Last night I attended an event put on by the Ball State Creative Writing Department. It was the first in this year’s series of visiting writers, and the star of the night was published author Michael Martone. I had read some of Martone’s work, but never actually seen him in person, and the impression I got from his appearance when I first walked into the room was one of an older professor-type who would be very likely to call out anyone in the room he may catch using a cell phone or iPod during his presentation. I was wrong.
Before Martone began reading the selections he’d chosen for the evening, he asked everyone to take out their cell phones… and program his cell phone number into them! He then gave out his own personal number, twice for those who were slow to type it in the first time, and told the crowd to text him during the event – to tell him if they liked or disliked a piece, how they thought he was doing, whether they were getting tired of standing because there weren’t enough chairs for everyone, etc. This just brought me back to my first day of Professional Writing class this semester, when the professor told us we SHOULD tweet and make status updates during his class, followed by a joke about how those should also be about how awesome his class is.
While I do think giving out your personal cell phone number to a room full of college students, most of whom are just dying to be publishes writers as well, may be taking things a bit too far, we have to admit that social networking and communicating outside of the actual physical forum is becoming huge at such events. Tweeting and setting Facebook statuses about something your professor said, or about how you’re enjoying a visiting writer is a great way to get others who couldn’t be there involved, and to spread the word about that person’s work. It allows you to really network for them in a way they couldn’t. On the other hand, texting or messaging the main person during the event makes the audience feel more personally attached to what is happening. This works especially well at an event such as the one I was just telling you about, where a good portion of the students there were only attending for class credit.
I didn’t take advantage of the order to text the author during his performance, but I wish that I had if only to see what his response would have been, if there would have been a response. I did, however, create a Facebook status about the event and the book I had purchased there afterward. The status caught the attention of my more literary inclined friends, so I know it did exactly what it was supposed to. Social networking and texting, the use of technology in general can be so beneficial to writers, event coordinators, really anyone in a professional setting… if they’re used correctly and incorporated well.