Digital life story

Recently people have been surprised at my reticence to rave publicly on stage, in interview or over coffee about social media.

“But”, they cry, “you are so active on twitter”.

To my slight shame I did do an email interview with a kind lady from New York about the Internet, social media and democracy today – but that was because she was nice – not because I considered myself any kind of expert – I just put in my 2pth and I did point out that she should be talking to those with political science degrees who were also active online – rather than me.

I thought it might be easier if I just explain through a story why I feel the way I do.

The story

During the Easter holidays I took my children to Morocco on holiday. I didn’t book online as I had had a disastrous experience doing so previously; and anyway I have a friend who is a whizz travel agent and can always beat any online deal, she knows me and what I like and always comes up trumps. I called her, she emailed me the holiday choices, I emailed back my preference, pay online, get the e-tickets, check in online and we fly away.

Whilst in Morocco, I read books that I had bought on Amazon and go to hotel notice boards to choose the trips we might like to take. I check on my iphone to see whether these trips have been reviewed and find out which ones are the best value and most exciting and appropriate for the girls and I. Excursions chosen, with additional insight from others who have been on them before, I wait for a rep in reception at a designated time to book said trips, talk through in person what is involved, pay by card, and turn up at an agreed time to go on the selected adventure.

On the coach I meet a family who have children with similar ages to mine. Whilst the children bond over their DSs and Facebook stories, I talk to the parents: Rachel and Chris. It is through them that I discover a volcano has erupted (they knew from watching Sky News) and that our journey home might be affected. Having my iphone with me I check the BBC website and call out on twitter for updates.

The information and feedback I could find in a few minutes from twitter on that bus ride intrigued and amused Chris, who was aware of twitter, but not of its value. This triggered a discussion about the world I was involved in with government and digital engagement, that later (months later) leads to me helping him find a value in twitter, simply by monitoring what customers are saying about the brand he works for.

The children become firm friends over the course of the holiday and spend some time on Facebook on our respective smartphones – building new friendships through their own contacts and mates – introducing their friends to each other online as they discover more about their lives and realise connections or common interests, even as we are away. (They also spent 90% of the daylight hours in the pool shrieking with laughter and the occasional spat – whilst us adults snored on loungers with our books from Amazon and blue drinks from the pool bars).

My super travel agent lady, meanwhile, is texting me and emailing updates on what is happening, also following how happy/worried I am from my Facebook updates. Twitter and Facebook keep me sane: I can keep colleagues, friends and family updated on what is happening where we are, and roundly take the inevitable slacker jokes – and can even crowdsource an escape route should we need one.

When we get home, we swop all contact details with Rachel, Chris and family – including home, mobile, Facebook and twitter details. The children, unsurprisingly, are online to each other the minute they all get home and onto Broadband. I share a few texts with Rachel and Chris but we are Facebook friends, so I can see without interacting what fun they are having and vice versa.

We all decide that we should see each other again a few months after the holiday, and so organise over the phone when would be a good date. Thereafter, Facebook planning between the kids went into overdrive – with bemused interception from us grown-ups. Rachel, Chris and I only communicate by phone – but again, we talk about things that we have noted the other is doing from Facebook profiles – which is nice – not stalkery.

A great weekend is had, during which I taught Chris twitter and got him set up; Rachel was not interested but enjoyed seeing what we were discovering through twitter. But it was a balance, real life, windy beaches, lovely food, friendship and stories, yes – some of which were fuelled by Facebook knowledge and inevitable discussions about the value of twitter, sometimes.

A few weeks later and I am running Young Rewired State. Seeing as a centre is based in Norwich, not a million miles away from Rachel and Chris, I get in touch through email to see if I might stay with them for a night so that I can visit the Norwich centre – as well as catch up with them. Again, they knew all about Young Rewired State through Facebook – and the children were now even more close, so it was perfect.

That visit was awesome, and we had a lovely evening talking about real life things as well as events and happenings that we already knew about each other through the third party window of social media.

And so they were a great part of YRS, an extra bonus.

Since then I have been remiss in even looking at Facebook, or catching up with anyone to be honest. Tonight I was struck by a feeling that it was time to have a catch up with Rachel and Chris again. It was an automatic reaction for me to firstly swing by Facebook to see what they had all been up to before I got in touch; for a variety of reasons, mainly to check that they were about, to check that there was not anything dreadful going on that I might interrupt and also to show that I had actually taken notice of what they had chosen to share; it’s a natural etiquette for me now.

Tomorrow I will call Rachel – and confess I have written a blog post about them – and we can all organise the next meet (this will be at mine I think, my turn, Rachel and Chris, no?!)


So, you see, it is not any hatred of social media that makes me yawn when people start asking me to speak about it – it is just that it is such an interwoven part of my life now – and I wouldn’t expect to speak about my use of the telephone (which is dreadful) nor would I particularly like to try to unravel the value of social media. It is a part of life, it is the digital part – but hey, we are all part digital now, whether we like it or not.

Why? Why not?

I get asked why a lot. Why should we do a Facebook fan page? Why should we get on twitter?

