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Sunday, August 25, 2013

How I Learned To Love Google+

I remember seeing a commercial a couple of years ago, as we were getting ready to leave home and go have dinner at our friends' home. There were all sorts of different people and characters in it, even including Richard Branson and some Muppets. Trent and I were intrigued by the commercial. What was it for, we wondered? Then we saw mention of something called Google+. We talked about the commercial on our way over to see our friends. Since one of our hosts works for a very large data and security company, I of course had to bring the subject up. He didn't seem to think too much of it, and frankly, we forgot about it in the days that followed.

In the spring of 2012, I started to think about writing a blog. I wasn't thinking about making money or getting famous. I just wanted to write brief pieces about my history, things that made me crazy, and such. So I asked a few of my friends on Facebook, "If I were to start writing a blog, would you be interested in reading it?" The responses were positive, so I decided that very day to start writing. I had no clue what to do or how to start, so I did what any other person lost in the internet void would do...I Googled it. Laugh if you must, but that is exactly what I did. I went to Google and typed "blog" in the search field. Before the afternoon was over, I had set up a blog through Google and published my first post, Parking Lot Magic, on May 4, 2012. I notified my friends on Facebook, and a few faithful friends read it. I started writing every day. I felt that I had to do so, or risk losing my few (and when I say few, I mean very few!) readers. I'd look up my stats every day, depressed that my readership was so low. Trent said it didn't matter. I should be writing for me, not for anyone else. Then one day something amazing happened. I received notification of a comment on one of my blog posts, and it was someone I didn't even know! Someone name Ally, who lived in Canada! I was international! Well, to be fair, I already was, since I have family in Hungary, but I think you probably understand where I'm coming from. 

Every time I checked my stats or wrote a post, one of the things I saw was a link for Google+. One day I decided to quit wondering and have a look. It seemed pretty interesting, so I decided to give it a try. Both Trent and I jumped in to see what it felt like. I had mixed feelings at first, I won't lie. Since I really didn't have anyone I knew who was active on G+, it seemed like an odd mixture of loneliness and way too much information.  Since I was on the default "What's Hot" feed, I had exposure to lots of those "this is why life is perfect/sad/lonely/love-filled" posts that kind of reminded me of the terrible poetry I occasionally wrote in high school. But then I would see a gem. Maybe it was a stunning photograph of a street in Paris. Or a luscious, colorful mini-album of a meal being prepared, and accompanied by a recipe. I started to notice that some of my favorites were from the same people. And I noticed the option to circle or follow. My journey had begun.

One of the first people I remember following was Terry, a mother of grown children, and a student in her final year in the Culinary Arts program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. She posted pictures of the feasts that she and her fellow students made. And then she'd go home and cook more. I learned a new phrase: food porn. Another was Shinae, a mother of three monsters and a Wiener dog named Honeydew, who posted photos of stunning Korean, Vietnamese, and all other nationalities of dishes. Both of these wonderful women were well-rounded, which really appealed to me. They posted things other than "just cooking," and showed their whole personalities. As I circled more people, and was thrilled to have them circle me back after I interacted with them, I began to catch myself saying things to Trent like, "Oh, honey, you have got to see this picture of Izzy and Honeydew!" And now, I don't have to say things like, "You know, Terry from Canada," or, "My girl Cindy in Nebraska," or "You know, Ali, the one who posts..." He has come to know who they are.

I have had feelings of being lost in a desert. When you have very few people circling you, you have few people who know what you're up to. I was fortunate to find other friends who were drawn to the same people I was following. We'd get into a conversation through our comments on someone else's post, and the next thing I knew, we had added each other as friends. Some relationships are "better" than others, just like in real life. I still remember the sting I felt when someone who had thousands of followers was saying that it seemed like nobody was on G+. I acted like my naturally kind and nurturing self and said something to the effect that sometimes it did feel that way. We exchanged a few comments, and he made one that made me feel really low and awful and later, angry. He said that of course it would feel like nobody was there, since only 88 people had circled me, haha. I told Trent about it and decided to chalk it up to cultural differences.

I was fortunate enough to have my name shared as a recommendation to be circled, and kept finding friends through other friends. I began sharing links to my blog posts, and found some more friends that way, as well. I have made friends that fit all sorts of descriptions. My life intersects with people all over the world. I love that I have been able to interact with this wonderful group of people. I have friends of all sorts of faiths, as well as atheists and agnostics. I have liberals and conservatives and everyone in between. Straight, gays, people who love each other in many ways. Coffee drinkers and deep thinkers. Okay, I'm starting to annoy myself with that rhyming. ("No more rhyming now, I mean it!" "Anybody want a peanut?" Sometimes I just can't stop myself.)

I will state right now, Google+ is not my life. Neither was Facebook. I don't want anyone to think I live my life through my keyboard. But while Facebook has allowed me to keep tabs on my friends and family, Google+ has opened my horizons. I would never have met the aforementioned wonderful women if not for this medium. I would not be sharing the laughter and tears of people who are near to my thoughts, but far from me in physical distance. I have seen the inhabitants of this little world help each other in times of crisis. They have banded together to protect children. They have shared bits of their thoughts and their lives, moments that might make one cry or laugh or get angry. I have seen fellow Plussers take trips around the world and meet their online friends in real life. This is a cool place to be, and I've grown to love it!