You And I Were Meant To Fly, And, Also Tweet (On Wheelchairs And Internets And Raising Our Voices, Oh My)

January 19, 2011

Once upon a time, in an Internet far, far away – which is to say, 6 months ago – I tweeted about Air Canada. I tweeted about them a few times, actually – I tweeted that they’d broken my nephew’s wheelchair, and I tweeted that they were working to replace it, and then I tweeted that they hadn’t, in fact, replaced it and had instead left Tanner stranded, immobile, while his mother and I scrambled frantically to reach someone at Air Canada on the telephone and did anyone out there have a number that didn’t start with 1-800 and end with ‘we’re sorry, ma’am, but you’ll have to call back on Monday’? – and it kind of started what is often colloquially referred to as a shit storm.

I’ve never written about that shit storm. I’ve never written about it because, frankly, by the time it was over I was sick of the whole thing. I was sick of the whole thing during the whole thing, actually: I was sick of what it did to Tanner and my sister; I was sick of how it took hold of us and shook us and demanded that we explain ourselves, dammit; I was sick of how it spilled TV cameras and reporters into the hall outside our room and how it pulled them along behind us on the sidewalk and in the park and on the subway and demanded that they ask, again and again, does this demonstrate the power of Twitter? Does this demonstrate the power that Twitter gives the little guy? I was sick of trying to explain, yes and no; it’s complicated; this is a triumph, and also not a triumph, and could you please leave that little guy alone? Because that little guy is scared and confused by all of the attention and this isn’t helping.

All of which is to say, that whole thing that happened on and through Twitter and the Internets wasn’t, at first blush, a triumph of the little guy, or at least, not a triumph of our little guy, not in ways that mattered to us and to him personally, and it was hard to articulate that, and so I gave up trying.

Then, this week, a friend of mine wrote a post about feeling slighted by a retail store – a store selling mattresses, specifically – that was inaccessible to her in her wheelchair, and the trolls descended, accusing her of fabricating her distress, and of abusing her social media influence in complaining. “You wrote this post to gather enough support for a Twitter campaign that might possibly net you some material good will from the Mattress store,” said the troll. “Because even though there are a whole lot of people in a much worse situation than you, YOU CAN start a campaign and get free shit. Like HerBadMother, like others, who see any opportunity to slam a company as a way to get something for nothing.” And my head blew off, which is to say, I realized that I couldn’t not write about what happened this past August.

It wasn’t the first time that I’d heard that argument. That argument abounded in the hours and days and weeks after the Air Canada debacle, in comments on the news stories and in blog posts and comments to blog posts, etc, etc. It was everywhere: typical privileged mommy blogger, taking to Twitter to harass a company until it gives her stuff. And: it’s disgusting, instead of dealing with company privately, she complained publicly in the hope that she’d get something. And: this is the problem with the Internet, it makes people feel all entitled and stuff. It’s the same argument that was leveled at Heather Armstrong when she complained publicly about Maytag. It’s a very popular argument among those who hate seeing others – especially mothers, although that is another topic entirely – raise their voices about anything. But here’s the thing about this argument: it contains some truths. It’s true that I’m privileged. It’s true that I was motivated, in discussing publicly what was happening with Air Canada, to get something. And it’s true that I felt entitled to get something as a result of that public discussion. But those truths don’t add up to the conclusion – that I was engaged in a selfish and nefarious enterprise, that anyone who complains about anything is engaged in such an enterprise – that the critics were (and, relevant to Anissa’s case, are) asserting.

Let’s start with the latter two truths: that I was, in discussing publicly what was happening with Air Canada, motivated to get something, and that I was entitled to get something as a result of that public discussion. My initial tweets about the destruction of the wheelchair were completely spontaneous – the chair had come to us in pieces, Tanner was distressed, my sister was huddled in a corner of La Guardia, sobbing – and, as I do pretty much reflexively when something extraordinary happens, I tweeted it. Air Canada killed Tanner’s chair, I said. They killed his chair. And they had. It was horrible. Tanner, who is unable to even sit upright without proper support, was balanced precariously and painfully in a collapsible hammock-style chair while his own, $10,000 custom chair sat in pieces before him. Hell yeah, I tweeted it. I wasn’t motivated by anything other than the need to express my alarm in a manner that didn’t involve sobbing at the baggage handler, but still. I tweeted.

But when Air Canada management showed up to address the issue, I calmed down. And I tweeted as much: Air Canada is dealing with it. Taking deep breaths. I told Twitter that I was giving Air Canada a chance to resolve the problem. It was only when Air Canada failed to resolve the problem as they’d promised, and in fact had made things worse by stranding Tanner with neither a repaired chair nor a replacement chair, that I went back to Twitter and pursued, again, the discussion. But even then, I didn’t do so to complain; I did so to get help. I went back to Twitter to ask Twitter if anyone, anyone, could help me find a phone number to reach someone at Air Canada who could help. The numbers we’d been given were going to voicemail, and Customer Service was decidedly un-servicey, and we were stranded with a disabled, terminally boy who didn’t understand why he couldn’t get out bed to use the toilet. So, yes, I took to Twitter. And I was motivated to get results. I was motivated to get help. And hell yes I felt entitled to that help. Air Canada had promised it. I had a means to pursue it. I intended to – and did – use that means, and use it hard.

