Social Media for the Pre-Cyborg Age

timecoverWe’re living in what I like to call the Pre-Cyborg Age. Except for certain medical devices, implanted biotech is completely optional and on the farthest fringes of society. But if you’ve been paying attention to the news, cyborgs are already among us. Their number is increasing. All kinds of implanted medical devices are growing in acceptance, and I don’t think the trend will slow down anytime soon.

That’s why we need to get smart – real smart – about how we perceive our devices.

At the very least, we should…

Have a strategy. Every social media platform and new app has strengths and weaknesses, and what works for one type of business might not work for another. Today, the latest fad in technology might end up being a huge time suck that costs hours of productivity. But in the Cyborg Age, there will be much more to lose. Learn to create a social media action plan for your current needs, then re-evaluate your plan periodically as technology changes. Establish the habit now, so that it’s already part of your routine for the future.

Understand that everything can be hacked. Regardless of sleek marketing claims otherwise, privacy is an illusion in the digital world. Every app you download and allow access to your information is like an unlocked window into your house, just waiting for the NSA, Russian hackers, or common cybercriminals to peek through. This is true about your home computer, your smartphone, and your e-reader. It will also be true of your brain implant, should that day ever come.

Practice mental resistance. Technology in most industries moves at lightning pace and if you don’t have the latest version or upgrade, you’re already behind. True? Yes, absolutely. This is the reality of the Digital Age. But in my opinion, this will also be the mindset that drives us into the Cyborg Age.

Imagine that your co-worker decides to get a memory-enhancing brain chip. Then another coworker. Then another. Suddenly, your own software is out of date, your productivity pales in comparison to theirs, and you fall behind. Then what?

In this Pre-Cyborg Age, we must train ourselves to resist the pressure toward the latest and greatest.

Our future humanity might depend on it.

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Social Media for Cyborgs: How to Unplug

Cyborgs-vs-HumansDigital communication isn’t going away. If you own a business or want to stay connected with friends and family, you must be online. But at some point, you’ll want to (need to!) intentionally unplug from the digital community. Maybe for a whole vacation. Or perhaps just one night away. Even for one quiet hour over coffee. To think. Exist. To just…be…human.

For most of us, it’s a question of when to put down the smartphone. Not an easy task these days, to be sure. But attainable.

For the cyborgs among us, unplugging is more difficult. Like Neil Harbisson from the UK, who had an antenna implanted in his skull. Neil is part of a growing community of people who self-identify as cyborgs. They’ve even created a group called the Cyborg Foundation, to raise awareness and lobby for their rights.

Embedded biotech presents a dilemma, though. You can’t just set down the smartphone when it’s implanted in your skull. But there’s hope. If you’re a cyborg, here’s how to unplug (or at least disconnect for a while):

Ask for an “off” switch. If you are considering becoming a cyborg, get the facts before going under the knife. Make sure you can turn the biotech off, when/if you want to unplug for a while.

Block the signal. If you’ve already been implanted, find a way to block the incoming signal. Even for a few minutes, you might be able to feel human again.

Consider surgical removal. Maybe you’ve been a cyborg for a few months and realize it’s just not for you. Make an appointment with your surgeon to discuss removal. In some cases, it might not be possible, especially if your tissues have already fused with the biotech in such a way that removal would be dangerous. But it’s worth a try.

Seek qualified support. Becoming part-machine is emotionally stressful. If you can’t unplug when it gets overwhelming, find support and learn how to cope. At the very least, you need one human, one cyborg, and a biotech health expert on your side. No one should go it alone.

(As a side note, you should also strongly consider hiring a cybersecurity team that specializes in wearable and implanted technology. Being a cyborg is hard enough without having to worry about hackers. But I digress.)

Unplugging comes at a cost for everyone, especially for cyborgs. But what about those of us who aren’t implanted yet? How can we stay digitally connected to our friends, family, business community, and the world without sacrificing what’s left of our humanity?

