What One Online Tool You Might Be Using Incorrectly to Get to Know People

I recently read a post called “eBooks and the Personal Library” (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/08/20/e-books-and-the-personal-library/ ) by Joseph Esposito in which he posits that the day of the personal library is falling by the wayside. He came to that conclusion during a move in which he parted with many books rather than paying for the shipping cost. I, too, have been there. I’ve moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, to Michigan, back to Ohio, and to Arkansas, and every time my physical library has taken a hit. I’ve built it up in each new residence only to have it reduced in the subsequent move. It is currently the smallest it has ever been, and it’s being replaced by eBooks. It’s a trend that I’m not completely in love with— there’s something about the feel and smell of paper that will always comfort me— but it is convenient and it’s here to stay.

Something Esposito said stuck with me, though. He said that we can’t tell what kind of person someone is by seeing what book is on their table because books aren’t there anymore. We need to see what is in their GoodReads or LibraryThing accounts. That statement really gave me pause.

Maybe I’m just a cynic. Maybe it’s the overprotective mom coming out in me. Maybe I need to stop watching the evening news. But I have a difficult time believing in the sincerity of online profiles, even ones as innocuous as “what I like to read” accounts. I think the only way to really get to know a person is to get to know them personally. If you meet them face-to-face and see for a fact that they are reading A Tale of Two Cities, then it’s highly likely that they are reading it. If they just say they’re reading it on their online profiles, it’s hard to take them at their word. They may be reading it now, but they may have read it years earlier and are secretly reading something they’re too embarrassed to admit to, or even nothing at all. How many authors out there are willing to write to the world that they are reading books that are getting bashed by the media or books whose content would get them looked down upon by friends or associates? Yes, there are people who will be honest about what they read and who they are, but there will also be people who won’t; people who list literary novels in their libraries and spend evenings snuggled up with beach reads (or worse). Furthermore, often authors are asked to review books outside their areas of interest for fellow authors. You could see five star reviews of sci-fi books on author pages who really only read and definitely only write historical westerns. That’s akin to false advertising. The booklist profiles really can’t be trusted as viable sources of information about the readers.

I know in this day of advanced technology we all are just a keystroke away from corresponding with almost anyone around the globe. It’s an exciting and fascinating time. But I just don’t think I can safely say I can make judgment calls on strangers based on booklists, or any online profiles. I guess I just miss the days when I could shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye. Barring that ability, I’m not going to use booklists as a screening tool. I’ll turn to social media avenues (see that word social in there?) to try and determine what kind of people they are. Blog comments, Twitter posts, Facebook presence, WANAtribe… these are the tools I use to interact with people online (huh, interact, another keyword there).

I feel the pain of Mr. Esposito’s loss. I miss my books, too, and I miss the days of libraries and big bookstores and snuggling up with an actual words-on-paper book. He has a fantastic blog (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/) that I urge you all to visit. But I wish him, and everyone, success at screening booklists when getting to know people online. I’ll stick to actual communications instead.

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6 thoughts on “What One Online Tool You Might Be Using Incorrectly to Get to Know People

  1. We also have plenty of books on religion and spirituality. Most of them are Catholic books, some are even Catholic texts, as I used to teach what we called CCD when I was a kid, My husband also has a ton of books on business and manufacturing principles, and we both have books on home repair, gardening and I have several on decorating. Don’t get me started on my cookbook collection or Corey’s weightlifting books. And of course, my writing and social media books. I try to organize my shelves by topic, but I usually have one or more sitting on my desk, one by my bed, and one on a table somewhere. Corey currently has two by his recliner, and the kids have books everywhere. I don’t mind too much (except sometimes the clutter gets to me). How could reading ever be a poor choice of how to spend some free time?

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  2. That’s true. Me, too. As far as Twitter, I’ve heard if you follow back as soon as someone follows you they also shut you down. I don’t follow everyone (tend to stay away from graphic and erotica), but I do follow when I receive notification. Especially someone like you. I also hit more than 2,000 that I follow (I could clean that out) but only have 1,475 followers; I’ve heard that when you hit 2,000 something kicks in. I would follow you if I could! My bookshelves are a wonderful mix (such as yours), too. We have a lot of books on religion and spirituality as well. My husband was never much of a reader when we met three years ago. But I’m thrilled that I’ve gotten him to start reading (he started with my books) and now he’s as engrossed in reading as much as I am (and he refuses to read anything but a real book). Today we’ll probably take out our boat and anchor and then read while surrounded by water and trees – nothing better.

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  3. Staci – Good point. I will never give up my books. If you could see my coffee table right now, you’d be flummoxed to figure out anything about me except that I’m eclectic in my tastes. I have books on energy, environmentalism, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, coal mining, Cleopatra, a chick lit novel (next to be read), The Paris Wife (just finished), and a pile of four paperbacks on the bottom of nonfiction and fiction waiting to make it to my “read” top 10. I do have a Kindle but only because I published a book there and need to keep abreast of that technology. But I will never give up the real thing. Thanks for posting this blog – fun to think about. And by the way, Twitter has just shut me down from following anyone else. Thank you, Twitter.

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    • I wondered why you didn’t follow me back on Twitter… Supposedly they suspend accounts if they get suspicious about anything. You follow too many, you follow too few. You post too little, you unfollow too often. Sometimes I’m afraid to even log on. But I digress.
      My bookshelves are as eclectic as your coffee table. I have both fiction and nonfiction, the classics and chick lit. I even have some children’s books that I’ve kept, not really for my kids (who are now teenagers), but for me, because I loved them when I was young and can’t bear to part with them now. So what does that make me? A mature toddler with romantic tendencies interested in nonfiction? Bookshelves are fine as a jumping off point (if in fact they are complete and honest, which I have my doubts about) but hardly an end all/be all about what makes a person who they are.
      I’ve learned more about who you are from our chats than I ever would have from scanning your book list, and I’ve had much more fun doing it.
      Thanks for your reply.

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  4. I know. People get so obsessed with their numbers they forget what they were trying to get the numbers for in the first place! I always tell my kids that it’s better to have a few good friends than a lot of friends you can’t trust. I’m guessing the person with 6,000 Facebook “friends” doesn’t share intimate life details with them. (Or, I guess maybe I should say I hope they know better than to share those details.)
    Thanks for commenting, Pam.

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