Which leads us back to the first truth that I cited above: that I was, that I am, privileged. I am absolutely privileged. I had a means to pursue that to which I felt entitled. I had – have – a substantial number of Twitter followers, and friends (not least, this guy) with even more substantial numbers of Twitter followers, and the advantage of a very large and very social media engaged community following Tanner’s story. I can get a story out there, and when the story is one that someone like Alyssa Milano is following, I can get it even further. Not everyone can do this. I was and remain painfully aware of that fact. Painfully, because it’s unfair, and because the implications of that unfairness are distressing. If this had happened to my sister and Tanner when they were traveling on their own, they would have been shit out of luck. There would have been no social media recourse; no Twitter followers would have arranged for replacement wheelchairs to be sent to their hotel; no local restaurateurs would have sent meals while they were stranded; no Canadian politicians would have seen the story on the Internet and intervened to talk to Air Canada executives on their behalf. I received thousands of emails while we were in New York, and in the days following, and to this day, from disabled persons who had had similar experiences with airlines and other companies, who spoke of damaged wheelchairs and walkers and oxygen tanks and of inaccessibility and of shame, who asked if I could help them, if I could support their causes and campaigns and efforts to just get back that walker that was lost in baggage.

I can’t help every such person. Even if I could wave a magic wand and make the community of tutu-clad fairy god-nerds grow into a vast and powerful army of advocates (I wish, I wish), there would still not be enough virtual megaphones in play to ensure that every person gets the opportunity to have their voice heard, as they deserve. And therein resides the nub of the issue: we are all entitled to have our voices heard. We all deserve to have our voices heard. But there aren’t (yet) enough virtual megaphones to go around, and not enough virtual podiums to stand on, and not enough channels of broadcast and exchange accessible to enough people to allow for those voices to rise on their own. So those of us who do have access to those megaphones/podiums/broadcast channels have an obligation to use them, and to use them well, and to seize any opportunity that we can to use them on behalf of others. We just do.

The promise of the Internet and social media for public discourse is to make it possible for everyone to be included in that discourse, for everyone to have a voice, whether that voice is used to pass judgment on Ricky Gervais’ performance at the Golden Globes or to debate the finale of Lost or to share their experience of parenting or to get help with a customer service problem or to raise awareness of certain issues or, you know, change the world. We’re nowhere near there yet. But every time we push that discourse – to include other people, to include other topics, to create a climate of constructive criticism on matters that require such criticism (such as, for example, the adherence to principles of accessibility by airlines or mattress stores), to make it clear to everyone that, yes, you can and should use your voice – we get a little closer. And yes, sometimes that journey involves stumbling into potholes – there are always going to be people using their voices irresponsibly and inappropriately (what that means, exactly, requires another post entirely) and for what we might consider the wrong reasons – but the existence of potholes is not a reason to stop walking. We make this road by walking it, by pushing ahead, by using our voices as we would our feet and letting them carry us forward. But if we keep yelling at each other about the potholes, we’re never going to get anywhere.

Tanner eventually got his chair back, repaired as well as it could be. Air Canada made, and continues to make, every effort to make sure that the end of that story is a good one. They’re sending him (in partnership with Disney) to DisneyWorld, with his cousins, which is the wish at the very top of his life list. This wonderful, of course, and totally unexpected. Is it worth what we, what he, went through? No. I’d spend the money to make that trip happen myself, if it meant we could erase his experience of those five days, or even just his memory of any one of the people standing in front of him and saying, as if he wasn’t even there, this little boy is going to die soon! (Do not get me started on how that has messed with his head. DO NOT. ANGRY CATHERINE.) But – and here is a difficult contradiction – it was worth it, in some other, different ways. It was worth it for the awareness that it raised and the discussion that it provoked. It raised awareness and provoked discussion about the challenges that are faced by persons with disabilities – discussion that is, to understate things, difficult to generate and sustain among able-bodied persons – and about muscular dystrophy and, of course, about the power of social media to get voices heard. The Disney trip is nothing compared to this.

For me, anyway. For Tanner, the Disney trip is a magical, wonderful thing that is giving him something to smile about every day. He’s too young to be concerned about being heard and empowering voices and the power of social media for change, etc, etc, what-have-you. But I’m not. We’re not. We’re old enough and wise enough to know that those things matter more than meeting Mickey Mouse. And we’re privileged enough to be able to do something about them. So let’s do that. Let’s agree to try to focus on expanding the opportunities for discourse – for empowering voices, our own and those of others, and getting them heard – rather than looking for reasons to shut them down. Let’s keep stomping our feet (I am playing fast and loose with the metaphors now, I know) and moving forward and pulling as many people as we can along with us. Especially those whose feet can’t stomp.

