I love a good science fiction book.
Thanks to e-readers and the Internet, it’s never been easier and cheaper to find a good book. My Kindle has a dozen or so books that cost a dollar each.
Still, some of the best e-books are actually free, including a few on Amazon. Some of the best online free books are available to anyone with Internet access. No Kindle required.
Online storytelling communities have become all the rage among writing communities over the last few years. Authors can post writings that run the genre gamut, from fiction to non-fiction, suspense to self-help, it’s all there.
Writings appear as articles, stories, and poems, either through a website or app.
To be honest, I found one of my favorite storytelling communities, Wattpad, through my daughters.
“I want you to read my story,” daughter number one said.
“Great, print it out, and I’ll read it,” I said, like I was still reading books in the 20th century.
“No, it’s on Wattpad, and you have to vote on it,” she said. I’ll explain the voting thing in a second.
“What’s Wattpad?” I asked.
The beauty of Wattpad is less about free access to good (and some not-so-good) writing, and more about a community of readers and authors sharing their work, asking questions, and providing critiques.
My daughters have posted several stories and receive regular feedback from their readers, most of whom are friends from school. They offer suggestions on possible changes to a character, subplot ideas, and alternate endings.
The best stories rise to the top through votes. A vote simply suggests the reader likes the story. Getting a lot of votes improves the chances of having your work read by more community members.
Readers can share their favorite writings on other social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler. Or you can simply share it with a friend via email.
Don’t be fooled. Wattpad is not just for kids.
Some very famous authors have made their way to Wattpad in hopes of gaining new readers, to get feedback on works-in-progress, and to tease other work yet to be released.
One of Wattpad’s more famous champions is Margaret Atwood, author of best-selling books like “The Robber Bride,” “Onyx and Crake” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the latter of which will be released as a television series on Hulu in April.
Atwood’s work on Wattpad is impressive. The opening to her 2015 book, “The Heart Goes Last,” is available for community members.
After spending some time with Wattpad over the last year, reading work from Atwood and the Earnheardt girls, it’s clear there’s a little something for everyone – from the new novelist to the seasoned storyteller.
Note: Atwood will deliver the YSU Skeggs Lecture on April 21 at Stambaugh Auditorium. Tickets are free and available at the Stambaugh box office.
“I’m done with Facebook,” a close friend recently lamented to me over a cup of coffee at Youngstown State’s Dunkin’ Donuts.
“I just can’t take the negativity anymore,” she said. “The political posts are overwhelming. And what’s worse is I agree with what most of my friends are posting.”
She held up her pointer and middle fingers in the air to make quotes when she said “friends.”
“You can’t just drop in with rant after rant, and expect me to want to stick around,” she said.
“They haven’t engaged me on a personal level. “
She asked me to get coffee to vent, but also to find some strategies for dealing with the seemingly endless political posts and the sea of disruption the world has been floating on since November.
OK, OK. I know. This all started long before November.
Still, it left us to wonder what happened to civility on Facebook. When exactly did it turn from cute baby pictures, pithy memes and inspiring quotes to picket signs and bullhorns?
“When did everyone suddenly become a loudmouth on a soap box in the town square?” she asked.
A few years ago, I wrote about my resolution to be a better social media user.
In that column, I noted our penchant for being better social media users. To be better, I opined, meant being a more “positive” social media user.
A coffee in one hand, and smartphone in the other, she scrolled through her Facebook newsfeed methodically unfollowing or unfriending anyone who posted even the slightest hint of a political opinion.
“I’m done with them all,” she exclaimed (a little loudly, I might add).
Clearly, she’s frustrated. She’s not alone.
If you’ve recently scrolled through your newsfeed, you’ve likely read posts from friends who claim they’re unfriending friends. Those who post anything political or don’t ascribe to a specific political ideology get the boot.
The fact is, there are tried-and-true strategies for dealing with unwanted posts. We’ve just forgotten them.
The first one begins with you.
Are you mostly positive in your social media posts?
“Be the positive social media change you want to see in the social media world.” No. Gandhi didn’t really say that, but I like to think he would have.
“Try this,” I told my friend, “let the first thing you post each day be something positive.”
Rather than respond to political posts with your own perspectives that perpetuate negativity, offer a positive retort.
Say something positive about someone in your life, post an uplifting picture, or find an inspirational quote.
It doesn’t mean that every post has to be positive and inspiring, just the first one. Positive posts are infectious. You can inspire others to be upbeat.
