Archive for the ‘Opinion/rant’ Category
I wrote a bit about the conference earlier. But here’s an edited version of my presentation from PAB, which was an attempt to argue that bloggers and content creators could steal a technique and a principle or two from more traditional forms of content creation (like… journalism). Hope you like it. And feel free to argue with me.
I spent the weekend at a conference. No big deal there. We all do.
But this was the final PAB conference, and like most things related to this event, it turned out to be a big deal.
The back story:
Seven years ago, Mark Blevis and Bob Goyetche were fledgling podcasters, and with inspiration provided by Tod Maffin, among others, they created “Podcasters Across Borders“, a conference that took place in Kingston, ON. It was a great success. It eventually went from its original title to PAB, and moved from Kingston to Ottawa, where Mark (and I, for that matter) live.
I first attended in 2008, and I have been to four PABs. And this last weekend, they closed out their run with PAB 2012 at the wonderful National Arts Centre.
Why should you care about this? After all, you weren’t there. And the conference is gone. Who cares, right?
You should care because PAB was a wonderful case study of the power of community to form, grow, and thrive thanks to social media.
PABsters are a diverse lot. Paramedics, hardware guys, musicians, academics, entrepreneurs, public servants, car dealers, photographers, lawyers, editors, students, teachers… On the surface, there’s no commonality. So what’s to tie them together? How could the bonds formed there become so deep that copious tears are shed at each departure?
In a word, geekery. Everybody who attended a PAB was some kind of a geek. I’m a communications geek (and a guitar geek). Alexa is a food geek. Dude is a beatnik geek. I could go on through the list of people who have attended or presented, and point out the precise geekiness exhibited by everyone there. And for all of them, all of us, the geeking becamse the way of bonding — that I could talk to one person about vintage film cameras and another about the subtleties of Japanese culture and another about which hot restaurants were must-visits before they left Ottawa and another about the future of education as affected by social media turned me on. It indulged my terminal curiosity.
And PAB offers each and every one of its members a safe space to let their geek flag fly. The Saturday night open-mic allowed one branding consultant to let his Axl Rose-esque vocal style out to play. Anthony Marco brought the room to a standstill with his version of Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl.” And while the musicianship and vocals were far from world-class, the enthusiasm and love in the room were evident.
The shared understanding that brought the PAB community together also led to some tremendous presentations over the years, either full-length or the five-minute “Jolts” that Mark and Bob introduced a few years in. I presented this year, and found myself bedevilled by nerves that I rarely feel. Why? Because I knew just how high the standard was, and how much I wanted to meet it. Later, people like Sue Murphy shared that they felt the same way.
These social media tools we all use to either create or consume content are empty tools if they don’t facilitate some sort of human contact — either human contact online, or human contact face to face.
While Mark and Bob have chosen to fold up the PAB tent, I suspect that the strong, loving community they’ve created and that I’m so proud to be part of will refuse to let the event be forgotten. Remember, if you hear about a PAB 2013, I predicted it.
And to Mark and Bob: thanks, and congratulations. You have done a great thing.
PAB2012 on Flickr
Audio of the infamous 2012 open mic, courtesy Shane Birley.
Yesterday I posted about the idea that we can get hemmed in by structures. We can work within a structure to replicate things, and do it really well, but that’s not the same as making our own rules.
One of the things that I really find inspiring about Twitter is just what frustrated me about it when I first joined Twitter (in February 2007, according to this website). I didn’t know what to do with it. I’m not sure how I heard about it. And I joined because I find the best way of learning about something is to get on board and start from the inside.
I couldn’t see what Twitter was for. And then, I started to see tweets from Chris Brogan. Rather than statements like “This soup at restaurant X is AMAZING”, he was throwing out questions on Twitter that seemed like Zen koans. They seemed designed to provoke you to think. And I liked that. That was enough to engage me with the idea of Twitter. (Ironically enough, as I was writing this post, Brogan was writing about a sort of “Twitter fast” he did.)