Especially them.

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    { 47 comments }

    Postpartum Progress January 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Love. This. Keep stomping.
    .-= Postpartum Progress´s last blog ..Ilyene Barsky- A Tribute on the Passing of Postpartum Progress Fairy Godmother =-.

    Issa January 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    In a way, we are all privileged. We write on shiny computers from cozy couches or coffee shops. Some of us, in semi-uncomfortable chairs in an office, or maybe in a cramped cubicle. We tweet from our smart phones. In a way we are privileged.

    It doesn’t mean we should be allowed to speak. Or vent. Or rage. Or, when in need, ask for help. It shouldn’t matter if you are someone very few people know like me, or a big name like Heather Armstrong. Everyone should feel like their voice can be heard.

    I’ve been a part of this community for six years. I’ve helped more people, in small ways, that I can even begin to name. When someone is in need, we all try to do what we can to help. Just because you have a larger group of readers here in this space, or thousands of followers on Twitter, doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to ask for help.

    Trolls are trolls. They will always be here, flinging poo, as only they can do so well. Mostly, I believe it to be jealousy.

    You shouldn’t be afraid to tell the world about Tanner. About the injustices that happened to him. Anissa shouldn’t be afraid to speak out either. Talking is how things change. Making people aware of challenges, of how screwy a system may be, is how change happens.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Things I love =-.

    Catherine January 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    @Issa, poo flingers. I love that.

    Issa January 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    @Catherine, They so are. :) Sometimes you just have to be happy it wasn’t set on fire first.

    Schubert January 19, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    The problem is the usual one-people identify a real fault (such as entitlement, narcissism, rhapsodizing personal and dubious tragedy until it becomes actual callousness), or, more often, have it identified for them, then unthinkingly generalize it to the entire category of conduct in which the fault occurs. This happens because they’re spiteful, envious, themselves callous (as these bloggers suggest), yes, but also, and I think much more often, because they don’t know any better. Granular differences (screeching about how terribly a restaurant treated you when one of its staff kept you waiting four minutes for water versus using a public forum to pressure a company into meeting its obligations) are beyond their capacity.

    Catherine January 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    @Schubert, yes. This. It is exactly this. THANK YOU.

    Bren January 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    And what the trolls fail to realize is that YOU, in all your “privilege” and “entitlement”, shine a light on the uncaring, unthinking, unservicey (LOVE LOVE LOVE that word) entities that have spent eons shrugging their corporate, fat-cat shoulders and saying “Oh Well”. You are performing both a private service and a PUBLIC service! Perhaps if these entities realize that one-off incidents CAN’T be concealed, brushed off or otherwise ignored, they will actually make good on the promises they make as they pocket our cash.

    Good on ya! Trolls, back to your underbridge abodes!
    .-= Bren´s last blog ..Be My Valentine scrapbook page 8” x 8” =-.

    Bec January 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    These are all great points, but I have one beef. Why are people who raise dissenting opinions always called trolls? If blogs/social media, etc. are meant to open up these great discussions, why are people who don’t agree with you – or the majority of commenters – labelled with this name? Doesn’t that defeat the point of having a discussion in the first place?

    Catherine January 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    @Bec, people who raise dissenting opinions aren’t called trolls. *I* certainly don’t call anyone who disagrees with me a troll (there’s a lot of back and forth and civil disagreement that goes on in the discussions here.) Because you’re right – the backbone of great discussion is disagreement. Trolls actually get in the way of that, because they DON’T disagree – they derail the discussion entirely by making accusations and calling names and wagging fingers. The troll at Anissa’s site didn’t *disagree* with Anissa – she made an accusation against Anissa (and me, and Heather Armstrong, although the latter was only implied.) As did the ‘trolls’ who attacked me this past summer – they weren’t engaging in civil discourse about the dynamics of Twitter; they were making accusations about my motives.

    So, no, it has nothing to do with disagreement. You’re welcome to jump into this discussion and say, no, sorry, I think that the self-serving nature of making complaints on Twitter overrides any broader social good, and I’ll respond civilly (in disagreement) and you’ll be welcome to respond again in turn and we’ll get along just fine, even if we never come to an agreement. I’m HAPPY to have that kind of discussion. What I’m not happy to have – and what I define as trollage – is mean-spirited attacks on people. Disagree with, criticize ideas, fine. But be nice to the PEOPLE. Then you’re not a troll.

    Lisa January 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    @Bec, It isn’t people who don’t agree. It’s people who come to your blog to start a fight. If you come to my blog and tell me what a horrible person I am, yes, you are a troll.

    Anissa January 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    @Bec, One of the people who left a comment totally disagreed with what I thought and made her poi ts in a calm and understandable way. I may not agree but i can appreciate that I write a blog. I expect people to disagree with me sometimes. But I don’t allow someone to come to MY blog and spew hate and vileness. That is asking too much.