Stay tuned…

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Social Media for Cyborgs (Summer Edition)

74b246c3957b151d4723f893642d5460I write sci-fi thrillers about people who become cyborgs by using implanted machinery to enhance their natural abilities. In cyberpunk culture, this is called biohacking. Now to be clear, I don’t personally know anyone with brain implants or subdermal ID chips. Not yet, anyway. But as a culture we’re increasingly dependent on our electronic devices, so in a sense, we’re all cyborgs now—cyborgs that desperately want to retain our humanity even while learning (always learning!) to use the technology given us.

Let me introduce you to my new summer friend, Sallie the Cyborg:

Hoping to catch a few rays, Sallie the Cyborg grabs a cold drink and heads for the neighborhood swimming pool. Because her latest port hasn’t yet been upgraded to waterproof tech, Sallie doesn’t dare go in the water. She spreads out a colorful beach towel, closes her eyes, logs out of the network, and prepares herself for the new sensation of feeling human, for… just… existing. But a few minutes later her neural implant buzzes, and her head feels like it’s full of bees. Angry bees.

“Not again,” she thinks to herself. She checks the feed. Twelve missed messages since logging out. Four of them urgent. Five business-related.

Sallie the Cyborg understands that being online is part of life. After all, if she’s not online she’s not really alive. She sighs, takes a swig of her drink, and logs back into the network to quiet the bees in her head. She’s a cyborg now, doing what cyborgs do best. She’ll experience being human another day. Maybe.

What can we learn about social media from Sallie the Cyborg?

SOCIAL MEDIA…

Isn’t going away. Whether you only use texting and email to keep up with friends, or six different social media platforms to promote your business, digital communication is part of staying engaged in life and will remain so unless a massive EMP knocks out the power grid.

Doesn’t define humanity. We can choose to unplug. Unlike Sallie the Cyborg, we are not truly dependent on technology. Our existence isn’t limited to the frequency of updates in our Facebook feeds, or the rate at which we respond to texts.

Doesn’t wait for us. Unplugging comes at a cost. People will call and text (perhaps repeatedly), and wonder where you went. You might miss important notices or business opportunities. Social media is a 24/7/365 event that doesn’t wait for anyone.

Requires a strategy. By setting limits around social media and learning to use it more efficiently, we can unplug every now and then without falling too far behind.

Sallie the Cyborg answers messages with her neural implant. She is logged in. Digitally alive. She glances toward the swimming pool with longing. If only she had a waterproof port… if only she could experience the cold water against her hot skin, if only…

There’s no going back for Sallie the Cyborg, but there’s still hope for us.

(This is part one of a series. Stay tuned…)

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Two Ways to Improve Your Writing this Summer

a-good-bookAlright, it’s summer. For many of us, that means snowcones, sunscreen, and family vacations. For the readers among us, it can be a terrific time to kick back under a colorful umbrella with a fun beach read (or for strange people like me, beach reads and creepy thrillers, plus some sci-fi thrown into the mix).

But for writers, especially writers with families and other commitments, summer presents a challenge: precious little time for writing.

*Mental health disclaimer: if you are a writer or an artist of any kind, you MUST absolutely CREATE TIME for your craft. I tend to agree with Kafka, who said that “a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” But it often isn’t easy to entertain the muse at the height of summer fun, while wet towels grow mildew and bored children search YouTube for tips on “how to make a bomb with leftovers from the fridge.” Balance is key, I think.

The good news? If you have access to a library, bookstore, or the Internet, you can work on your writing style even when you don’t have time to write. From the publishing frontlines, here are two non-writing ways to improve your writing:

Dissect the first page of at least ten books. The first page of any published book should be a finely honed specimen of solid writing. By the time a book hits the shelves, a slew of beta-readers, trusted friends, agents, and editors have weighed in their two cents about every word on that page. So grab your library card or Kindle and STUDY UP on at least ten books of your own choice. Does page one grab you? Why or why not? What makes you want to keep reading, to take that coveted glance at page two? Is it the action? The nuance? The voice? The main character? What about pacing? Sentence structure? Paragraph length? This is more than mere literary analysis. Trust your own opinion. Make it personal.