But what frustrated me about Twitter was that my thought processes were based on the blogging model, which was based on the radio and magazine model that I was familiar with from decades of doing it. I was forced to move away from a format I was comfortable in. I needed to make new understandings for that new format. And that was good for me. I found value in Twitter.
When I tried Empire Avenue, I found a highly mechanized system that seemed to be the social media version of Farmville or Mafia Wars. While some people seem absolutely focused on maximizing their “share value” on that platform, I found zero reason to devote time or energy to it. (To the point that I don’t want to even give it the linklove.)
Here’s another example, and yes, it’s about Lego. When I was teaching this winter, a student told me about her son’s use of Lego. Remember those kits that I criticized last time? Well, this kid was taking his Lego kits and making stop-motion animation with them. Turns out, there’s tons of this stuff online. Some of it’s hilarious!
Consciously or unconsciously, he took a construction toy which went together one way, and used it to create something much more random and anarchic. He escaped the tyranny of the app.
Escaping the “app” is not getting rid of your smartphone. It’s about resisting the tendency to follow patterns.
- Don’t let your tools define how you use them.
- Re-examine your routines.
- Best practices are one thing. But don’t fall victim to being limited by them.
- Here’s one I have trouble with: recognize that you WILL fall back into the comfortable patterns, that routine will take over. Acknowledge that an attempt to change something has broken down… then do something about it.
Creativity is a joy and a treasure. Use it. Don’t let the routines govern you.
The phrase “the tyranny of the app” seemed to come up out of nowhere as we talked about creativity and the way people learn.
It was a minor epiphany, or so it seemed to me at the time. And I do think it actually has a little impact, so I’m going to expand on it here.
The backstory: while I’m one of three boys in my family, I was fairly distant in age from my brother — six and 12 years. So in some ways I was an only child. And what did I REALLLY love when I was a kid? Lego (or Legos, as I referred to them then).
Back then (the 1970s), Lego blocks were … blocks. There was the occasional curved piece. But most of them were slaves to the 90 degree angle. Squares, rectangles. Flat ones for foundations, bricks for building, long ones that joined structures together or served as wings… When I got one of these:
I was done. That was IT. The world had provided a great gift to me (or at least my parents had).
The point of Lego in those times was to build things. I can remember getting small kits of things that made model helicopters or the like. But most of the time, it was to create a microcosm. A world, a building, a place. And it came out of my brain.
And as I watched kids put the kits together, the idea wasn’t to create a world, to create; it was to replicate the picture on the box.
What does this have to do with the “tyranny of the app?”
We have two ways of learning, two ways of interacting. We can create, or we can complete. We can follow a plan, or we can make a plan. We can build according to our own vision and desire, or we can take the instructions we’re given and complete them.
Either way, we make something. It’s up to you to decide which way of making something is more significant, more important. Better.
Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about escaping the tyranny of the app.
I was unplugging a phone charger this morning, when I looked at the outlet. What did I see?
One of those. Except mine was full. Then I realized that most of my outlets, instead of just having two things plugged into them, had one of these plugged in, so I could plug SIX things into them. In some cases, one of those might be a power bar, meaning there might be 11 separate things going into that electrical outlet (by the way, did you know that the standard electrical outlet, with its three prongs, is called a NEMA 5? Specifically a NEMA 5-15R? Me either). And thankfully, the picture of a truly epic (and stupid) cable octopus is NOT taken in my house.
It made me think about two things. First, the houses we live in. We still build houses with the standard two-outlet (called a twin-duplex) configuration. Most new houses have more outlets than older houses. But they’re still the same old outlets.
I think the difficulty with managing electrical outlets in older houses can tell us a lot about the change in the way we live.So we maximize their use for our computers, stereos, home theatres, routers, portable hard drives, telephone chargers, battery chargers, and on and on and on… If you live in an old house, you know just how hard it can be to manage electrical outlets. And that’s especially important for folks like me, who spend a lot of their work time in their house. My home office has a lot of devices plugged in. My computer might draw 50 watts, not like a clothes dryer or my electric oven. But put all those little drains together, and we’re using lots of power.
