Thursday, January 22, 2009

Social Media Has Quite Literally Changed My Life

You probably all know how much I love blogging and how much the community I have found online means to me. I know that many of you feel the same way. But I honestly have reached a point where I cannot imagine what my life would be like now had I not found social media when I did. I am absolutely sure that it would be extremely different than it is now.

I started thinking about this while attending Hands on Kirtsy DC, which was presented by Laurie from Kirtsy and Amie, a.k.a. MammaLoves. The evening was great. Laurie and Amie talked about Kirtsy, Twitter, and Flickr, and the social networking possibilities that lay within them.

Jessica, who writes the amazing DC-area resource A Parent in Silver Spring, drove me and Kim from Passion and Art to the Metro where we braved night-before-inauguration public transportation to travel to Rosslyn and our social media friends—old and new. Among some others, Sarah, Devra, Robin, Joanne, and Laurie were there.

My original reason for going was because I adore Amie, and I was hoping to get some time to hang out with her and my other blogging buddies. What I got was some food for thought. (And shut in a Metro train door, but that's because I tried—successfully, mind you—to board a packed train at Metro Center at midnight the night before President Obama took office.)

My main avenues of social media are the blogs I write for and Twitter. I've recently started using StumbleUpon, and after Laurie's presentation, I'm going to hop on board Kirtsy too, because it's a cool thing.

Some of the people at the Hands on Kirtsy event were pretty new to social media, so those of us who had been involved longer were talking about what it had meant to us. Blogging takes a beating in the larger media. The most sure-fire way to get laughed at seems to be to tell people that you blog. But I am here to tell you that both my life and my family's life—more specifically, Jack's life—wouldn't be at the level it is now without it.

You probably know that I started blogging at about the same time I started thinking that Jack might be autistic. I started exploring the online autism world where some of the first special needs blogs I read were by MOM-NOS and JoeyMom. Autism Hub and the bloggers there gave me a lot of insight into the positive things that could come out of Jack's autism. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and angry that we had been hit with autism, I started to explore ways to work with it.

I did also find a lot of scary infighting among the autism community, and it scared and confused the everloving hell out of me, but even that was informative.

The way I look at Jack and his autism is directly related to those early days of poking around in the social networking world of blogging.

Then I entered the world not just of autism, but special education and how to deal with school districts. Again, I got support from the network I'd started to build, but better than that, I also got advice. All of my readers gave me much-needed support, but some of them gave me very specific advice. That advice gave me a starting point to learn and educate myself about the issues. I don't know that I would have been able to advocate in the manner that I have without that advice.

There have been times that I haven't felt confident in my knowledge, and all of you reassured me. There have been times that I have been destroyed by something that happened at school and you all pulled me together. There was a memorable experience when I didn't want to blog about the incident, but did put out a tweet on Twitter that began something like, "Fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuckerson," and I had several of my online friends immediately check in to see what was going on and if I were okay.

Even though I shed many tears on days like that, kind messages and thoughts from my social media friends kept me from feeling all alone.

I found the attorney I worked with on Jack's most recent IEP through a blog and twitter friend, Jodi. Without Jodi and the lawyer she helped me find, Jack might not be getting the support he needs at school. Without the specific advice and support I have gotten from all of you, Jack would not be getting the support he needs at school.

And now, I am embarking on a professional tangent that has arisen nearly directly from things and attitudes I have learned from my online social network. I'll be working with that attorney to professionally advocate for other parents who need help with their special education problems. The more I think about this opportunity (this opportunity that is closer than two degrees of separation from social media), the more excited I am.

I can't wait to do the research and training I need to do in order to do this kind of work. I can't wait to not just do work, but do work that really helps people. This work, this opportunity, has sprung forth from a path that would not have been laid without social media.

So next time someone laughs at you for blogging or makes fun of twitter, or the next time someone tells you that a friend you've only met online isn't a "real" friend, or the next time someone comments that you're wasting your time because you're not making money on your site, remember that social media matters. In a very, very real way, social media matters.

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I know for a fact that I am not the only one whose life has literally been changed by blogging, twittering, and online networking. Do you have a story about how online social media has had a literal impact on your life? Let me know in the comments or write your own post on it and give me the link. If enough of you are interested, I'll put together a summary post sometime next week.

18 comments:

  1. While there are books and books and books I could write on this very subject, what about the recent and timely example of how Barack Obama used social media to further his campaign goals and unite a fragmented country behind the simple rally cries of Fired Up, Ready to go! and Yes We Can!!

    On a more personal level: ditto what you said. A hundred times over.

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  2. I'm so old. I started networking online in college, via MUDs and "Talk." I loved "talk." You literally could just find someone logged in and start a random conversation with people. It was totally awesome. I'm sure some kind of privacy issue shut it down. MUDs, of course, are just big text-based Dungeons and Dragons games. Well, they used to be. And I met my beloved JoeyAndyDad playing MUDs.

    Blogging has given me a much-needed excuse to think. When you are being pulled apart by the currents, being able to think, organize, and process by writing and language can be really really useful. And though my lame little blog hasn't attracted the kind of readership I have seen others gain- hey, its not as well-written as this one, for example- it is my little corner. I still hope it helps other folks a bit to know they aren't alone.