Critically read the first chapters of five books in your genre. Writers learn from other writers. So grab (or download samples for) at least five books in the same genre you write, and read the first chapter for each one. What happens in the first chapter? How much backstory does the writer withhold about the main character, and how much does he or she surrender? At the end of the chapter, what do you know about 1) the main character, 2) the plot, and 3) the external and internal conflict? How did the writer go about establishing that knowledge in your mind? Again, make it personal. This is your chosen genre, after all. Your opinion matters.

So there you have it, two free and simple ways to improve your writing this summer, without breaking a literary sweat. In the next post, I’ll address poolside ideas to strengthen your social media platform… with a cyborg twist.

Stay tuned…

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Writing, Tension, and Dead Bodies

Tension fish blenderHave you ever been tense? Stressed out? In limbo between one choice and another? Good. Then you have what it takes to be a writer. Writing is about tension. We all know that life has an abundance of inherent tension. The writer’s job is to draw out the tension and elevate it to heightened levels.

As a matter of fact, I’m tense right now.

Waiting…Hoping… Restless. Anxious. Agitated.

Why?

Because I’m at an “in-between” place in my writing. A few weeks ago I attended the fantastic DFW Writer’s Conference. Three solid days of networking with authors, agents, editors, and writers of all levels. To be honest, it got me so pumped up that I’m just now starting to come down. This may sound crazy, but if you were there… then you understand what I mean. This was my third year attending DFWCon, and it was the most inspiring yet.

Oh yeah. Back to the tension.

So at DFWCon, I pitched my novel to several agents and an editor. Actually, I pitched to anyone who would listen. Then I sent out queries with the requested partials, full manuscript, and/or synopsis. Now I’m waiting. But then again, “waiting” isn’t really the best word for it.

Tension.

That’s the word.

An uncomfortable place between one point and the other. Taut. Stretched. Precarious.

To cope, I’m writing and researching the next book in the series. Editing for Henery PressGetting in trouble with friends and family. Writing some more. Also, I’m chain-eating candy. Guzzling coffee. And so on.

I imagine many of my fellow DFWCon writers are in the same boat. It was all fun and games at DFWCon, a band of literary world-changers linked arm-in-arm with our pens and notepads. But now we’re back to the reality of the writer’s life in the slow-moving publishing industry—one person against the clock and a blank page. So to pass the time, I’ve compiled a few inspirational quotes from what I learned at DFWCon, especially related to tension in writing.

Les Edgerton, author of HOOKED: “Today’s novel has to start when the trouble begins. Not before.”

Don Maass, author of THE FIRE IN FICTION: “When we say what needs to be said, when we share our deepest most painful truths, we open up to our readers and they will connect.”

DFWCon Forensic Panel, The Science of Crime: “With a decomposed body, look for bugs in odd places. You normally get bugs near moisture. The eyes. The mouth, etc. Bugs in odd places are a clue.” (Not sure about you, but for me this statement does a GREAT job of establishing tension.)

Finally, a simple but relevant quote from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry: “Writing is art. Publishing is a business. The quicker you get that, the happier you’ll be.”

Indeed.

And the tension?

Pour it into your writing. Raise the stakes. Remove backstory. Look for bugs in odd places.

The writing life might be tense, but it is NEVER boring.

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No Fear in Writing (and Revising)

530196_275656205873774_455569301_n1I recently caught some flak for reposting a comic on my Facebook author page, because the comic contained profane language. If I offended anyone, I’m sorry. However, the irony of the comic is that it was about how fear of rejection and judgment by family members can keep you from finishing your novel. As in, “I can’t let my (mother, sister, daughter, wife, son, husband, father, brother) read this! So I might as well put it on a shelf and go back to the gardening.”