The second thing it made me think of was my brain. Huh? Think of the devices in your life. The phone, the tablet, the laptop, the digital camera the desktop, the TV, the iPod, the stereo, the clock radio, the landline, the office phone… Think of all the things we plug in, and that we can’t imagine living without. Each of those is as much a drain on our consciousness as their corded counterpart on is on our electrical service.
And with each new media creation — radio, gramophone, telephone, mobile phone, television, internet — we’ve increased the demand in our brain for places to plug all this stuff in. But we still have two eyes, and two ears, just like those old outlets. How much power drain do we experience from the multitasking?
I’m not saying UNPLUG EVERYTHING! here. Most of the time, I love the things that all this connectivity has allowed us to do. Social media, increased opportunities for individuals and businesses to communicate with each other and share information and content: that is good, and powerful .
But it’s worth thinking about a bit more conscious management of the cables and plugs that bind our devices to our houses — and our brain.
It seems like just a year or so ago that Netflix found itself in the New York Times apologizing for hiring actors to pretend to be excited about the company entering the Canadian market. And didn’t the US Federal Emergency Management agency have to apologize for pretending that its own employees were journalists, when it faked a news conference? Oh yeah, they did!
But hey, those guys are amateurs. They are certainly not “Canada’s home for hard news and straight talk”, a network that is “unwavering in their commitment to uncover the real stories impacting the lives of everyday working people and their families“.
So when Sun News wants to cover a citizenship ceremony, what ends up happening? The minister’s office sends down the orders to put together a ceremony at the Sun studios (not where Elvis and Jerry Lee hung out, sadly), and when they have trouble putting together enough warm bodies to make the ceremony look legit… the ceremony gets faked, with public servants posing as new Canadians. Here’s the video, in all its cringeworthy glory. Keep in mind as you watch it, that six of these people are not “new Canadians.” They are federal employees.
I’m guessing the two small people on the end aren’t the public servants. They appear to be children, although in this topsy-turvy world who can tell? Here’s the story as reported in the Globe and Mail, obtained through Access to Information requests by the Canadian Press.
The story’s money quote:
When a bureaucrat sent Sun News a list of possible citizenship ceremonies to cover in Ontario, a network employee suggested another scenario. “Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” reads an email from a sunmedia.ca email address, the name blacked out of the document.
I suppose I should draw the lessons, although I can’t imagine I have to:
- Journalists shouldn’t create pseudo events or cover them as real events.
- Public servants should have more integrity.
- Hard news and straight talk don’t mix well with “Fake the Oath.”
Let’s all be a bit better than this.
The political appointee Candice Malcom appeared on Sun News today to apologize for the event. Sun News host Pat Bolland claimed that they knew nothing of the fakery. For what it’s worth, I never would have suggested the strategy followed in the wake of this muffup. Here’s the video:
UPDATE 2: Sun News Network’s David Akin weighs in with his take on the event.
In July, a man attending a Texas Rangers baseball game died when he reached for a foul ball that was tossed to him by a player. He lost his balance, went over the left-field wall at the Texas Stadium, and fell to his death while his six-year-old son watched.
This is a tragic story, no doubt. But I’m a bit perplexed by the idea of a statue being erected at Rangers Ballpark to commemorate the man’s death.
Here’s what the president of the Rangers told the Dallas sports show Galloway and Company:
I’m trying hard to find a way to put this without being disrespectful. But to me, a statue commemorates some sort of act of bravery. The man in this case — I don’t name him on purpose, because this isn’t about him — died in a tragic accident, one that you could argue was his own fault.
A young Japanese woman was swept over Niagara Falls this week. She had straddled a railing meant to prevent people from falling into the Niagara River. She then lost her footing as she tried to return to the sidewalk, and fell into the river.
