Archive | April, 2011

Authors as bloggers, bloggers as authors

28 Apr

SocialTimes has an article called “You Are What You Tweet: Writing Your Way into the Social Media Revolution” which argues that social media is helping to balance the (crazy and near complete) control that the publishing industry has over the stories that we read.

“Today more than ever, it’s difficult for creative writers to “make it” in the publishing industry; big-name publishing houses sign fewer contracts, hand out less funding, and allocate smaller advances to writers than ever before. But perhaps publishing itself is an outdated mode of finding your audience.

With the internet boom and the growing popularity of social media, the option of self-publishing is more attractive for writers everywhere. With spaces like Facebook, WordPress, and Blogger, authors can carve out their own online spaces and attract audiences from across the world. While we may still be attached to the printed page, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use the digital tools available to us to promote our work.”

So, it’s not just that bloggers want to be authors; authors want to be bloggers, too.  Blogs help us to learn to write and to find our voice and also to promote our writing once we’ve found that voice.  It’s a lot less intimidating to still down and write a few hundred word (okay, mine usually run in the thousands) blog post than it is to start a new Word document titled Chapter 1.  Although I’d love to do that one day, it seems terrifying.  I can easily convince myself that I have a post worth of interesting things to say, but 200 pages?!  Yikes!

But, back to authors… With so few major publishers that often say “no” rather than take a chance on a new author, (It took J.K. Rowling a year to find a publisher for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.) many authors turn to self publishing and use blogs as a means to find an audience for their work.  “The blog is a space where people can fall in love with you as a writer,” said Vivek Shraya, one of the authors that SocialTimes’ Amanda Cosco interviewed.  It allows authors to connect directly with the audience and to present themselves and their work in their own words (and in real time) rather than going through publicist, agent, etc. Continue reading

They didn’t have video games in 1776

26 Apr

Currently, I’m in Colonial Williamsburg – thus the few days without a post.  But, today I took this picture that I wanted to share.  Yep, it’s a little boy wearing a tri-cornered hat while playing a video game on a smart phone.  When worlds (erm, historical eras) collide…

Williamsburg is great and I’ll have a much longer post with better pictures (it was hard to take this one without the kid’s mom thinking that I was a creep) later.  I’m really interested how they choose to represent the era.  It’s all been pretty shiny and happy, but I guess that’s easy when you’re portraying the side that won.

Also, Colonial Williamsburg’s website is history.org – how cool is that?


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

In defense of genre fiction

23 Apr bookshelf

Although it's a few years old, Finanical Times' "The Information: Genre fiction sales" does a good job explaining how genre fits into the wider world of book sales.

Recently, the BBC featured a program that covered the place of fiction in contemporary society, focusing largely on “contemporary fiction” or “literately fiction” – you know, fancy fiction, what you read in high school English classes and what book snobs read forever, the books that you’re happy to display on your shelves so that someone might mistake you for cultured.  And, this rubbed authors of “genre” or “popular” fiction (the people who write all the other fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.) the wrong way.  They felt that the omission of their books (which constitute a very large percentage of books sold and read every year) was purposeful.  Because something as auspicious as the BBC wouldn’t talk about the fact that people like to read books with spaceships and elves and other cool stuff…  (For more on this, read Genre authors attack “sneering” WBN coverage.)

Author Stephen Hunt organized 89 genre authors to sign a letter in protest of this omission.  On his blog, he explained the importance of genre fiction.

Imagine a world where those in charge of broadcast programming have decided that polo, show jumping and grouse shooting are the only sports considered decent to be aired on TV and radio. You open the sports pages of newspapers to find page-after-page of coverage of how many birds a group of investment bankers have blasted into feathers over the glorious twelfth. No football. No cricket. No car racing. No rugby. Continue reading

Obesity as an Epidemic of Social Networks

21 Apr Obestiy Scale

Today I attended Slate’s conversation on the fight to end childhood obesity.  (I know, I know, not really a normal thing to do with your vacation…)  The event featured a number of doctors, policy makers, and other experts concerned with the obesity epidemic, each of whom presented their own thoughts on the subject and then joined a panel discussion.  The first session focused on the causes of childhood obesity, the second on the solutions.

Although all of the panelists presented different ideas and statistics, they all came back to the same thing: it’s about culture.  It’s about what we value and what we consider socially acceptable.  Dr. Ezekial J. Emanuel (brother of Rohm and Ari — seriously, were they genetically engineered or something), Chair of Bioethics at the National Institute of Health, spoke about obesity as an infectious disease, saying that research on social networks shows that once someone becomes obese, their friends and relatives are more likely to become obese.