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  3. I wrote about this the other week, as well -- social media and the friends I've made, like you, through this medium, have changed my life in so many ways. I have lifelines now I never thought I would have. And that keeps me from sinking on the bad days.

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  4. Thank you for all the credit you give me, but all I did was give you the name of a very good attorney. The rest you did yourself.

    I wish I could have gone. I don't understand Kirtsy or stumble upon, or digg.

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  5. Wow, you kick ASS! Congrats on the awesome new job!!!! What a wonderful way to express your love for your son as well as help other people at the same time!

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  6. Blogging is my therapy..it helped me not fall into a deep pit of depression after TC's autism diagnosis.

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  7. Sing it, sister! That is awesome. I will try to write a post on this as my one year blogoversary is coming up. (I remember yours... it seems like yesterday!)

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  8. That's so great that you have a new vision! My blogiversary is coming up too so I think you have inspired me to write a post. You rock on so many levels. It's great to know you online and IRL!

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  9. Blogging has definitely changed my life. As much as I talk about Adam's Aspergers on my blog, I actually didn't talk about it too much to folks before hand. I would talk about Autism from a professional point of view, but never felt I had the support as a parent of one before.

    And, of course, meeting new folks I get to call friends.

    And, appreciating the amount of time my husband spends online now too - I see why he does!

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  10. The dos are very excited about your new job! Congrats!

    DM

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  11. Can't wait to hear more about your new vocation as it grows!

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  12. Good luck! Some words of caution as I went down the same path....don't get burned out too fast! I was a member of COPAA for a year, have been to Wrightslaw, Reed Martin presentations to various other conferences and seminars. I am a graduate of Partners in Policy Making. I read obsessively and even went as far as to enroll in the university where I got my masters to get a paralegal certificate. I was still working fulltime in my original "career," but that year is when Bubba started kindergarten and the seclusion room happened and Mooser was also diagnosed with autism. Long story short, it is very hard to balance avocating for others while advocating for your children, especially when you do everything you preach...like write agendas for IEP meetings and follow up letters, and meet with administrators and school boards and right child complaints and meanwhile still have to get them to their therapies, work with the therapists, help them with their homework, all of the regular parenting stuff on top of extra support (and for me I missed the connection with my boys). I compromised and volunteered for our state parent information group and mentored parents to advocate for themselves and their children. I just stepped back from this because the hours on the phone were taking too much away from my family and I wanted to concentrate more on banning seclusion rooms and the misuse of restraint. I know plenty of parents that have become very good professional advocates, I just couldn't do it because the system burned my little boy so bad and I was becoming so bitter and tapped out from reliving it with other families.

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  13. Oh, your question about social networking?

    When I was pregnant with Bubba, I belonged to Storknet and chatted with those women up until my youngest son was one or so. I've traveled to VA more than once to visit with one friend. I belonged to a list serve that helped me navigate craziness when my oldest was born with a supposedly "rare" brain difference (ACC). I obsessively read tons of blogs from the autism hub and other blogs that I didn't agree with to get various view points, and was able to work out some very ragged emotions (I wrote this post then: http://miscthing.blogspot.com/2007/02/goodnight.html).

    I created this blog (http://nomoseclusion.blogspot.com/) to aid a "grassroots movement" and have gotten support and motivation from others who have already done similar things (discovered through blogs) and belong to autism and restraint listserves. I finally have a personal facebook page and will be making one for the restraint and seclusion movement as well.

    I have meant some wonderful people and although I can't read too many blogs anymore (I have OCD and internet addiction is bad!) I have grown so much because of the people and children I have learned about. I'm sure I am forgetting something, but yeah, this is long enough! ;)

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  14. Blogging and social media has changed my life, too. Since I move so often, it's the one stable thing in my life, a place I can always go and find a friend.

    I'm speaking on Social Media at Blissdom and that alone is unbelievable to me. I never would have thought, even 2 years ago that I'd be so immersed in my online life that I'd be speaking to others about it.

    Social media has also helped me reconnect with old friends. It's amazing.

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  15. I'm not very social media savy but I do know that blogging has changed my life for the better. I'm a sahm in a small town (where I did not go to college or high school) and it's easy to get to feeling lonely or isolated. (Not that I don't have friends off-line because I do but it's not a huge group.) Blogging gives me an outlet, a way to connect with other people.

    I have to say though that for the most part I stay far, far away from a lot of the autism stuff I see online. I have not had good experiences with autism message boards and the like. I'm glad that you have found some good in them though.

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  16. So glad to hear it was a great time on Monday. I'm sorry I missed it.

    Blogging has changed me (can't do Twitter still) in huge ways. Not just the friendships and these social networks I have never found, but I was just reflecting how I've gotten opportunties for writing solely due to my blog, i.e. people finding me, not the other way around.

    I also started using social media in teaching and just had an article published on this! So, yes, I'm totally with you.

    Congratulations on this new, exciting and purposeful turn of events!

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  17. Awesome, SO COOL! Can't wait to hear how this new path lays out for you.

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