very enjoyable performances of Gilbert and Sullivan by the Southampton Operatic Society that I had seen many years ago.

I tweeted my thanks to her for the performances, and she very kindly replied.  Then, the Southampton Operatic Society replied as well, with the above clip of one of their performances. Then another one of the performers, Mr. Mike Pavitt, also kindly responded. It was a thoroughly nice exchange all around.

I’d seen those performances about eight years ago on Youtube, but it had never occurred to me in all that time to thank the people involved.  Without social media, I never would have been able to do so.

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.”–Edward R. Murrow. 1958

[Note: it might be useful to read this post before you proceed.  It addresses some of the same points.]

Barb Knowles of the saneteachers blog suggested that I do a post on print media political campaigns vs. televised/video ones.

The famous line of demarcation in how media changed campaigning is the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debates. They were the first-ever televised debates. Kennedy, the charismatic candidate, won over the supremely un-charismatic Nixon.

It made such an impression on Nixon that he did not debate in his later winning campaigns. He believed, and he was probably right, that an extended televised appearance that wasn’t carefully stage-managed would hurt his image with the voters.

Indeed, in every campaign in which there have been televised debates, the more charismatic candidate has won.

Television, as I once wrote, is a force multiplier for charisma.

Back in the days of print-only campaign coverage, it was much harder for a charismatic candidate to win.  In the 1896 Presidential election, the famously charismatic populist speaker William Jennings Bryan lost to the un-charismatic William McKinley.

Both Bryan and McKinley played to their strengths during the campaign.  Bryan traveled the country at an incredible pace, giving more than 500 speeches. McKinley used his massive financial advantage to send other speakers on his behalf, and to control the coverage that appeared in print.

There can be no doubt that if television had existed in 1896, Bryan would have won. For one thing–and this is something political strategists still don’t understand–even negative television coverage of charismatic candidates is a win for them.  Even if some pundit comes on afterward to denounce the candidate, as long as video of him delivering his message is getting out, he is winning.

There was of course no television, or even radio, in 1896.  However, Bryan was so popular that decades later, he would record parts of his legendary “Cross of Gold” speech for posterity.  No doubt he was less brilliant an orator in his old age, but it is still powerful:

Print media is inherently less emotional than television and video.  It’s a more intellectual, less visceral activity, to read an article in the paper than to watch someone on television.

If you just read transcripts of Trump’s speeches or debate answers, you will see they are incoherent nonsense.  He rarely speaks in complete sentences, he repeats himself, he interrupts himself. It only works if you can see him delivering it. That visceral reaction is the nature of charismatic authority.

This, more than anything else, is the key difference between televised and print campaigning. Print is intellectual, television is emotional.

Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert”, has been getting attention for his numerous blog posts praising Donald Trump’s persuasion skills.

It’s hard to argue against it. Trump has persuaded millions of Republicans to vote for him, despite never holding political office, and despite running a campaign that few political experts even took seriously ten months ago.

Trump has indisputably had more political success than most pundits expected. So, whatever your opinion of him, I think most people can agree he is very persuasive.

But is he really as good as Adams claims? I am skeptical.

Trump is good at commanding media attention. And he is good at leveraging that media attention to get what he wants.

But he also constantly makes a critical mistake: he complains about–and therefore draws additional attention to–bad press about himself.

For example, recently the New York Times published some accounts of Trump’s mistreatment of women. Trump responded by tweeting repeatedly that it was a false “hit piece”. The result was that for a time, if you went to his Twitter page, all you saw was a bunch of denials that he had done bad stuff.

Trump says bad publicity is better than no publicity. Maybe so, but good publicity is better still, and since Trump has full control of his Twitter page, he should seek to fill it with good publicity. When people come to the homepage for your brand, you do not want them to know that negative opinions about it even exist.

But Trump is so thin-skinned that he can’t help it. He has to respond to the NYT, even if it makes no sense to do so.

The irony is that even as Trump attacks the Times for “failing” because it is losing readers, he is unintentionally helping it by drawing attention to the article. How many Trump followers would have never even heard about the NYT article if he hadn’t brought it up?

Note that I am not even discussing the issue of which is more reliable: the New York Times or Trump’s tweets. That’s because in the world of persuasiveness, truth is a secondary concern. Trump has never really claimed to be 100% honest; rather, he has campaigned on his ability to sell stuff. He is now selling himself based on his ability to sell himself. It is the ultimate confidence trick.

But he is not even as good at marketing as he thinks he is. He makes plenty of PR mistakes. The only reason he has gotten as far as he has is that the other politicians are even worse at selling than he is.

The other day I had my most successful tweet yet. The hashtag “DullDownAMovie” had been trending, challenging users to change a movie title to make it boring, and I tweeted “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce”. (Long ago, I volunteered at a Chamber of Commerce. Nice people, but boring work.)

The Twitterati agreed. I got a lot of re-tweets of that little quip. Personally, I didn’t even think it was the best suggestion I made. I preferred “Jane Got a Gnu”.

I also got a lot of “likes”, which brings me to the point of this post: what is the purpose of “likes” on Twitter? They seemingly don’t provide increased visibility at all, unlike re-tweets. (Quick summary for those unfamiliar with the medium: if a person retweets something, all their followers see it. If they like it, they don’t unless they make the additional effort to see their list of “likes”.)

Given that the platform exists to give people greater visibility, why is there a feature that does nothing to enhance visibility?

Yes, my friends, it’s time I came clean and admitted: I’ve been forced to make a Faustian bargain with the Dark Forces of Social Media.  I have a Twitter account. I put it off as long as I could, but when you are trying to promote something, as I am with my books, you sort of have to explore every avenue that you can.

Long-time readers must be wondering why I’ve been so gung-ho about this book business lately.  Well, it’s always been my dream to be a writer, and over the past year and a half, things have happened that made me realize it’s best not to put off trying stuff you always wanted to do–you never know what’s going to happen to you, so it’s best to take every opportunity.

Sorry, I know that sounds as corny as a Hallmark movie; but what can I say?  It’s actually true.

Twitter is, by the way, every bit as annoying to use as it is to read.  I am rather verbose, and Twitter does not lend itself to forming even complete sentences.  “Hey, look!  A thing!” is about all it can express.  So far, using it has done nothing to alter my original assessment of it.