Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rigidly Defined Areas Of Doubt & Uncertainty

This blog is ostensibly about comics. In fact, it's right there in the title: "Kleefeld on Comics." What's perhaps less well noticed, though equally as prominent, is that the blog is also about me. This really isn't just a blog about comics; it's a blog about me talking about comics. A subtle distinction, but an important one.

As you read through my posts here, you'll find a lot of information about comics. Simple factual information about comics. Who created what, when something was published, where things happened, etc. You'll also find a lot of opinions about comics. Reviews and commentary and such. But what is ALSO here is information about me. If you read through everything carefully enough for a long enough time, you'll be able to figure out how old I am, where I went to school, how many siblings I have, what I do for a living, where I work, what kind of car I drive...

And that's one of the attractions of "social media." That, over the course of time, small snippets of information about us as individuals come out and become known. We're not just telling people what our meal plans are one 140-character message at a time. We're getting to know people. This is what has attracted people to gossip magazines for so long: we got to know "celebrities" on a more personal level than what was seen in movies or on TV. The internet has just amplified those possibilities so that anyone can share the details of their lives. Anyone can have their preferences known and absorbed, regardless of distance or the status of their "celebrity."

What's more, we're able to control that as individuals. While the rich and famous have paparazzi following them around all the time, we can choose which pieces of our lives we want to share. We can even share details about our lives and still remain largely anonymous, behind oblique screen names and avatars.

When I first started getting online in the mid-1980s, I was intrigued by this notion. My online handles bore no real reference to me and I could (potentially) pass myself off as a 40-year-old woman or a 28 year-old-man or hyper-intelligent dog. I didn't try that approach for long, however; it just felt quite tedious to me. I liked who I was and wanted to take the credit and/or blame for what I said and did. I don't recall exactly when I made the decision, but by the time I left high school, I was using my name (or some obvious derivation of it) for all of my online activities. I've continued that practice to this day. (With the one real exception being Second Life, in which you are required to select your surname from a pre-defined list. Even here, though, I created a screen name -- Feldane Klees -- which is an anagram of my real name and designed my avatar to look like how I do in real life.)

Now, here's the interesting twist. It's possible to maintain separate identities in each social media venue. You can be one person on Twitter, someone else entirely in Facebook, and someone else entirely yet again on Flickr. But, for anyone like me who's made the point of keeping only one identity across all of these different channels, it's possible, if not likely, that people are getting a disjointed picture of you.

What I've tried to do here is make things relatively stable from a cross-venue perspective. What I post here gets duplicated on Facebook and gets linked to on Twitter. My Twiiter account is then replicated over on LinkedIn. So whether you're a comic fan who hits my site, an old friend from high school who's friended me on Facebook, or a professional acquaintance who's connected through LinkedIn, you'll have access to largely the same material.

But not all of it.

An old friend of mine is reading my blog through Facebook. Last week, she caught a few stray comments on this blog that concerned her. In part because I was also posting links in Facebook only to a number of articles/videos about BP's horrendous disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Also in part because of some additional information I'd given her via email. She mistook some of my cynicism for pessimism and arrived at the conclusion that I am deeply unhappy. Though that assessment is wildly inaccurate and I had to spend a few emails to set her straight, it wasn't an absurd conclusion.

A month or two back, a co-worker popped into my cube and offered me a hearty congratulations. When I asked what for, she replied that I must have gotten married recently. Which confused me to no end, since I'm not married at all. It turns out she had seen one of my Tweets via LinkedIn, which was in fact a straight Retweet of somebody else who had mentioned their wife. Even though LinkedIn does pick up and display the "RT" notification from Twitter, my co-worker was unaware of the meaning behind it (not being on Twitter herself) and thought all of the Tweets that I post necessarily originate from me.

In both cases, people who know me personally arrived at some totally erroneous conclusions about me based on some limited information I placed online. Despite the fact that I've tried to be very consistent and clear in ALL of my online messaging, across ALL of the channels I work within. Now, obviously, that could well be just less than perfect execution on my part. However, I am quite deliberate in what I post, and am conscious of how/where it is viewed. I've also got an MBA in marketing -- not to mention a decade+ work experience in advertising and/or marketing -- so I think I'm pretty familiar with the notion of keeping a consistent brand identity and staying on message. Which is to say that keeping a single person's message accurate and consistent, with no room for misinterpretation is very difficult, even for a professional.

Now, what do you suppose happens when you're trying to keep on-point for an entire company? And what happens when you have several, if not a dozen, different people working on that same project? And what happens when you have other people who used to work for that company but no longer do also weigh in on the messages that they're trying to send out?

Which brings me to my point! ("About damn time, Sean!")

My point is that we almost NEVER have the whole story. Maybe we missed a related article that provides some precedence, maybe the copy writer was having a bad day, maybe the copy editor has a personal grudge against someone else in the company and wants to make that person look bad, maybe there's some additional information that just isn't being distributed publicly... We are looking at what corporations and the media are telling us through a limited window that, if the people at the corporation are doing their job properly, is fairly consistent and tightly controlled. (Even if that control is all about transparency!)

My point is that when DC kills off the character Ryan Choi or when Marvel puts a higher for sale price on a digital version of one of their comics relative to a printed one or when a group of publishers get together to pull down a scanlation site, we -- the general public -- do not have all of the information. There's almost no way we can. We can listen and read about the players involved have to say on the matter, but that will almost certainly be after the fact. We can't be privy to each and every passing conversation that influenced the decisions.

But that's not to say that we're not allowed commenting on things, based on what we do know! And that's not to say we can't go back and ask questions to those involved! We absolutely should all be doing those things as publishers (i.e. people who have access to the internet). We absolutely should try to make the record as accurate as possible, and the more factual information we're able to collectively compile on any given subject, the fewer errors or misreadings will be left in place.

I'm not saying that complaining about this, that or the other is inherently wrong if we don't have all the facts. But I do think it's worth pointing out from time to time that we don't have all the facts and it's entirely possible that we've totally misread the scenario. We should be open to receiving new information and adjusting our reaction/response/opinions accordingly. This doesn't always happen. (Witness the ongoing webcomic/newspaper strip dust-up in light of hard numbers becoming available.)

But until such time as we DO have more facts, the death of Ryan Choi was a bone-headed decision, as was offering a digital comic for a higher price than a print one.

1 comment:

Ian @ Trade Reading Order said...

Great post. You know, I think the comics community actually has a one up on a lot of other online communities for one reason - we seem to be really into forums, which must be a remnant of our geeky early adoption of the social net.

What I mean is, there are a lot of photography blogs, for example, but photography forums aren't nearly as active or obsessive in discussing recent news.

But with comics, there is often a long and nuanced thread on something like Choi or the Digital announcement before I see any long form dissection of the news on blogs or often even in web "magazines" (basically just blogs under a group branded banner instead of a personal one).

While many opinions are still pretty out there, it's a very different way to see things discussed than in other areas I'm interested in.