    Anissa January 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    To have this stupid situation with the mattess store evolve into something that could bring Tanner and his family ONE MORE SHRED of sadness makes me want to get stabalicios.

    I should have the right to complain about an unaccomadating strode.

    You should have the right to complain about a company’s attempt to make up for a great wrong.

    It can’t ever be about these trolls and what they want.

    YOU taught me that.

    Xoxox
    .-= Anissa´s last blog ..not all trolls live under bridges =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    and you keep teaching it right back. XOXOXOX

    Lisa January 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head about why people throw a fit.

    When we went to Disney a couple of years ago, my daughter got sick. Disney sent us to a hospital that couldn’t treat her and we ended up spending our vacation in the hospital 30 miles away. They were no help either. Until I blogged for help. Somebody who knew somebody else who worked at Disney helped salvage what little time we had left. And I’m forever thankful.

    However, I did get told how awful of a mother I was. How greedy I was. My post got added to a forum about Disney and they had a field day with me. Was it worth it? Yep. Would I do it again? Yes.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant January 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    If we can use our voices and podiums to right wrongs that not only benefit us but might also benefit others, now or in the future, I fail to see how that can rationally be construed as bad.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..We’ve got company =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    yes, but you’re RATIONAL.

    Miss Britt January 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I am so, so glad to read this. Yes. Yes social media is powerful. And yes, the responsibility of those with the biggest microphones have a responsibility to use them for a greater good.
    .-= Miss Britt´s last blog ..How Quality Over Quantity Can Make You Happier =-.

    The Domestic Goddess January 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Once again the Internet Trolls strike and destroy. I love how folks have plenty of opinions and hatred and criticism when they’ve never walked in your shoes, or Tanner’s shoes, or Anyssa’s shoes. Easy for them to be judgmental. They NEVER would have done that. They NEVER do that with their children. They NEVER talk to people that way! They aren’t rich, powerful Mommy Bloggers! ELEVENTY!

    Seriously, I’ve been on a rant about this lately. People of the Internets? There are REAL people with REAL feelings on the other side of that computer screen of yours. It’s easy to type words. Sometimes you have to know when to walk away from that computer, to step back and think about what you’re saying to those folks you don’t really know. Because you can’t possibly really know.
    .-= The Domestic Goddess´s last blog ..Wild and Crazy Ride =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I go back and forth on the issue of whether trolls give any thought to how hurtful they are. Maybe they don’t think about it. Or maybe – and this makes me despair for humanity – they do.

    I hope that they don’t. I hope this is all just the pernicious effect of this kind of technology. I really do.

    The Domestic Goddess January 20, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    @Her Bad Mother, I think it depends on the person. I know folks who DELIBERATELY troll because they get a kick out of it. Makes me sick because I’m pretty sure they were the same kids playing tricks on poor, gullible, naive me as a preteen and teenager and then laughing when I cried or got upset. Maybe I’m just being defensive (no doubt) but I’ve always believed people are inherently good. At least I want to.
    .-= The Domestic Goddess´s last blog ..Wild and Crazy Ride =-.

    Sharon January 19, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    You are such an eloquent writer with a powerful voice. You *could* use it for material gain and yet you have always chosen to use it to give back. Not only to your family – but to bring awareness to many other issues that wouldn’t otherwise be brought to the light of day. You, my dear, are an inspiration. On so many levels.

    Lauren Hale January 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I have used Twitter to contact a company about issues I’ve had with companies before. Why? Because – the companies are ACTIVE on twitter, you can often get a better customer service response via Twitter as the company is highly motivated to respond quickly and appropriately. Why? Because of the very reasons you specified. It’s Twitter. If something is perceived as an injustice, it gets retweeted and shared. Quickly in some cases as you discovered.

    It’s not about getting something for nothing. The one time I railed against an airline company on Twitter it was because I was trapped in an airport for six hours due to mechanical failure with the plane for my original flight. Even the flight I was rescheduled on was delayed. My entire family was entirely put out, my children had to pick mommy up at the airport in the middle of the night despite having school the next day, and Daddy hadn’t taken any medication for his back all day because he thought he would have to drive to ATL to pick me up as the Airline was not very clear and communicative at the airport. So hell yeh, I tweeted about it the following day. And yes, I got an electronic travel funds voucher. But it wasn’t because I was like “HEY! So and so. Gimme free stuff because I’m a Mommy Blogger.” I had been severely inconvenienced as had my entire family. And yes, I was entitled to something for that inconvenience. That voucher enabled me to travel to the PSI Conference this past fall for less than $100. I was grateful for it.

    I’m glad you wrote about this. And I’m glad to hear that Air Canada has been continuing to make that situation right.

    Hats off to you for using your voice then and for using it now. You rock.
    .-= Lauren Hale´s last blog ..On the loss of a Postpartum Pioneer- Ilyene Barsky =-.

    Another Suburban Mom January 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    You did a good thing. You raised awareness and you got help for someone who needed it.