There are many sites, if you Google these questions, that will give you compelling reasons for doing so. The simple answer really has to be why not?

If people are getting information from these sources, if online journalists are reaching audiences you need to engage with through their blog posts, twitter streams and Facebook information pages, then – if you are in an organisation that can afford to be there too – then why would you not?

The question is, can you afford to be there, as much as it is can you afford not to be there?

twitter update – (warning: this post makes no sense unless you understand @hubmum)

Well now, ever since Jonathan Ross (@wossy) and Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) ‘broke’ the twitter thing on @wossy’s comeback show, twitter seems to have gone bonkers.

I have had a difficult relationship with it – detailed on this blog here and here and I banged on for a bit in various related posts not worth bringing up again. I could wang on about the context of this post, but am going to limit it to 140 chars, my twitter journey:

@hubmum curiosity, disdain, exasperation, overuse, grumpy, laughing, work value, inspiration, grudging admiration, acceptance, value

Over the weekend the Power of Information report was launched on twitter for review, I know that it was ‘set live’ elsewhere but it set twitter alight, not least for @tom_watson‘s incessant tweeting (and direct messaging) about it. (Not so much fun, as it really meant homework for the geeky kids, but still… it was a good place to show it off and get the attention of those who cared).

Then there was the out-pouring of information about the UKGovBarCamp09, stories breaking, blog posts being slutted, a wealth of information. By Sunday I had trimmed my list of people I followed (including losing @wossy I am afraid) to the people of value to me at work, and also those who just keep me sane.

Last night it became about snow… we get terribly excited about snow, and quite right too, (my flickr stream of the chronically brilliant snow we enjoyed today: Then @paul_clarke asked his followers to fill in a twitter formula for reporting snow, mark out of ten (I don’t know if he did this alone): hash tag uksnow first part of your postcode followed by a mark out of ten, so for me (if my tweets weren’t protected): @hubmum #uksnow GU1 5/10. @benmarsh picked this up and created a mashup of the snow reports from the UK.

Today it was snow, yes, plus school and trains… for me. I knew that my daughters’ school would use the clarion call text system to let us know about whether there was any respite today from the excitement: there wasn’t, but I also needed to know if I was able to get in to work: I couldn’t. I did however abuse @directgov by twitter for not giving me more travel information – seeing as all of the travel sites crashed – and received direct messages assuring me that they were working on it: v gd use of twitter; might not give me the information I needed, but I knew that someone was at the other end of my frustration and was doing something about it.

@tom_watson then challenged @directgov to carry information about schools that were open or shut, starting a maelstrom of advice and an acceptance of the challenge from @directgov. Let’s see what happens now…

My list of ‘friends who keep me sane’, (including weirdly @paulcarr who is definitely not sane), kept me amused with their increasingly ridiculous twitpic attempts to outdo eachother in the alternative snowman competition that developed during the day.

Because many people were similarly trapped at home, the conversations happening on twitter about stuff that interested me, by the people I respect enabled me to work, to completely understand what is happening in this space, tweets and RTs were coming in by the minute, I felt that I was fully conversant in what is happening right now.

Although this was happening on twitter, I was also able to take my children out every few hours, answer emails (deal with the backlog) and complete my meetings by teleconference… then catch up again.

During one such outing to the slopes of Guildford I missed the exciting news that techcrunch (@mbites) had written about @directgov, this was then picked up by @washington_post.

Yet, I feel as if I am becoming a bit spoiled. For example, my sister told me (on facebook) that getting through the day at home demanded Jeremy Kyle on repeat; so I had him on in the background, but he was doing a ‘lie detector’ session rather than the more compelling ‘DNA test’. The indulged ‘me’ wanted to tweet the programme organisers to say that I was more in the mood for ‘DNA testing’, please, to keep me going through the day. Hmm even I can see that this demand was not going to be met… so I feel a bit guilty about @directgov tbh…

… anyhoo

I am exhausted by writing this post… the point is, twitter is good, it is useful, but watch who you follow and be aware who is following you. Protect your updates until you know how you are going to use it, and NEVER synch it with facebook unless you are: 1. so au fait with this stuff that you only update occasionally to the same audience or 2. use both socially/professionally (same diff).

You would not believe the stuff I have left out, but really, I like you, so I will not RT and overload your brains: make your own minds up.

PS Best twitpic of the day: @littlelaura is best un-be-lievable…

PPS Best in ‘balanced use of twitter’: @paul_clarke

PPPS No post is complete without a mention of @olibarrett who launched his Make Your Mark with a Tenner ’09 campaign.

PPPPS = new netmums

PPPPPS I protect my updates, so people have to ask to follow me, in the same way that Facebook offers the same privacy option – sorry



twitter, Helmut Lang and compartmentalising

So, I switched off twitterfox and immediately started to feel better/free, then I read a quick Q&A with Helmut Lang in The Sunday Times Style magazine. The following comments resonated:

  • I never settled on minimalism – that was attributed to me. I’m completely against categorisation. It doesn’t allow anyone to see or feel what they might be able to experience. It takes away the emotions.
  • I don’t separate work and life, which is a blessing. I don’t have to divide my time into something I like more and something I like less.
  • I need time to be alone. For me, a waste of time is the most productive time.