All of the speakers seemed to be good liberal soldiers fighting the good fight, so I was surprised to hear the idea that social stigma could be a useful tool in the fight against obesity.  One of the panelists, David L. Katz, Director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, talked specifically about stigmatizing behavior instead of stigmatizing outcomes.  The panelists also made sure to say that stigmatization should only be applied to adults, not children.  But, still it seemed wrong…

They talked about the cultural shift to end smoking and how curbing the way that it was viewed as “cool” was a big part in getting people to quit.  But, obesity has never been viewed as cool…  Okay, I guess it has been viewed as a sign of success, though.    Mr. Katz discussed phrases that link food to the ideas of success and money:  “bread winner”, “bringing home the bacon”, “making dough”.  In our culture, the ability to provide food signifies success, protection, and love.  He also said that for most of human history, physical activity was unavoidable and calories were scarce and hard to get and that recently this has been reversed.  In light of this reversal, until we stop associating food with success, we’re going to have a problem.

Back to the idea of stopping the spread of a disease across a social network through stigma…  This reminds me of quarantine and isolation, how we’ve dealt with leprosy (which was I guess effective, but terrible).  And, it’s the exact opposite of how we’re dealing with AIDS (many groups are working to end the stigma against being HIV positive).  This difference in approach to dealing with the threats of obesity and AIDS strikes me as strange, especially as I would argue that AIDS is a much more dangerous disease.

So, is social stigma an okay tool?  I guess it’s effective.  But is it acceptable?  Can we harness the power of our social networks to stop obesity before it starts and prevent it from spreading along those very networks?


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

Social Media and the Art of Storytelling, Reader Responses

20 Apr Open Book

This is the customary follow-up piece written by someone who didn’t consider all of the lovely ideas that the commenters brought to the table while she was writing her original article.  Unfortunately, a lot of times writers of these pieces seem to miss the bigger issues that the commenters brought up and instead focus on a few straw men that they can tear down to bolster their argument.  Of course, I wasn’t really making an argument, so hopefully I won’t fall into this trap.  (But, let me know if I do!)

Thanks to being featured on Freshly Pressed, Social Media and the Art of Storytelling has become my most viewed post.  After reading the comments (and responding to as many of them as I could), I realize that I left some lose ends in that post.

One thing that was pointed out time and again was that online communication cannot fully replace face to face interactions.  I think broadsideblog said it best:

There is something much more powerful about telling one another our stories face to face, not pixel by pixel. We need to know the effect on one another of our stories, whether tears or laughter, sighs or gasps…. I want to hear the voice, see their eyes, and when I am story-telling I need to see and hear what’s compelling — and what’s not.

Of course, that’s totally correct and applies not only to storytelling, but to communication in general.  You don’t comfort a grieving friend through chat and you don’t celebrate your child’s 5th birthday with an e-card.  It’s just not the same.  Some things do require physical presence, eye contact, and touch.

But, the medium through which we communicate is changing and we’re losing these elements in many of our day-to-day interactions.  (Earlier this year, I did a Facebook poll of my siblings and cousins to see how they wanted to celebrate Christmas…)  That’s happening and we can’t stop it.  So, really, the question is, how can we make sure that changes to the medium don’t affect changes to the message?  (Yes, yes, I know – “The medium is the message.”)  As commenter Jaime Greening said:

the medium of the story matters, but it neither stops nor starts the story. the story originates in the storyteller and germinates until it finds an audience. human beings must tell stories, and we will use what is available–twitter, fb, blog or cave walls.

Perfectly said.  Now can someone please make an evolutionary chart that shows the progression of storytelling mediums from cave paintings to twitter?  Information is Beautiful, maybe?

Another thing that came up a lot was people wondering how all of these stories that we’re creating and posting online could be preserved.  Listener commented:

And to think, for millenia the vast majority of people existed with no record of their existence other than their DNA. I suppose we are lucky.?! This should be motivation to make use of the new-found ease with with we can create.

At what point will historians, museums, or historical societies start to preserve and catalogue the virtual world? It seems quite a daunting task to take a snapshot of the entire web. Since things online are always changing, you’d need to somehow capture everything at once if you wanted a representative view of the web of 2011, for example.