    Social media is still new, and there are still those that think that ‘mommy bloggers’ should be grateful for a few coupons in exchange for their efforts.

    You are showing us a great big powerful way to do things, and I say ‘Thank You’
    .-= Another Suburban Mom´s last blog ..HNT Alphabet EditionII- J is for =-.

    Neil January 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    That was a powerful and honest post, and I absolutely agree with your point of view. There was good in what you did that day. The trolls are wrong. And barking up the wrong tree. If there is one aspect of online controversies that should be discussed is OUR OWN ROLE in it, and how we transform these events into something that it is not.

    I noticed during that day on Twitter that events started with your friends supporting you and Tanner. But as word got out, it attracted the attention of more people outside of the personal blogging realm, who seemed more interested in the social media aspect of the story. This was inevitable. Not everyone knows you personally. They seemed less interested in you achieving your goals, or the personal story, or Tanner, then congratulating you for getting the media’s attention. This is how we are now being trained by online experts. Nothing exists until the media picks it up.

    I noticed something similar during Christmas when The Bloggess was helping others with generous gift card idea. She was working her butt off for days before there was a big media mention. Then, all of a sudden, people were saying how proud they were of her. To me, it gave the impression that they were more proud of her mention on a news outlet than all the good she was doing.

    This is one of the negative aspects of influence and social media. We all view the world like a big PR machine.

    I assume the trolls were less upset about what you did — how could they be so heartless? — than jealous of the attention you received. And there is no easy fix for that. They should just be happy that something good happened out of it.

    We all are attention junkies now.

    I think as bloggers and writers, we need to understand that events like this are not planned as PR campaigns. You were thrust into that role on that day, just like the Bloggess didn’t expect the gift cards to mushroom, or the blogger from “Rage Against the Minivan” didn’t expect to be on the Today show today to talk about her “hatred of minivans.” It is better to support each other rather than feel envy.

    There are probably limits to using influence. Asking for a new washing machine might be overstepping it. Helping your nephew is a different story.

    You did most everything the best you could. You’re a blogger who was winging it, and using Twitter as a tool. We were the ones who lost focus, turning this from an important personal story into a “yay, she’s going to be in the newspapers!” media event.

    There is value in things, whether of not they are mentioned by the newspapers. And none of us can really plan when it happens. I’m sure, in the long run, you would have rather the whole rift with Air Canada never even occurred. You would have rather used your voice for other, bigger matters.
    .-= Neil´s last blog ..The Obvious =-.

    GingerB January 20, 2011 at 2:38 am

    @Neil, I don’t know Dooce from Adam, and she doesn’t know me, but we live in the same home town. Did she really ASK for a washer, or did a company trying to save face offer one that she then sent on to a shelter for women and children? I can’t say how the agreement for the washer was reached as I don’t know – but this is the walk another mile in that person’s shoes maxim writ large – I work in the criminal justice system and I know who lives in that shelter, and trust me, those folks need and deserve a washer they can use in their efforts to achieve self sufficiency and come out of an ass-kicking situation. Heather Armstrong’s Twitter battle that day helped people who are not very popular or well cared for, and that pleased me, whether her numbers went up or down be damned. I love HBM and I believe in her advocacy for her beloved nephew and people who are similarly situated, like her friend Anissa, but it doesn’t make sense to take a potshot at Dooce just because she is “bigger” or the washer was offered to her and she gave it away, yet support HBM and Anissa. I think they all rock, because advocacy takes balls, every day of the week, which is why not everyone makes the effort. I’m proud to read of your efforts made by Catherine, Anissa, and even the giantess among bloggers, Heather Armstrong, who makes me laugh, and that makes the world better too.
    .-= GingerB´s last blog ..Shes my tiny dancer =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I have actually asked companies outright for stuff – but it has always been stuff to give to others (Intel Canada gave a computer to a women’s shelter in Newfoundland on my urging; Motorola gave phones; etc.) (I actually have a policy, stated on my Give Good Blog page, to give away anything that I receive or make a comparable donation, and to ask companies that I work with to make donations.) But that’s incidental to the bigger point that you’re making – that we shouldn’t judge these situations based on whether someone is big or not. Kevin Smith is just as entitled to complain about his treatment at the hands of an airline as I am or you are – that he’s well-known shouldn’t matter. In fact, I’d argue that the more that well-known people in social media speak out, the more a climate of companies treating EVERYONE as though they might be well-known might develop. And everyone would get special treatment, such that ‘special’ becomes the ‘norm.’

    Rachel January 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Great post and great comments. I admire the way you are constantly questioning the system and trying your best to improve it.

    On another note, people actually said that in front of Tanner? Actual grown-ups who are supposed to have somewhat of a filter and think about a child’s feelings? UGH. I can’t even begin to express my disgust with that. Sending you a hug from Texas because I’m sure that hearing a comment like that was like a train blasting into your soul…

    Lana W January 19, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    What else do these people think polices and regulates such companies if not the accountability of public image? Use whatever means are at your disposal to hold their feet to the fire. That’s the beauty of the new age of social media and marketing. Engage or die…
    .-= Lana W´s last blog ..The First Year Meant… =-.