It has been said to me on many an occasion, ‘I am very good at compartmentalising‘ and I tend to reply: ‘Yeah, me too, I’m great at that’. LIE… I am rubbish at that. Everything I experience has an effect on everything else. I am hedonistic in that way. I like to indulge in experience, that sounds potentially rude/disastrous, but I don’t mean it like that. I mean that I love meeting interesting people, talking to them and indulging myself in discovering new things through them – be that worky stuff or social.

It does mean that I can be a complete bore at dinner parties (talking about work) and sometimes at work I go off on a complete tangent – because it interests me and the person I am talking to has an enthusiasm that piques something in me.

I have often felt guilty about this, seen it as a lack of discipline that I respect in others. It has not helped in my attempt to define my online ‘brand’, how I present a professional front whilst retaining the Emma bit that people invest in. But I take comfort from Helmut’s observation that by categorising everything, you take away the emotion – emotion can be good, well lack of it is very definitely bad. So, I am going to stop feeling so guilty and see what happens.

Separating work and life

This is a forever problem for me. I love my work, really love my work. I also happen to love my life – most of the time! I struggle to find the dividing line between the two. I do run my own business and my business is me – as in, I have my own consulting business (but that sounds a bit too wanky).

I happened upon my line of work by doing what I loved, explaining stuff to people in a way that they would ‘get it’ and would feel good about ‘getting it’, not stupid, but informed.

I don’t do this at home, but what I do do at home is what comes naturally to me, being a Mother of two girls aged 11 and 6. This I love, as much as I love my day job. (I know, lucky me).

So, I don’t want to stop one to be the the other and how can I? I can’t stop being Mum and it seems unnatural to me to stop being ‘work me’ when I am home being Mum.

This leads to the scary blurring of lines as explained in my latest post about twitter. And this I need to work on.

Being alone and wasting time

I have always valued being alone. As long as I can remember I have been the ‘geek girl’ the one who sits absorbed in books, ‘living in my own world’ or just alone. I love that time in my own head. Recently I have found my way back to it through running. Living life as a working Mother brings little solitude, at least little solitude without guilt! The perambulatory needs of my dog has created a wonderful opportunity for me to get at least half an hour a day to myself.

Wasting time: now this I do online. It does often seem as if I am wasting time when on here; but I never am. I am either learning or communicating – often both. And this is also important! Again there is the guilt thing. If I am on my computer, I am not doing something else that needs doing, therefore is it a waste of time?

I don’t know, I really don’t and as I write this I begin to feel the edges of guilt creeping in.

So, twitter et al

In this post I have been brutally honest. And I feel as if I am wasting your reading time because I do not yet know the answer to balancing work and life. But I do know that there are no defining lines and I am trying to find my own balance.

I do know that my use of twitter has had a detrimental effect on my own life: for example I started to text my friends and acquaintances as if they were on twitter. Passing on titbits of information that I found fascinating about my life and wanted to share – twitter stylee – regardless of their wish or need to know this information. Wrong! Sorry gang, you know who you are, and actually most of you don’t read my blog. 🙂

Somehow a line needs to be drawn, I think it is a very wobbly line, that frees up my ability to keep learning and sharing, but protects my friends from my tendency to over-communicate the stuff I am not sharing at work.

You see, it is not my professional life that I need to protect – that is enhanced by my overt nature and mind that loves to learn and thrives on other people. It is my personal life and my friends who suffer. I need to work on this.

twitter again

*sigh* with profound relief I have disabled twitterfox in my Firefox browser.

As you know I have suffered with twitter for many months now, I try and try to allow it to settle into my online life, but it never sits happily.

Recently, probably for the last three months, I have persevered and have watched, joined in and taken over the conversations happening between my followers and those I follow. I twitter-slutted my blog posts in a vague attempt to get the people I desperately want to read it, to do so!

This week I have given a blow by blow (apologies twitter followers) account of my daughter’s birthday, shared stuff that I have discovered about the reshuffle and learned from others about what is happening. But it is exactly this blurring of lines between the professional and personal that I find so uncomfortable.

My blog does not exactly sit entirely in one camp or the other, but I do tend to consider carefully what I do share. On twitter, I don’t. Once I start I don’t stop and I feel as if I violate some of my own personal space, and certainly intrude on others. I begin to validate what I do by the response I get on twitter – and that is cr*p.

So in this Sunday musing post, I will take you on this latest step in my twitter journey. By disabling twitterfox I simply do not get an alert every time someone ‘tweets’, and I am not forever distracted nor tempted to ‘tweet’.

I do still have a twitter account, but I have once again locked it so that only my followers can read what I write. Perhaps I will now be more considered.

Twitter has been useful during the reshuffle, and has been valuable for discovering exciting developments in the social media space. But now I can choose to explore it when I need, or have the time. If I can get it to work with my online life, I will keep my account, if not, I will simply delete it.