I do have real answers to this one, not just the meandering thoughts that I’ve had to the previous two.  (But, don’t worry, I have meandering thoughts on this, too.)  We as bloggers aren’t alone in recognizing the need to capture our stories, our culture, and our communications and to save them for the future.  The Library of Congress does, too.  Last year, they began archiving tweets.  They’ll be searchable for scholars in the future.  To learn more about the archive, read How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires  Entire Twitter Archive.  Imagine if historians had similar data from different periods.  What if a civil war scholar could get data about opinion and chatter on any given day in the lead up to the war.  What if a WWII scholar could look into the social networks of Germans leading up to the war and see how densely Jews were tied into larger social networks and at what point those ties broke?  (Have I mentioned that I’m a history nerd?)  Also, the Internet Archive, is working to catalog the Internet and its growth and changes for future scholars.  (Who knows, your blog may appear in a book 100 years from now!)  Their project, the Wayback Machine, allows you to see to internet site at different points in the past and view their development over time.  So cool!

I did have one commenter, Alecia, who kind of stumped me.  (Unfortunately Alecia didn’t link to her blog, so no pingbacks for her.) She asked:

Why is storytelling so important in relation to digital social media?

When I first heard about the importance of storytelling in today’s tech world, I was a little confused. Storytelling doesn’t seem that important to me. But Guy Kawasaki and other ‘connected’ people I’ve read about stress storytelling’s importance.

Why do you think digital storytelling is important?

I think I may have failed a bit on my response:

Hmmm. For me, I guess I’ve never questioned that story telling is important. I think of it as a basic way that we interact with and connect with each other. It bonds people together and forges shared experiences.

I’ve always been really interested in the study of what myths and creation stories say about a culture. I think that you can tell a lot about a people and what they value from the stories that they tell. Are you familiar with the Horatio Alger stories? Stories are often shorthand for our hopes as fears.

My real interest in writing this is that we don’t lose storytelling’s place in our culture as we become a more physically disconnected society.

So, readers, commenters, I put it to you.  Why is storytelling important?  Can you help me articulate it any better?


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

God Save the Queen, or at least the monarchy

19 Apr Crown-Jewels-of-England

Today my blog got picked up on Freshly Pressed (“The best of 398,060 bloggers, 444,336 new posts, 429,604 comments, & 109,230,100 words posted today on WordPress.com.”) and featured on the front page of WordPress.  I had no idea that this had happened until I logged in to check my stats for the day (I usually get about 40 hits/day) and saw that I had over 1700 hits as well as a bunch of comments awaiting moderation.  Now I feel internet famous.  Obviously, this puts a lot of pressure on this next post…

Before my newfound fame and fortune (I made $75 for participating in a market research study today.  That counts, right?), I was going to write about the Royal Wedding and how we as Americans are “above it”, but obsessed anyway.  And how we as feminists are “beyond it”, but obsessed anyway.  (Although I’m going to duck away and obsessively hit refresh on my stats every few minutes, I’ve decided to stick with the topic.)  I’ve seen so much coverage from people who “don’t care” about the wedding, but keeping writing about it.  Really, I think I’ve seen more articles from “disinterested” writers than from those that actually own up to caring.  I’ll come clean from the start and say that I, personally, am stoked about the wedding.  I’ll be on vacation with my Mom on the 29th and plan on forcing her to wake up ridiculously early to watch it with me.  (By the way, Harry Potter’s riddikulus spell has completely ruined my ability to spell ridiculous or any version thereof.  Thank God for Spell Check.)

In “Beware the In-Laws”, Slate’s Christopher Hitchens spends most of the piece talking about how the royal family is an irrelevant (“A hereditary monarch, observed Thomas Paine, is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary doctor or mathematician. But try pointing this out when everybody is seemingly moist with excitement about the cake plans and gown schemes of the constitutional absurdity’s designated mother-to-be.”) and outmoded (“Together, Margaret and Charles set the tone for the dowdy, feckless, can’t-stay-married shower of titled descendants with whose names, let alone doings, it is near-impossible to keep up.”) institution.  But, Mr. Hitchens, if they’re so irrelevant, why are you writing about them?  To write a 1,000 word piece on a subject (Thank God for Word Count), I assume you have to care at least a little.  (No, things written for eHow don’t count.)  I love Slate, but I realize that its pretty guilty of creating search engine bait articles.  So, clearly someone at Slate thinks that their readers (or at least the Internet hoi polloi) care, too.