And who knows? Your positive posts may lead you to cultivate new friendships and mend broken ones.
When the ratings for Sunday’s Super Bowl rolled in, they were likely met with some disappointment in the National Football League’s front office.
Conversely, media critics and researchers weren’t surprised. Ratings for NFL games have been down all year.
Fox’s broadcast of the big game drew 111.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen data released by the network on Monday. It was the smallest audience for the NFL’s championship in four years.
To be clear, garnering 111.3 viewers is an impressive feat when you consider our entertainment options. With counter programming such as Animal Planet’s annual Puppy Bowl or the Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl, it’s easy to understand why some people simply turned the channel.
It may be hard to understand why so many chose not to watch the Super Bowl. After all, it was one of the greatest games in NFL history. It had an exciting finish. It had the first-ever overtime in championship history. The winning team came back from a huge deficit to win.
Why did so many people turn away?
Some claim the game was, well, boring. So, they may have turned away early. When you consider that most people tune in before the game kicks off to view the pomp and patriotism, they were probably watching with an expectation that the game would be exciting.
Instead, the first half was a blowout, probably leaving many people to lose interest.
Some claim the lower numbers are a reflection of the scandals that continue to plague the NFL. Whether it’s concussions or domestic violence, some viewers are turning away in protest.
But don’t blame social media. The fact is the social media ratings were worse than Nielsen’s TV ratings. Yes, users were actively posting updates about the big game on big platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But even those numbers were down from previous championships.
For example, some 60 million Facebook users created 200 million images, comments and reactions (i.e., Likes) during the Super Bowl, many of which were posted during the Pepsi Half Time Show with Lady Gaga. That’s down 25 percent from last year, when 65 million people created 265 million posts.
Twitter users were far less active than the previous year. According to Nielsen, about 3.8 million U.S.-based users created just under 17 million tweets during the game. That’s a drop of about 33% from last year’s championship, which generated a little more than 25 million tweets.
In fact, Twitter’s response to the lower numbers was interesting. They noted that users generated over 27 million “global” tweets about the game.
Rather than respond to the decline in activity, they simply posted the numbers with highlights from important moments during the game.
You can see more on those numbers and tweets at blog.twitter.com.
My wife claims that those who use WebMD can be classified into two camps: optimistic and pessimistic.
An optimist, she says, will search symptoms on WebMD and ultimately rule out the most serious of ailments based on the possible causes offered.
A pessimist will search the same symptoms and see only doom and gloom, and focus on the gravest of possible outcomes (e.g., long-term illness, death), let alone the most serious of causes.
Of course, my wife and I both use WebMD. When you have four kids, it’s not financially prudent to visit the urgent care at the sound of every sniffle.
Luckily, my wife and I tend to fall into the optimists’ camp when using health information sites.
“I actually recommend patients use [WebMD],” said Dr. Mike Sevilla, a family physician in Salem.
“It’s probably the most popular site that my patients mention to me during office visits.”
Aside from being an expert on connecting with patients online, Sevilla is a highly sought-after speaker, in part because of his use of social media and Internet. He’s my go-to-expert anytime I have questions about online health advice.
“Medical sites like WebMD are really good at specific questions like: What are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack? What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke? These sites cannot put symptoms together for you and give you a diagnosis,” Sevilla said.
In addition to WebMD, Sevilla recommends patients use the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic websites. But like anything you read online, he warns pessimists and others to proceed with caution.
“I tell my patients, sites like WebMD are like the World Book Encyclopedia,” Sevilla said.
“When I was growing up, my parents bought an entire set of [encyclopedias], and I remember going back and reading about a lot of topics, and eventually found myself reading more about health-related topics.”
“And just like the encyclopedia, you can learn about a disease using WebMD, but it can’t diagnose you,” Sevilla added. “And, obviously, you should never diagnose yourself.”
Working at the Family Practice Center of Salem and the Salem Regional Medical Center, he sees many patients who visit only after looking at WebMD and other health sites first.
“I have patients say, ‘In WebMD, I put in that I’m fatigued and I’ve had some abdominal pain and it told me I have cancer. Do I have cancer?’”
Sevilla is quick to remind both optimists and pessimists that only health professionals can paint the big picture.
“Trained medical experts are the only ones who can synthesize and integrate things like your symptoms, your previous health history, your family history, and other pieces of information to come up with a diagnosis.”
Check out Dr. Sevilla’s blog at drmikesevilla.com, and follow him on Twitter at @drmikesevilla.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.