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J. Daniel Ashton

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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, —Ecclesiastes 9:10a NIV
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands:
"See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God." —Micah 6:8, CEV
With all your heart you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment.
Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow. —Proverbs 3:5,6 CEV

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Name: Daniel Ashton
Location: Germantown, Maryland, United States

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why Your Ear Is Bent

You may have noticed a recent fascination on my part with Flickr. What's up with that? Why can't I stop prompting you to take a look at it?

Over the last 200 years, the nature of our family and community relationships has been drastically altered, perhaps even damaged. Motorized vehicles and telecommunications have made it likely that our families will disperse after college, if not before, that we will work at a distance from our home and neighborhood, and that we will even worship at some distance from our neighbors and colleagues. We talk with our colleagues about work, with our fellow church members about church matters, and with our family about family emergencies.

But chitchat is crucial to the strength of relationships in our support network. When we don't eat together, walk together, drive together, we fail to know each other. When we fail to know each other, we become incapable of supporting each other.

For many Americans, and to the delight of the long-distance telcos, the telephone helps to fill in that gap. Many people spend hours every week engaging in chitchat with their support network. But some of us either don't have that skill, or see the telephone as a conveyor of serious information. After all, those minutes are costing money! And calling takes coordination: you want to find a time when your callee is not eating, working, or busy at an evening event such as rehearsal. Oh yeah, and preferably not driving, too.

The Internet provides several ways to mitigate this problem, this lack of connection to our support network. E-mail, weblogs and social networks give us a chance to connect on a variety of topics, and on our own schedules. E-mail, like a phone call, feels focused: it implies a more-or-less important reason for communicating. Instant messaging lets us connect much more casually, although we realize that we may be interrupting each other. But weblogs and photo community sites give us something specific to chat about, and let us do that chatting on our own time.

When I write my thoughts in a weblog post, it's an invitation to all readers to respond. That response might be simple affirmation. It might be questions, perhaps leading or rhetorical questions. Or the response might be a contrary point of view, or conflicting evidence. Whatever it may be (excluding spam), it is interaction, and it strengthens our connection. I may even reply in the same forum, and a conversation is born.

When I commit myself to posting a new photo on Flickr every day, I'm giving us something to chat about. When you fave that photo, or comment on it, I know that we have connected on some level. And your comment may evoke a reply from me, and we find ourselves chatting and strengthening our knowledge of each other.

That's why I have such a hard time not begging for you to interact with me on Flickr and on my weblog. I'm trying to connect with you in ways that fit our schedules and abilities. Unless you reply, I'll never know if I succeeded.


Blogger David said...

Provocative. Perhaps I should cut out some of my reading in order to respond more often, since I do value our interaction.

On the other hand, consider that private interaction in a public forum requires a willingness to "let it all hang out"--in a permanent way. Much like the telephone, it requires a certain skill and carries a connotation of importance.

So don't be too hard on the silent masses. Your side of the conversation, at least, is being heard.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Thanks so much for the reply, David. You make good points about the fact that these fora are quite public, and that it may require skill development to even notice the hook for conversation, let alone take time to enter a response.

On the other hand, my experience so far gives me an increased awareness that even the most mundane of responses is still a response. I can't know which of the photographers or weblog authors I interact with is most in need of even a small smile today. So I'm beginning to err on the side of chattiness, even if I can't think of something personal or profound to say. I know that getting a comment, any comment, has value.

Which is to say that hearing from you, especially some I know so well, is very heart-warming. Thank you!

10:08 PM  
Blogger Tanner Lovelace said...

Janell was actually saying something similar to that recently. She and I don't post to our online journals that much and if, when we do, no one bothers responding it can get kind of discouraging.

Conversely, on the other side, I do need to think more about replying to friends' posts I read for just that reason. While I do enjoy reading them, I'll often catch them in odd moments while waiting for something else and as such not think I have time for a proper reply. But, generally, if I don't reply right away, I end up forgetting to entirely.

So, thanks for posting this! It has helped me to see that I should reply more often, even if it just a small comment. Now if I could only get most blogs to e-mail me back that someone has responded so the conversation could continue. (Hey, I see below I can elect to have follow up comments e-mailed to me now. I don't believe I've seen that before. Is that new? That's long been one of my biggest objections to most blogging software and one of the big reasons I use Livejournal. Anyway, I'm glad I found that.)

10:32 AM  
Anonymous tinyfroglet said...

I've been thinking a lot about these things lately as well -- community and the disintegration thereof. I've been in and out of more communities in my life than I'd like to count, just due to circumstance. It's not a great feeling. I really enjoy flickr as a way to share what my life *looks* like, but I find that only other flickrites are regular visitors, and they are a small subset.

So bend those ears! :)

10:47 AM  
Blogger Socks said...

I better get on the band wagon and comment ;) (erring on the side that even a little comment counts as a comment.) :) Besides, I couldn't agree with you more!

Opps, um, this, um isn't Socks... Do I really need to log out and then log in again as your wife?? :) Hmm, well, I think we will leave it as Socks. She would agree if I would scoot over and give her the laptop.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Hi Tanner. I think your experience is a lot like mine. And I, too, am pleased to see that Blogger now has a subscription for comments. Very nice improvement in my opinion.

BTW, I apologize for getting so far behind with your Flickr posts. I plan to review and comment on some of your uploads during this Thanksgiving vacation.

Thanks for commenting!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Hi TF! I appreciate hearing from you. One point that I failed to really bring out is that weblog and Flickr posts can fill a conversational gap.

Among my relatives the skill of conversation-making is a diesel engine on a cold morning. When we get together, it can take significant time and effort to get the conversation going, in large part (I think) because our absence tends to diminish our commonality. I wanted to express in my post today that this same lack impacts telephone conversations, too. When we've run out of important news to share, we hang up.

Pictures we post on Flickr and missives in weblogs can act as glow plugs, giving us specific things to be chatty about on an almost daily basis. I'm discovering this with new acquaintances on Flickr. In some cases I've found pictures in Mig's photostream, or Anne's, that lead to new tangents of conversation.

Sometimes it bothers me that I can't maintain this much of a regular connection with my immediate, but distant, family. I have sent out invitations and repeat invitations, and have given Flickr tours and tutorials. I recognize that it takes time for the message to get across, but I can't seem to help dropping hints with embarrassing frequency.

Thanks for taking time to express understanding and encouragement.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Hello Socks! It's really amazing how you could be sleeping on the bench nearby and writing the above comment at the same time. ;-) Purrs to you and to your lovely ghostwriter. Thanks for commenting!

8:40 PM  
Blogger Vics said...

Oh no! Her secret is out!! Shhh. Don't tell the Ashton Cat fans.

8:47 PM  

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