    Angie January 19, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’m pretty sure jealousy is not the driving factor for a large portion of your critics. I think your constant complaints about everything from your children to your latest travel snafu and how end-if-the-world hyperbolic your tweets are is what rubs your readers the wrong way. Yes, we get it – kids drive us nuts at times, and airlines screw up and should be held accountable, but you’re not known for your tender/happy/great service/fun with kids tweets. For someone who does live a priveleged life and has a great family, you spend an inordinate amount of your twitter life telling us how much things suck. People want to see the happy times, too. I may be projecting my feelings here, and taking liberties with how I perceive things, but you seem obsessed with hits as much as the public service portion of your blogging. You make sure to link as many of your own blog posts as possible, you tweet and retweet every post a dozen times, and you gratuitously mention dooce, seemingly to less to make a point, and more to get a greater number of hits.

    You’re right, the comments on Anissa’s blog were way out of line, but it seems you’re using an occurence over there to do more self-promotion over here. I get it. Blogging is your business, but when you have more than a couple links back to your own posts, it’s offensive.

    There really is no positive way to frame this, but it’s not meant to be trollish. It really is how I feel, and why I think you’re criticized. Maybe I’m wrong and totally alone in this. You’ve done some pretty great stuff and given a voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t have one, and you’re to be commended for that.

    Catherine January 20, 2011 at 9:51 am

    @Angie, I’m sorry that you find my writing too negative. I assume that anyone who follows this blog and my Twitter stream knows that pretty much anything negative that I say comes with a wink – most of it is meant to be archly funny. I mean, that’s a big part of what I use these forums for: to share motherhood in all of its grotty glory. I’m just not a sunny smiles, crafts and cookies kind of girl. But I do assume that people know – because I certainly write about this – that I feel lucky/blessed/privileged and that I adore my children. Look, I live too close to the clock, with the heartache of my sister and Tanner. How could I NOT recognize how lucky I am?

    As to being too concerned with hits – that’s projection. It’s an assumption that you’re making – linking back to my own posts is a form of citation, pulling threads of ongoing stories together (not everyone coming here knows Tanner’s story, or other backstories, etc); referencing Heather is not gratuitous, because the controversy over the dishwasher is probably the most well-known ‘mommy blogger’ case of the kind of thing that I’m talking about here. (Also – how does linking another blogger get me more hits? If things worked that way, it’d be WAY easier for bloggers to generate traffic.) I don’t keep tabs on my traffic. I don’t care. I *like* that people read me, but I truly don’t care whether a few thousand more or less visit. (Unless they are friendly, talkative types who like to talk about what I talk about. That I care about.)

    In any case, what does it matter? How does promoting my own writing (a fair portion of which is devoted to promoting causes, etc) translate into something bad? Is this a woman thing, inasmuch as women should be more reserved and coy? Or a blogger thing (no-one ever thought less of a book author for going on book tours and doing readings and brandishing copies of his work wherever he went)? I’m asking in all seriousness. Why is it that it’s seen as a virtue, in this particular corner of social media, to NOT promote oneself?

    Anyway. You are entitled to your opinion, and I’m grateful that you framed it so civilly.

    Catherine January 20, 2011 at 10:13 am

    @Angie, also? And this is, again, a question that I ask in all seriousness: how is writing a post that is inspired, in part, by another blogger’s post an act of self-promotion? (And in this case in particular – how is responding on my own blog to comments made about me somewhere else ‘taking advantage’?) Should I instead be ignoring issues that are raised elsewhere (and ignoring anything said about me elsewhere) in order to preserve some kind of creative integrity and guard against allegations of this sort? I’m really not clear on why someone would be offended by this. Back when I started blogging, blogging was considered a kind of dialogue. Bloggers responded to each other posts with their own posts all the time. It was considered a good thing. Linkbacks! Has this changed?

    I guess, these kinds of charges feel like they’re things someone says when they’re looking to find fault. If they’re actually something that I am, in fact, doing wrong, I’d like to understand why.

    kelly @kellynaturally January 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    @Angie, I don’t understand how it’s wrong to use something available to you to… you know, DO something with. Let’s say you have a medical degree. You’d likely practice medicine with it, right? If you have a car, you’d drive it, right?

    Internet people with internet clout: contacts, reach, platforms use the internet to do what they need and want to get done. You can’t really do what you want without having those things (degrees and experience, computers and contacts). And when you have them what should you do? Sit on your hands & think, “Yay me! I’ve got stuff!”??

    And for goodness sakes, if you don’t link back to your own work, its like assuming everyone in the world who ever encounters your blog has stopped & taken the time to read every. single. article you’ve ever written, and knows EXACTLY what you’re talking about, context and all – which is a ludicrous and ridiculously self-elevating assumption to make. Further, putting links to your own work IN your work, makes it just a tad more difficult for people to steal your work.