Granted, there are probably more mature and creative ways of saying it, rather than a plethora of four-letter words. But the point was clear: fear can paralyze you as a writer.

Fear in almost every capacity keeps us from being fully alive. Fear of vulnerability, fear of loss, there are all kinds of fear that hold us back personally and spiritually. But fear of rejection and judgment are biggies in the writing world. These fears can kill your writing dream. And I mean, kill it dead.

If you want to be a closet writer – the kind of writer whose great-grand-relative discovers stacks of unpublished manuscripts after your funeral forces an estate sale – then fear of rejection isn’t a problem. Write, (wo)man, write! No holds barred. Who’s gonna read it anyway? And who cares what they think? You’ll be long gone by then.

But if you want to be a published writer, if you want your work in the hands of strangers and friends alike, then expect to be rejected. And judged. And misunderstood. A lot. Starting with the first agent you query and ending with the critic who lambasts your last written words. Some days it’ll roll off your back like water off a duck. Other days it will sting like a fat-tailed scorpion.

That’s because being a writer isn’t about pleasing everyone. It’s not about endless accolades without risk. Writing is about diving into the human experience and coming back up with words to describe both the joy and sorrow here on earth. It’s about pain and bliss and heartache. It’s extreme and unapologetic, and some people just won’t get it. That’s okay. They don’t have to. They don’t even have to read what you wrote.

Want to know the single most important difference between unpublished writers and the published ones? Here it is: Published writers are willing to face rejection and judgment. Over and over and over again, from personal and public sources.

Nobody ever said writing would be easy. But wow, there is nothing else quite like it.

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If I had a Brain Implant… (Part 3)

lucid-dreaming1I tend to write about technology that scares me. Implanted microchips fit the bill… there are all kinds of things that can go wrong – horribly wrong – with subdermal electronic devices. My novel-length writing explores the darkest corners of my imagination, the terrors that await a future world where brain implants and subdermal ID chips are the norm.

I pray we never live in such a world. But if it does happen, I’d have to find a few perks to get me through the existential horror of it all. So here’s the third thing I would do,

IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT….

I would record my dreams.

Dreams are like candy for writers. Dreaming is a no-stress source for weird ideas, fantastical worlds, surrealistic nightmares, vivid characters, and heart-stopping terror. Writing ideas abound in the dream world. Many successful writers got ideas from their dreams, including horror masters Stephen King and Mary Shelley.  Even The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by a dream, a neurological state that Stevenson described as “that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long.”

But how often have we forgotten our dreams? How often have we woken up in the middle of the night, haunted by the most sublime dreamscape, certain we’ll remember it in the morning, and yet dawn brings the dreaded amnesia? Then it becomes merely a faint memory, a feeling, with no concrete words to describe it. Lost. Forever.

If I had a brain implant, I’d program it to digitally record my dreams. The pictures. The sound. The emotions evoked. The fear, joy, pain, sorrow, desire. The sheer impossibility. The longing. The bliss.

Then I’d send the dream to a word document and write a story around it. I’d never run out of ideas. Never hit writers block. Never have a dry spell. My stories would literally write themselves overnight.

Of course, there’s always the chance that someone would hack into my dreamscape and alter my subconscious thoughts. Fans of the movie “Inception” remember the concept of shared dreaming – two or more sleeping dreamers who can change aspects of the dream to achieve a certain result. But dream hacking is a frightening thought that’s best left to novels and screenplays.

If I had a brain implant, I wouldn’t use it for anything dark or nefarious like the characters in my books. Instead, I’d sync it to my coffeemaker for fresh coffee every morning when I woke up. Then in the day, I’d use it to perfectly match my music with my mood. Finally, I’d record my dreams for writing inspiration.

You know, the fun stuff. Basic. Simple.

The stuff of dreams.

(This concludes my series, If I Had a Brain Implant…)

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