Bitch Magazine’s blog has a whole series (The Wedding March – unfortunately the series isn’t linkable, but their all linked off here) on the topic throughout which they make all kinds of snipes about the royals (Ex. “Prince William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, was an illustration of what happens when the fairytale ending fails to satisfy” and “Now that tuition fees have rocketed, fewer people from underprivileged backgrounds can afford university, and the much-vaunted social inclusion that allowed a girl from a reasonably well-off family to meet and marry a boy from an incredibly well-off (if deeply dysfunctional) family is at an end”).  Although I’m not too pleased with the series overall, I really liked one part of the last post:

“So is this wedding just the last hurrah, a decaying institution relishing its final moments of cultural relevance, or does the Windsor-Middleton union herald a renewed love of all things regal?”

As an American (and a feminist), I think I’m supposed to hope for the former.  But, I love the majesty of the whole thing.  Maybe it’s because I’m an American, but I’m fascinated by the pageantry, the history, and the drama of it all.  I loved my British history classes and have even been known to read a Phillipa Gregory novel or two.  (Don’t judge.)  The history of the British monarchy is a great story and I don’t want it to come to an end.  I know that it’s a story that’s jumped the shark a few times and that none of the original cast of characters (or even any direct decedents thereof) remains, but I still love it.  At this point, it’s kind of like a really bad soap opera.

Yes, I recognize that comparing the House of Windsor to a bad soap opera is a terrible defense of the institution.  (Hey, it’s the same reason that I enjoy Sara Palin’s personal brand of crazy and I stand behind that strange fascination, too.)  But, actually, I think the pageantry of the royals has social value in and of itself.  Because we lack royalty in America, we focus on the first family and the perpetual first family, The Kennedys.  (They are called America’s Royalty for a reason.)  We follow the President on his vacations and comment on all of the First Lady’s dresses.  Think how much time and effort the White House must spend dealing with our entertainment.  It’s not really how I want the President and his staff spending their time.  I want them fixing the economy and getting us a budget, not worrying about the politics of the First Lady’s dress choice.

Having a monarchy takes this pressure off British politicians and let’s them focus on work.  One of my friends from college (of course I forget who), suggested that we instate an American monarchy.  It would have no power and would serves purely as paparazzi fodder.  It would provide people to attend ceremonial functions and ribbon cuttings so that the President could work on work.  Watching (okay, reading) the Royal Wedding coverage, I’m thinking that this is a pretty great idea.


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

In which Slate validates my TV obsession

18 Apr xkcd fandom

I’ve always been someone that’s gotten hooked on pop culture.  (When I was twelve, I told my Dad that my only goal in life was to meet the Spice Girls.  Don’t judge.)  Once I ventured outside of the realm of AOL into the big bad scary Internet, I found that there were many other people that shared my strange obsessions.  So, even though no one in my family wanted to hear about the greatness of the Spice Girls, people on the Internet were more than happy to let me browse their fan sites and to promptly ignore mine.  (True store, my first website was a Spice Girls Geocities page.  It had brightly colored Comic Sans MS font and tiled picture backgrounds.  It was awesome.  Too bad Geocities went down permanently last year – such a sad day – or I would link to it.)

Directly after Spice Girls, my next obsession was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  (My IM name was Slayer8062.  In now recognize that that’s pretty creepy and that a lot of people probably didn’t get the connection that I was making.)  No website that time, sadly, but I found fan forums and spoilers for the first time – and they were great.  Who knew that there were thousands of other people who wanted to talk about if Angel was really evil?  And so I became a TV fangirl.  I trolled Geocities and the like and kept bookmarks of the best links pages.  (Of course I read fanfiction, but that’s a whole post of its own.)  Then I found Television Without Pity, and other semi-professional TV recap sites; it was the Internet home that I’d been searching for.  Scene by scene recaps, analysis of inside jokes and winks at the fans, active forums – what more could I want?  (As Slate’s Josh Levin says, “Week-to-week coverage reflects how people actually watch their favorite shows—we rehash the best lines, parse the meaning of weighty moments, and anticipate plot twists. At its best, new-school TV writing is brainy and inquisitive, thoughtful commentary borne out of a fanatical attention to detail.”  No wonder I loved it.)  But the time that I spent on TWOP was a guilty pleasure.  It wasn’t until college that told my friends about it, only to find that many of them had been doing the same types of things.  (I’ve come a long way – now I’ll publicly declare my love of Battlestar Galactica and fight you about it if you tell me it’s lame.  It’s not.  Kara Thrace is awesome!)