Where I come from in Nova Scotia, there’s a place called Peggy’s Cove, which is known for its picturesque lighthouse and its impressive waves. Gravely-written warning signs ring the cove:
And yet, this happens all the time:
Each year, especially during or after storms, people are swept from the rocks and either are or are not rescued.
Tragedies like this occur often. They are sad. But when does a tragedy — especially one caused by the behaviour of the victim — deserve or merit commemoration?
To the credit of the Texas Rangers, they have apparently been in regular contact with the family of the man who lost his life, and this statue has their support. That’s good. But I wonder if there was a dissenting voice within the organization. I wonder how one man’s tragic attempt to retrieve a souvenir of a night at a ball game is transmuted into a tribute to the fans of baseball.
It seems to me that this is an act that devalues the idea of commemoration. Celebrate the fan? Yes. Absolutely. Without them, there is no professional sport. Commemorate tragedy? Yes. But commemorate a death that resulted from the dead person’s mistake? Something just seems wrong. Let me give you two examples from the sport of bicycle racing. On a mountain in France, a plaque commemorates the death of Fabio Casartelli, who died in a crash on a descent in 1995. On another mountain, a plaque commemorates the death of Tom Simpson, who died while climbing a fearsome mountain doped to the gills on amphetamines.
Both deaths are tragic. But are both equally deserving?
I’m still not sure I’ve articulated my thoughts well. But maybe this is a start.
But I think there’s one thing that those blog posts didn’t address that needs to be — the responsibilities of the critic.
If social media is to advance, we need to be vigorous critics of the ideas we see. Unquestioning acceptance of what someone says doesn’t advance thinking at all. But there are some ideas that I’d like to put forward that I think should guide us:
- Punk the idea, not the person. There’s a difference between criticizing an idea and casting personal aspersions.
- Think before you type. If you see something you want to respond to, don’t do it right away. This is (a) a good way to train yourself against social-media-attention-deficit-disorder; (b) a chance for your brain to actually think about the idea in question. Neither of those are bad things.
- Choose your words carefully. I know how easy it is to scale the peaks of invective. The relative impersonality of online life allows us to forget there are other people on the end of our slings and arrows. But even if you follow the “punk the idea” rule, you still need to choose wisely. When writing a comment, blog post, or something that qualifies as criticism or debate, why not give yourself that extra opportunity to re-read it before hitting
”send” or “publish.” Walk away, then come back. One thing that I do — I’ll actually write in my word-processing program. Then I have to cut, paste, and hyperlink stuff. Those added steps are opportunities for me to rethink what I’m saying and ensure it should be said.
- Don’t hesitate to contact the object of your critique. If you have a concern about something you read, why not contact the writer and ensure that your understanding is clear. It’s easy to misread things, especially if someone isn’t a good writer. That in itself might be a reasonable criticism, but if you do ensure that your criticisms are founded, you save a humiliating climbdown later, a la Emily Litella. Being in contact with the person whose work you’re going to criticize can also ensure that you’re not writing things you wouldn’t say directly to the person.
None of this should stop people from being critical. In fact, I would argue that if people only did things as I commanded, we’d have a more robust, topical, and PRODUCTIVE discussion of how this big thing called social media works and how it should work.
I look forward to you criticizing this — and anything else I write.
After I posted my little rant about social media ideas last night (Sunday late-night posting bad for traffic? IN YOUR FACE), there was some Twitter talk, including this from Scott Monty: “Au contraire. Social media *leaders* need to be strong enough to withstand criticism. #socialmedia”
I agree. Let’s test this: Scott Monty, YOU SUCK!!! Just kidding.
I think that Scott Monty and I are actually in agreement (as you’d expect from a guy who does a Sherlock Holmes podcast and a guy who does a Stephen King podcast), but that we’re coming to a place of agreement from two different directions.
