OPINION: “Are You a “Who”? Musings on Social Media

Reflections from the East (column reprinted from The Santa Monica Star)

Are you a Who? Come on in!

By Qin Sun Stubis

When I was a little girl, I imagined myself playing many roles: a baker making enough crusty bread to stop world hunger, a graceful ballerina in a pink tutu, a brave surgeon who was not afraid of blood…but I never envisioned myself as a tiny creature with bad hair or a sympathetic elephant with large scalloped ears!

But now I have to admit that I do.  Like the pachyderm protagonist from Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who,” I recently discovered a previously unseen world where there are many, many people I never knew existed. This “Who-ville” does not reside on a “speck of dust” but behind a screen in a place that can be seen and heard only by those who have become citizens there. It is a surprisingly small place yet as large as the world itself, and millions congregate there, socializing, and sending each other news, birthday wishes, and concert invitations. This invisible, modern Who-ville is our online social networking.

My adventure beyond our three physical dimensions started two months ago when my media-executive husband suggested that I try out Facebook. “It’s a good place to meet other writers and make interesting friends,” he said. “But Facebook is for teenagers who have nothing better to do,” I resisted, thinking of my neighbors’ complaints about their kids spending too much time on the computer. “It’s a lot more than that,” my husband told me. “Explore it and you’ll see.”

I reluctantly started my Facebook page only after he sat me down and showed me how to register. I felt like a schoolgirl, shyly filling out my name and deciding what things about myself I wouldn’t mind others knowing. As I built my online profile, I began to have serious doubts: How could this small screen bring me friends? How could anyone in this virtual world find me? I felt overpowered by sudden loneliness and a twinge of sadness as I realized that, like the Whos in Who-ville, in the universe I am only a speck of dust.

Just then, my screen lit up with the smiling face of someone I knew – the talented California-based cinematographer, Duane Conder. He wanted to be my “friend.” Suddenly, I was not alone anymore. Soon more people – writers, editors, artists, and musicians – joined me. Before long, I felt comfortable enough to steer away from the landscape of familiar faces toward the unknown parts of the Facebook world. I wouldn’t approach a stranger on the street and ask him to be my friend. But on Facebook, I felt I could try.

After a couple of months of building my virtual house and cultivating a garden of words and pictures, I’ve become a proud permanent resident of this new Who-ville. I wanted to meet other writers, and ended up finding an entire village of them in Who-ville! I’m also surprised by how much fun it is. If I want to join a real discussion with real people, I can, even though they may be thousands of miles away. This world stands on its own!

I don’t know what Dr. Seuss would think of the idea of a Chinese woman he never met declaring the virtual birth of an imaginary world he created more than half a century ago, but I’d like to think he’d be amused. After all, he created Who-ville to amuse us and to teach us that a person and even a world is important “no matter how small.” With a few nifty technological tricks, humanity finally seems to have caught up with Dr. Seuss, creating a Who-ville world that is both important and feels a little less small.

To all Whos, the tall and the small:  Come and visit me on Facebook. Let me know you’ve read my column, add me as your friend, and chat with me as though we’ve always known each other. You can also reach me at qstubis@gmail.com .

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