That was a long roundabout way of telling you that I’ve always been a fandom junky, but secretly.  It definitely qualified as a guilty pleasure.  Now Slate tells me that there’s nothing to be ashamed of and that being a TV fan is just as legitimate a pass-time as being a sports nut.  Comparing TV recappers to sports commentators, Josh Levin says, “We read television recaps for the same reason we read about last night’s game. We want to relive what we’ve seen through the eyes of an expert—someone who recognizes a callback to Season 2 or spots a parallel with the 1967 Red Sox.”  His piece on TV criticism, and the fan community that devours it, makes many more comparisons between TV and sports viewing.  No one’s afraid to wear their team jerseys or feels the need to hide their sports knowledge.  So get ready, maybe the next time I see you I’ll be wearing a Buffy or Harry Potter (my other fandom love) t-shirt.


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

Scream 4 – Campy, but Awesome

17 Apr Scream Mask

Earlier today I veered into politics, now I’m going to go really low-brow with the culture coverage.

Today I saw Scream 4 with a friend of mine and it was like high school all over again.  (Of course, in high school we weren’t allowed to watch them until we were 17, which we didn’t do… ever… I promise…  Don’t you believe me?)  We watched all the movies (over and over again) in high school and have had plans to see this one together since we heard it was coming out.

We went early this afternoon and were the only ones in the theatre.  Normally, this is a bad thing and doesn’t bode well for the quality of the movie that you’re going to be watching, but today it was awesome.  (Apparently horror movies aren’t the standard choices for Sunday matinees.)  Scream 4 is the perfect movie with which to scream and laugh along.  We made our predictions about who the killers were (in Scream movies there are always two killers) as we went and had a wonderful time doing so.  Somehow I don’t think fellow movie goers would have enjoyed our predictions as much as we enjoyed making them.

Of course, we were completely wrong and didn’t figure it out at all.  To be honest, I would have been kind of disappointed if we had.  The movie was funny and just a little scary.  It self-referentially riffed on itself (Dewy not knowing what meta meant – classic) and gave us another chance to see our favorite characters back in action.  There was even a garage door scene a la Rose McGowan.  Don’t believe me?  Slate agrees.  Check out Josh Levin’s review.

Now I’m looking forward to the possibility of Scream 5.  Nothing official yet, but in his interview in today’s NY Times, Wes Craven says of Scream 4, “It’s a continuation with the characters, but this film ostensibly is the beginning of a new trilogy.”


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on freshly pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

Economic survival or economic security — what’s acceptable?

17 Apr Final notice bill

Recently, Sociological Images has had some coverage on what it takes to make ends meet in a household budget.  (Here’s an admission – up until I read the book Making Ends Meet in college, I thought the expression was “making ends meat” and was very confused about what people were doing with the ends of meat in order to get by.  This is almost as good as my thinking that the Elton John song was “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza”.)

As comes up every so often, people are challenging the notion that the federal poverty level is actually workable in reality.  (Here’s the thing, I’m going to disagree with this particular challenge, but recognize that I get that living at 100% of the poverty level is almost unworkable and generally miserable.)  This time, the challenge is coming from Wider Opportunities for Women.  Before getting into the current issue, here’s the background info that you need to know on the federal poverty guidelines:

Federal poverty guidelines were developed in the 1960s based on the thrifty food basket.  The idea was that the average family spends 1/3 of their income on food, so if you could figure out what food a family needed to consume to get by and multiply its cost by 3, you could find a basic level of income needed to get by.  (All of you social science people are probably already seeing flaws in this plan, but remember I didn’t make it up.)    I remember reading the actual list for the original food basket in a Soc class and it was gross (granted, tastes change over time).  (Unfortunately, my search skills seem to be failing me once again and I’m unable to find it.)

Although we may not recognize it in our daily lives, the cost of food has dropped drastically since the federal poverty guidelines were instituted.  (But, it seems like food prices may be on the rise again.)  So, under current economic conditions, none of us spent 1/3 of our income on food.  It seems to make sense that the less money you make, the higher percentage of it that you spend on basic necessities (like food), but there are so many necessities (housing, utilities, transportation, etc.) that there’s no way that 2x what you spend on food is enough to cover all the rest of them.