    Catherine uses her position to help others, to tell stories, as an emotional outlet, whatever. It’s HER space – as is her twitter space. And OTHER people can choose to not read, not to follow, etc.

    But to sit back & complain & judge about what someone else has done for themselves with their own stuff they’ve created for themselves? Bah. Pure jealousy.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, Catherine.
    .-= kelly @kellynaturally´s last blog ..Parenting Through the Perfect Storm =-.

    jaelithe January 20, 2011 at 12:34 am

    It wasn’t really YOU causing a fuss on Twitter, about Tanner’s wheelchair anyway — it was other people, people like ME, who read about what was going on and repeated it. (Annnnnnd maybe tracked down all the Twitter accounts associated with Air Canada and Tweeted at them. Ahem.)

    I lent my hand to raising awareness of your problem on Twitter because I was trying to help a little boy who was scared and in pain a wheelchair, full stop. It had nothing to do with you being internet famous. It didn’t even really have that much to do with the fact that I’ve met you in person and think you are nice. I would have done it for ANY child in a similar plight.

    And I feel terrible that the same public attention that was apparently (ridiculously!) necessary to get a kid with a disability an appropriate wheelchair also caused so much stress.

    I agree with you that it’s important to think about the fact that there are far too many other children with disabilities who do not have family members with the resources at your disposal. But I also know you were already VERY conscious of that issue even while trying to help Tanner recover a usable chair, because you talked about that concern at the time, in public (as did I, as did many other bloggers who were involved in the effort).

    But is this trollish response really about your privilege, or Anissa’s privilege? Or, I wonder, is this more about our culture’s unfortunate issues with disability? I used to work for a theater company that promoted disability awareness and during that time I became hyperaware of just how appallingly common it is for able-bodied people to hold the poorly examined attitude that those with disabilities are somehow taking advantage of the rest of us, to get special privileges. Some people get irrationally angry at the existence of special doors or reserved parking spaces for people with disabilities, for example, which is ridiculous, because, hi, I am pretty sure people who have difficulty moving around would much rather have, say, FULLY FUNCTIONAL LEGS than a sweet parking spot.

    Either way, you are too hard on yourself, Catherine. Don’t let the trolls get you down.
    .-= jaelithe´s last blog ..So That Happened =-.

    Laural January 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    This was a really interesting post. Also sad and frustrating.
    At our company we are currently (slowly) implementing social media. And, when we had an important meeting about it the Air Canada story came up.
    It was a fascinating discussion. I’d followed it on twitter and in the media, but I was still a little surprised to hear it come up in our meeting.
    The conversation was fascinating because I had a very different reaction than others in the room.
    But, when it comes down to it, I don’t quite understand the negativity.
    Sure, you had a voice and you used it.
    But, as someone who doesn’t have nearly the audience you have, I didn’t see it as you using power and me not being able to. Rather I saw it as an exercise in how we can use our resources to reach out for help. And alternatively as a way that we can offer help when we have the available resources.
    Speaking as someone who is doing this corporately (in a very small way) I think we would be dumb to see twitter as a negative. For us it’s a way to listen.
    As for the free stuff … I’m glad you went to Disney.
    I’m glad Anissa got a mattress.
    And, if you get other stuff that makes Tanner’s life easier … good.
    And, I’m also glad both of you (and a lot of other people) are out there making a change in the world. Because that affects all of us no matter what challenges we are or are not facing.

    Debbie January 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    As far as the debates over debating go, I don’t have any comment on what trolls are, what is or should be permissible, tone used, etc., but what does strike me about “mommy blogs” (I know the term raises some hackles) is that the posts tend to be full of complaints, as described above, but the comment threads tend to be full of a kind if weirdly sycophantic, even somewhat worshipful, back-patting, defensiveness and the like. Maybe disagreement is sometimes welcomed, but there tends to be an awful lot of agreement, to the point of sycophancy and cliqueishness. I actually don’t have a problem with the griping in the posts. I can relate to some if it, think some of it serves a useful purpose. But when I look at the comment threads I often feel weirded out by them.

    The contrast between the posts and the comments is especially striking when compared to comment threads on many websites, which are often full of what you might call mutually-supportive trolling (so much so that it’s often just the norm and not considered trolling). No doubt that is one reason comments on blogs like this would be defended, by way of that contrast. It also probably reflects a cultural difference that explains some the gaps between mom blogs and other parts of the Internet. But I’m still not comfortable with either extreme, and there are a select few websites that strike a better balance. And I suspect that I’m not the only person who makes a distinction between blog posts and comments, and views them and their cultures very differently – on this site and others.

    Catherine January 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    @Debbie, I think that you’re right about the tone that comment threads can take. And sometimes that tone is understandable – this is a community, after all, and when someone’s words seem to call out for comfort/reassurance/support/whatever, it gets offered – but, yes, sometimes it can seem, when the agreement and head-nodding and back-patting is taken as a whole, that it’s just a consciousness raising group, or support, or something that seems a little less discursive than might be expected.

