In her opening keynote speech for Blissdom Canada '11, Catherine "herbadmother" Connors challenged the audience to come up with answers to four questions. It has taken me longer than it really should to come up with those answers. Though I understood what Catherine was after – intellectual curiosity, both humble and rigorous, is the key to true wisdom. Applying the same models of scrutiny to connect with honesty and integrity is the key to social media – I felt squeamish.
There is an uncomfortable disconnect for me between the “social” and the “media”. This is perhaps best exemplified by the picture-taking and picture posting that goes on at a conference such at Blissdom. I become excruciatingly self-conscious. Posed pictures feel especially contrived to me as I am immediately removed from an experience I am in the middle of experiencing. Really, I struggle hard enough to stay present and in the moment when meeting relative strangers. The pictures however, tell the stories. The snapshots say “I was here, with you”. Which makes me smile.
Similarly, my squeamishness about social media is oxymoronic. I still feel either vain or exposed when I write personally online, yet blogging as I understand and practice it, is the act of reaching out to a community. Blogging therefore is inherently personal.
At least, it was inherently personal a handful of years ago. Increasingly that is changing, as the pendulum swings much closer to the “media” end of the social media spectrum. The branding of bloggers and the monetization of blogging is fueling a momentum away from personal narratives on the Internet to individual, often very talented “voices” who may or may not have a pitch.
Often the most interesting answers lie down the path of the most resistance. If writing personally in a public space scares me, then what am I doing here? What indeed was I doing at a social media conference? And how was I feeling about this pretty bag of swag? I figured I had better answer Catherine’s questions and see where they led.
Something/things people don’t know about you
• Prone to nosebleeds (Consequently, I remain quite calm when dealing with free flowing blood.)
• An abiding love of creatures great and small (Even hermit crabs. Even a large mama spider and her egg sac, both of which I gently relocated from the garden glove I put on today.)
• A terrible weakness for chintz (No really, terrible. Left to my own devices, I would be wearing a vintage chintz cardigan, while drinking tea from a chintz teacup on my chintz couch. It is an ordeal for those who love me.)
Something/things about which you are knowledgeable
Something/things about which you are not knowledgeable
• Football (Though I have really tried.)
• Natural history (I want very much to be walked through the woods and taught the proper names of trees.)
Something/things about which you believe
• That women’s stories are half the foundation of any culture and yet women’s narratives remain under represented.
What is interesting, what in fact a fuels narrative, feeds inspiration, and ultimately holds people and communities together, is not the things we know but rather the things we do not know.
The process of exploring our own journeys through love, grief, or child rearing, through quitting smoking, divorce or trying and failing to eat only locally-produced food for a year are the stories we are drawn to. I may indeed love literature and believe passionately in the continuing need for feminist critical thought, but a much more interesting story would be why my compost turned to soup that one year.
If talking about inspiration, or social justice, or the messiness of motherhood attracts advertisers, frankly I am pleased. Our complicated, and yes commercially driven world must turn, and if advertisers want to associate with and by extension help fund this community of mothers and rabble rousers, then I think the relationship could be worthwhile. I worry though about the swag, the blog giveaways and the shill. I worry that the continued insinuation of product into the collective narrative will eventually become suspect, tarnishing the integrity of both participants.
What I want is a fistful of stories, faces for the Twitter handles, hearts to go with the minds. I am here for the “social” end of the “media” spectrum, the exchange of ideas, the writing, and very best of all? The knowledge that something I wrote may have resonated with someone else.
Storytelling has forever been part of how we form connections both as individuals and as a culture. So I am smiling for the pictures and writing from the fuzzy place between “social” and “media”.Because that is where the story lies.
Image Credit: CL Buchanan Photography"