I guess that was a lot of background…

So, Wider Opportunities for Women is arguing that there’s a big difference between the federal poverty level and what it really takes to get by.  They’re calling this the difference between “economic survival” and “economic security”.  And, generally, I think that they’re right, but what bothers me is how high their “economic security” numbers are.  They say that a single person needs $30,012 to be secure.  And, I can tell you that I’ve spent the last few years making a lot less than that.  It hasn’t always been fun, but I’ve managed to set a budget and make it work.  I’ve managed to save, to put money in my 401(k), and to buy a car (not new, but new to me).  I don’t think I’m a particular thrifty person, either.  For a family of four, they’re calling for a minimum income of $67,920.  What?!  That’s all well and good, but it’s definitely middle class, not just a minimum.

You can think that this is just one crazy study that won’t go anywhere.  (Although it’s already been picked up in the NY Times, too.)  But, it concerns me because of how the numbers might be used in the future.  As Wider Opportunities for Women says in their study (The BEST Index), “The BEST Index is a starting point for workers who want to achieve financial stability, and for the policy­makers, advocates, researchers and service providers who help workers build security.”  I guess I’m concerned that they’re going to push for us to start offering additional government programs and benefits to people making up to these levels instead of the current standard (people normally qualify for benefits  at income levels up to 200% or so of federal poverty level, depending on specific benefits and programs.)  This is a problem because the median household income in the US is only $44,389 (Take that stat with a grain of salt as it comes from Wikipedia, but the Census website is entirely too time consuming and difficult to navigate).  So, where are we going to get money to supplement the income of way more than half of the population?

I realize that this post is trending a little more into political territory than I normally go, but I’m kind of stuck on thinking about it.  Coming from Legal Aid, a lot of my friends got by on a lot less than Wider Opportunities for Women’s suggested income levels.  I get that a lot of us have great, helpful families and support systems.  But, I’m kind of thinking that if we can do it, other people can, too.


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on freshly pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out, Part Two

16 Apr FOMO

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out”.  And, lo and behold, the NY Times covered the same thing last week (“Feel Like a Wallflower?  Maybe It’s Your Facebook Wall”).  (For purposes of this article making sense, be aware that the Times sometimes abbreviates this to FOMO.)  I love Jenna Wortham’s opening to the piece:

One recent rainy night, I curled up on my couch with popcorn and Netflix Instant, ready to spend a quiet night at home. The peace was sweet — while it lasted. Soon, my iPhone began flashing with notifications from a handful of social networking sites, each a beacon of information about what my friends were doing.

As the alerts came in, my mind began to race. Three friends, I learned, had arrived at a music venue near my apartment. But why? What was happening there? Then I saw pictures of other friends enjoying fancy milkshakes at a trendy restaurant. Suddenly, my simple domestic pleasures paled in comparison with the things I could be doing.

This.  So much.  Sometimes I try to ban myself from my laptop when I’m watching a movie because I know I won’t enjoy it if I’m distracted by all of the “better” things that everyone else is doing.  (Generally, I fail at enforcing the ban.)

But, it goes beyond doubting that what you’re doing in the moment isn’t good enough.  It also leads to doubting what you’re doing with your life.  A friend of mine turned 32 this week.  She’s a lawyer – smart and independent.  In the last year, she’s moved to a new city, started a new job, and made new friends.  All in all, I’d say it’s been a pretty successful year.  But on her birthday she was bummed.  Why?  Well, because her Facebook friends were all posting pictures of their new husbands, new houses, and new babies, and suddenly her accomplishments didn’t seem like nearly enough.

Ms. Jenner also recognizes this bigger problem:

A friend who works in advertising told me that she felt fine about her life — until she opened Facebook. “Then I’m thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,’ ” she said. “And then I wanna die.”

On those occasions, she said, her knee-jerk reaction is often to post an account of a cool thing she has done, or to upload a particularly fun picture from her weekend. This may make her feel better — but it can generate FOMO in another unsuspecting person.

I’m completely guilty of posting things that make my life seem cool, or at least busy.  (And now you’re thinking, “Maggie, your newfeed doesn’t make your life seem cool.  If you think that’s the cool version of your life, your life must be really lame”.  And now I’m feeling bad…)  But, let’s be honest, we use social media to present idealized versions of ourselves.  No one posts pictures of their babies crying in the middle of the night.  People don’t post about the days it rained on their vacation.  And I don’t update my status to tell you that it’s eight o’clock and I’m getting ready for a thrilling evening of Law & Order in my pajamas.  (Although secretly, those are some of my favorite evenings.)


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on freshly pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

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