It’s about this time each year that I wonder why I ever plant a garden.
I love the outdoors, and I like gardening, but I don’t have a green thumb. In fact, I kill just about every plant and flower I plant (I’m also a notorious killer of aquarium fish, but I’ll save that for another column).
My biggest struggle over the last two years has been with something called tomato blight. They look terrible, splitting and rotting on the vine.
Around this time last summer, I turned to my friends and gardening experts on social media to ask why this was happening to my tomatoes. I posted pictures of the rotten fruit (yes, tomatoes are a fruit), the vines, the leaves and the entire garden.
The first response to my “Why is this happening ...” post was obvious:
“Because you didn’t buy them at Walmart.”
OK. Very funny, I know. I should have expected that kind of response from some of my so-called Facebook friends. I usually get some kind of cheeky response from old college friends and fraternity brothers when I post serious questions.
But what followed was actually quite useful.
Responses included support from people suffering the same garden conundrum. Suggestions ranged from performing tests for acidity levels to monitoring the dampness of the soil. Interesting posts included old-time remedies such as planting a copper penny in the soil near the base of the plant.
Some suggested new ways to grow tomato plants, including a garbage-can method complete with pictures, videos and instructions. Do a Google search for “garbage can tomatoes” to see what I mean.
One friend led me to useful Facebook groups and pages such as Backyard Gardener.
Others posted their favorite mobile apps for gardening. I still have some of these apps on my phone today, and I use them when I see something new or weird happening with my crop.
Good gardening mobile apps include:
Garden Manager. This app is like a diary for your garden. You can set alarms to remind you to water and care for certain plants, and do a quick search for local garden centers.
DIY Gardening Tips. It does just what the name suggests, offering numerous tips, such as uses for coffee grounds, eggshells and banana peels. When you find a cool tip, you can share it on social media.
This year, I tried some of these apps and methods, including checking the acidity and water levels. I even tried planting copper pennies, which, it turns out, have been made with very little copper since 1982.
Even with the monsoon-like rain season we experienced in June this year in Northeast Ohio, I’m happy to report my tomatoes are large, green, and hopefully on their way to being ripe and red without splits and rot.
In a way, social media saved my tomatoes, thanks to expert gardeners who were willing to connect with me to share advice, expertise and great gardening apps.
It seems as though every time Facebook makes some significant change, the world responds in mass protest.
Of course, you won’t see picket lines or overturned, burning vehicles. But you will hear about it at the water cooler, or you’ll read about it in posts from friends most disrupted by whatever change Facebook has made.
In Facebook’s defense, these changes are often not as dramatic as everyone makes them out to be. For example, when Facebook forced mobile users to switch to its new Messenger app, the initial reaction was akin to the feeling of finding out a favorite TV show was canceled.
We’re annoyed, and maybe even angry for a few days, but we eventually move on (and often find a new favorite show on the same day, time and network).
As with Messenger, most of us succumbed to Facebook’s plot for world domination. We downloaded the app and started using it immediately.
Like many of you, I was annoyed by the push to use Messenger. My initial thought was, “Don’t change my stuff. I like things the way they are.” One year later, I’m begrudgingly happy with Messenger.
(I just let out an audible “hrumpf” as I typed that last line.)
I’m not always a Facebook defender, but I am when they give more control of the “Facebook experience” to the users.
Facebook’s main goal is to be profitable. They must please investors and advertisers. While Facebook has one eye on the bottom line, the other eye is infinitely set on improving the end-user experience. Facebook has hundreds-of-millions of active users who expect to see updates from important friends, invitations to local events and the occasional promotion from a relevant company.
For this very reason, Facebook is forever tweaking the “News Feed” algorithm.
According to Jacob Frantz, product manager at Facebook, “News Feed is [the] personalized stream of stories that you build from the people [that you friend] and Pages [that you like].” The algorithm is the code behind the screen, the stuff you don’t see but that understands what you like based on your Facebook history and preferences.
More recently, Facebook revamped its News Feed preference controls, giving you tools to see even more of the content you want to see, when you want to see it. Of course, you’ve had control over most of this content for a long time, regardless of Facebook’s elaborate algorithm. You just didn’t know it, didn’t know how to change it, or didn’t care.
Now you have easier access.
For example, if you have Facebook friends who are merely occasional users (e.g., they only post once every few weeks), you can set your preferences to see their posts first.
Frantz says you’ll see a star in the upper right hand corner for these “top” posts.
You can update News Feed preferences under Settings.
The app is available for iOS (Apple) devices and will be available soon for Android and desktop users.