    I’m not sure that’s always or necessarily a bad thing. I do understand how/why it can rub people the wrong way. Something to think about more carefully, for sure.

    Notaspanker January 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I think this is a very interesting post, considering your previous post re your feelings towards “tv Mom’s” (i.e. Kate Gosellin). You were highly critical of them.

    I think that the arguement can be made that Kate is on t.v. to support her children. She is using media interest to support her children and herself. You used media interest to get something that you wanted, and I am not sure if there is much distinction between the two.

    I see no difference, and really no problem with what you or her do or did. It just makes sense to me that you used the tools that were available to get what you wanted. I think that it is that simple.

    Catherine January 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    @Notaspanker, I don’t see a tension here. For starters, my criticism of reality TV moms was not directed at the fact that they use/are part of media (I, too, ‘use’, or am part of, media); it was directed to the extent to which their children are compelled to perform in that exercise. I’m not a critic of adults using media tools – especially not moms! more moms on TV, please! – I *am* critical of children being compelled to be a part of that (for example, as in the Gosselin case, live out their lives in front of the camera, ‘perform’ their daily activities for an audience, etc.)

    In any case, I’m not sure that ‘using media tools’ is sufficient to make Kate’s television projects (her means of supporting herself and her family) and my use of Twitter (which, as someone rightly pointed out above, wasn’t so much MY use of Twitter as it was TWITTER’S use of Twitter – I made a few tweets, but the thrust of the tweet-movement was carried forward by others. I didn’t orchestrate it; it just happened) comparable in any kind of revealing way. Sure, they’re both use of media, but they’re also very different ways of using media. We might also say that both Jennifer Lopez and I have used media to get what we want, or both Sarah Palin and I have done so, or both Lady Gaga and I have done so, etc, etc. It doesn’t really reveal anything, other than, oh, hey: MEDIA.

    Notaspamker January 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    @Catherine, I think the original point of your post was a bit of hand wringing on the issue. and I say YES what you did is the same as What Lady Gaga does. the only difference is that she does not question her privilege she accepts it for what it is…at least not publicly. If someone wants to criticize you on what you did, let them. you achieved your end result you used the tools available to you. Again, itbis that simple there cannot be any legitimate criticism lobbed your way around this.

    Notaspamker January 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    @Notaspamker, And apparently I have not yet mastered iPad typing yet

    Catherine January 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    @Notaspamker, and I agree with you that what I do is, in some respects, not at all different from what Lady Gaga does (minus the spectacular shoes.) And I’m perfectly comfortable with criticism, if it’s reasoned and civil. The post was my reaction to uncivil and unreasoned criticism, the presumptive judgments about my motives (to get free STUFF) and the erroneous claims about what actually happened. But in any case – I still reserve the right to respond to criticism; the fact of my responding doesn’t mean that I DENY criticism (if I denied it, refused to tolerate it, I would just delete critical comments. EASY.)

    Notaspanker January 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    @Catherine, Your tone is so angry, and I am agreeing with you. I am not sure what that is about.

    Catherine January 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    @notaspanker not angry! sorry if it sounded that way – just was trying to make clear that I wasn’t taking offense at (real or perceived) criticism. sorry if I came off as arch!

    EmilyInCocktailLand January 23, 2011 at 1:13 am

    Well, I don’t have anything super insightful to say…I am too sleep deprived (I heart my *almost* 1 year old who thinks sleep is SOOO 2010). But, I can say this…as a new mom- struggling, flailing, fearful, hopeful- I have found SO much comfort and support through your writing. I have never found that you come off negative…realistic- yes. But, honestly that is what I need and crave. Reality. Not some fake-better-than-thou-plastic blog. Life isn’t about being happy, is it. It is about loving well. And that, is exactly what you seem to do. Love isn’t always (er, I would guess it’s more accurately rarely) pretty. It is a hard job to love well. Keep up the good work.

    Sarah Kate January 23, 2011 at 3:11 am

    I’m a proxy stomper and will remain so. Thanks for the reminder that it’s needed.

    Condo Blues January 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    What the poo flingers and trolls don’t realize is that more companies pay attention to what’s being said about them on Twitter than allowing their Customer Service centers to be as servicey as they should be. Sometimes the only way to get customer service from an entity is to use Twitter.

    The funny thing is that the naysayers NEVER jump on the thousands of tweets from people who compliment a company for doing a good job.
    .-= Condo Blues´s last blog ..Sew a Quickie Cloth Camera Strap Cover =-.

    imfreckles January 26, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Love this post. My sister is in a wheelchair and we have had similar problems flying. My sister also has an expensive custom chair. It is important for everyone to speak up when something is wrong, not matter if it is over facebook, twitter or just a letter to the President of the company ( like my parents have had to do more than once)

    Thanks for sharing!

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