While I argued that ideas must be strong enough to stand up to criticism, I read Scott’s tweet as saying that those who make the ideas must also allow their ideas to stand on their own merits.
There was a medeival French philosopher named Michel de Montaigne. He once apparently wrote “We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship.”
When you’ve worked to develop a concept, a program, a web site, something — it’s hard to hear it criticized. The natural tendency is to protect it. And sometimes, the most accurate critiques are those that sting the most. We clutch our ideas in our metaphorical arms, desperate to keep them from harm. And we sometimes lash out. Or, in the case of social media, our friends lash out on our behalf.
I think we need to ensure that if we’re the target of criticism, we first take the time to recognize whether the criticism is of us or our work. Then, be courageous enough to decide whether the criticism has a basis of truth. If there’s something in it, then USE it. If there’s nothing, then choose whether to ignore it or to respond.
I think there’s one more post in me about this — about the rights and responsibilities of critics in social media. Maybe today, or possibly tomorrow.
There’s a technique in improvisational comedy called the “Yes And.” The “Yes And” is a principle that states that if two people are in a sketch, each line they create should build the sketch up, not block its progress. Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:
“In order for an improvised scene to be successful, the improvisers involved must work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the scene, in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action in the scene, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene. This might include giving another character a name, identifying a relationship, location, or using mime to define the physical environment. These activities are also known as endowment. It is the responsibility of the other improvisers to accept the offers that their fellow performers make; to not do so is known as blocking, negation, or denial, which usually prevents the scene from developing. Some performers may deliberately block (or otherwise break out of character) for comedic effect—this is known as gagging – but this generally prevents the scene from advancing and is frowned upon by many improvisers. Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as ”Yes, And…” and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the improvisers to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.”
And there’s a similarly familiar concept in brainstorming that states that “There are no bad ideas.”
Social media is neither of these things, and we who work and think about it do ourselves a disservice when we pretend otherwise.
At this point, you’re likely asking “What in God’s name are you talking about, LeDrew?” Fair enough. There have been enough incidents in within earshot of me recently where criticism is construed as insult very quickly. There was the Gini Dietrich-G+ contretemps. Then there was the Neicole Crepeau-Copyblogger kerfuffle. Now there’s the Olivier Blanchard-Social Media Club
shitstorm, er, foofaraw. I could go on a lot longer, but you get the idea. I’ve heard it said that some of my book reviews here and on For Immediate Release have raised hackles (although I’ve never been contacted by anyone about them to complain.)
I am partial to the idea of debate. In fact, I love it. My partner and I met at a debating society meeting in university. She claims that the relationship won’t end until one of us acknowledges defeat. She could be right.
But I am getting the feeling that debate, criticism, and argument are becoming the “fights that dare not speak their name” in the world of social media. And that feeling was strong enough that I horned in on a BlogTalkRadio show hosted by Joe Hackman and featuring the aforementioned Gini and all-round pot-stirrer Danny Brown last week called “If you’re not making enemies, are you really doing it wrong?” to blather about debate for a while, until everyone got bored of me.
What does all this come down to? What am I saying? Here’s my manifesto:
- You are not your ideas. If people criticize your blog post, program, sales offering, etc. — they aren’t by definition criticizing you.
- If your ideas are challenged, don’t shut down the challenger, and if you are the lucky person who has fans and supporters, police them.
- If your ideas are so delicate and filigreed that the merest critique will cause them to crumple into a 52 pickup… maybe you need to have some better ideas.
If we’re going to tell ourselves — let alone our employers or our clients — that social media is robust, that it makes sense, that it’s worth going into, we bloody well better be able to defend our ideas amongst ourselves. Because if we can’t convince our comrades in arms, how are we going to convince the CAs, the lawyers, and the CEOs?
There might not be any bad ideas in a brainstorm. But there are in real life. And we need to do to put those bad ideas out of our misery. We need strong ideas. Weak ones won’t even support… a house of cards.