Whether you’re planning a class reunion or a large convention, you’re probably using social media to organize the event.
But your options on social media can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost in all of the choices social media offers for event planning.
Enter Cheryl Lawson, CEO of Party Aficionado. Lawson knows a thing or two about planning parties using social media. You can read about some of Lawson’s parties at PartyAficionado.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @Partyaficionado.
I asked Lawson for some tips for planning parties using social media.
Q. What are your “must-have” apps for party planning?
A. A few of my favorite apps as a planner are productivity apps.
Dropbox is probably my go-to app. I’m able to share files with photographers, videographers, entertainers, etc. The best part is that I have access to those files regardless of which device I’m using (e.g., computer, smartphone).
I use Google Docs and Sheets for editing contracts and budgets, and just like Dropbox, I’m able to access those files from any device. The best feature of Google Drive is the collaborative ability. My team can work on the same document without having to worry about losing updates and edits.
Other apps I love are Eventbrite.com for online registration management and onsite check-in, Sched.org for agenda setting, and DocuSign.com for signing contracts and getting signatures electronically.
Q. Has social media made it easier or more complicated to plan parties?
A. I’d say a little bit of both. Facebook, Google+ and Meetup.com make it easier for us to connect with our communities and friends. But it’s also more complicated because we’re invited to so many events. As event planners, there is so much competition with people’s schedules.
Q. What kinds of social media do you see people using to plan parties?
A. I see people using Facebook a lot. I reluctantly use Facebook for events because I’m not a fan of the “Maybe” option. I prefer people RSVP either yes or no. Facebook has made it too easy for people RSVP yes or maybe, and then not show up.
Meetup.com is probably my favorite. Most people are part of a Meetup group because they want to get together. Also, the “On Air” feature on Google Hangouts is great for virtual parties.
Q. What kinds of tips can you offer novice party planners?
A. A lot of event professionals started as novice planners. It’s best to start with a budget. Whether you’re planning a girls night out, birthday party, or corporate retreat, costs can easily add up.
Consider using unique venues to add character to your party. I like to use places that even local people haven’t been too. Historical buildings, racetracks, college campus meeting spaces are great for this.
Whatever you do, be hospitable. It is the hospitality industry after all. Make sure your guests feel welcomed.
Before I became a communication professor, I was a Web developer and e-marketing director for 10 years.
When you’re in this position, you focus on the best avenues for getting messages to targeted audiences (e.g., age, gender, region).
But in the late 1990s, many of us took for granted that our Internet-based messages were reaching our targets. The fact was, no matter how much time spent creating beautifully executed, Internet-based marketing plans, all of our efforts were pointless unless a large percentage of our audience actually had a chance to see the message. That is, they needed to have access to the Internet.
So, in 2002, I joined a large group of educators, researchers and other professionals advocating for better Internet access for marginalized groups.
We weren’t alone. Politicians and other community leaders were also trying to find ways to bridge this digital divide.
The term “digital divide” refers to the gap that exists between groups, the “haves” and “have-nots,” and their access to all forms of information and technology.
Technology includes all communication- related devices: mobile phones, computers, television and radio, and, of course, the Internet.
There were some successful (and unsuccessful) efforts to bridge this gap. You’ve probably heard stories about federal- and state-funded programs designed to put technology in the hands of low-income citizens.
Regardless of your thoughts about these programs, the goal was simple: Get better access to phones and computers for disenfranchised groups, and not just at the library and local community centers – but in the home, where they could have access to information 24 hours a day.
The good news is that the gap in the digital divide is getting smaller.
Last week, the Pew Research Center published a report on the growth of Internet use among some groups. I argue that Internet “use” suggests increased “access.”
Pew looked at massive amounts of data. They conducted over 229,000 interviews as part of 97 different Internet usage surveys between 2000 and 2015.
Over the last 15 years, the Pew researchers found differences in Internet use based on age, income and education, race and ethnicity, and community (e.g., those who live in rural, suburban and urban areas).
In 2000, they found that African-American and Hispanic groups, rural citizens and those with less than high school educations were lagging behind other groups in Internet use. However, in May 2015 these groups reported much higher levels of use.
Of course, age is a major factor in determining Internet access and use.
Among all groups, young adults still reported the highest levels of Internet use (96 percent). But in 2000, only 14 percent of senior citizens reported using the Internet. In May 2015, that increased to 58 percent.
These numbers suggest the digital divide is shrinking, but we still have a way to go to connecting everyone to information and technology.
To read the Pew Research Center report, go www.pewinternet.org and search for Americans’ Internet Access.
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.