Remember, on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.
I left BlogHer ’08 early, based in part on my disappointment with Day Two. But it seems BlogHer doesn’t want to leave me. I outlined my disappointment especially with the session I attended that included a panel of well-known bloggers (often called A-List Bloggers) in Saturday’s post.
To summarize, I was disappointed on two counts: the panel and the audience. On the panel side, the moderator seemed unprepared and seemingly had no agenda and direction for the panel discussion. Admittedly, I was judging her by a high standard. At every other session I attended, the moderator or leader was ready, in control and went the extra mile, including having a companion web post outlining the session and loaded with tons of helpful links. In every case, other moderators deftly negotiated that most dangerous of conference session pitfalls: making sure the panel and the questions from the audience didn’t send things off-track. Since the moderator, Maggie Mason, runs three amazingly organized and categorized shopping websites (Mighty Goods, Mighty Junior and Might Haus), I was expecting no less from her. Alas, it was not to be and the panel never really coalesced into a discussion but wandered aimlessly. Then Maggie jumped into audience questions and really allowed things to get disorganized.
But I blame the audience as well. In every session and at every break, I was amazed at the whip-smart women I met. They were focussed, interested and on-point in their questions. Granted, we’d all come to this session for a little bit of “star-gazing”, but I was disappointed in how the audience turned their questions into impromptu confessionals and vapid Fangrrrl giggling. I noted that I thought I was “back in high school watching the kids who wanted desperately to be ‘in’ hanging on every word the cheerleaders and popular girls burbled in the school lobby.”
After posting about my experience and receiving several comments agreeing with me, who should show up but one, then another of the panelists! The first commenting panelist completely got the wrong end of the mouse and thought I was criticizing HER by assuming her she “came from a place of cooler-than-thou”. She then talked about how nervous she had been appearing in front of people who “may already have judgments” about her. She pointed out that other A-List bloggers had posted about how nervous they were at BlogHer and how “high school yucky” they felt.
I hate to read into someone’s typed words. It’s impossible, without facial expressions, to really gauge the inflection. (Check the comments on my post to read them in full and draw your own conclusions.) But I detected a little bit of “You’re mean to criticize me. You may read my blog, but you don’t really KNOW me as a person.” Which seemed to be a theme among the top bloggers at BlogHer and certainly is a theme I’m hearing repeated over and over when these bloggers are interviewed.
“Everyone thinks they know me and can say anything to me,” has become the moan of so many bloggers. Dooce, who has become ubiquitous on TV interview shows recently, has taken this to great heights on air and in her blog. In fact, at one point during the session, she stood up when it was pointed out she was in the room and said, “I just want everyone to see I’m NOT a character.” Her closing keynote, along with Stephanie Klein, was advertised as addressing points like “What if people think you are a character?”
Well, I’ve got news for Dooce and other “A-List” bloggers: You ARE characters. You are as much a character on your blog as anyone who writes an autobiography. You make yourself a little funnier, you make your life a little more colorful. You project yourself as a character for the consumption of an audience. Anyone who has a public persona is by default a bit of a fictional character. Poor Rita Hayworth used to say, “My problem is men want to go to bed with Rita Hayworth, but they wake up with me.”
That’s where you bloggers have an advantage over Rita or Angelina Jolie or other celebs who have only limited control over their images. You have nearly TOTAL control. When you put out so much of that private life into the blogisphere, of course we think we know you. Most of us don’t know as much about our best friends’ or even siblings’ sex lives, bathroom habits, pharmaceutical needs etc. as you’ve shared with us.
I’m ranting because this is something I know about. At one point, I was a reporter, then an anchor woman for a TV station on the fringes of the Boston market. Which made me a local celebrity of an excruciatingly minor kind. However, this was way before the Internet and YouTube and reality shows made everyone famous for 15 minutes. Only movie and TV stars got regularly recognized on the streets. It was disconcerting when I did.
I’ll never forget what one veteran newsman said to a colleague of mine who was complaining that “Everyone wants a piece of me. Everyone thinks they know me because I’m on TV.”
He basically gave her the Ann Landers equivalent of a Kwitcherbeefin’ smack down.
He said, “Of course people think they own a bit of you. They do. You come into their homes once a weeknight at intimate times like dinner and when they are in bed. And you are making your career and your salary on the back of delivering their eyeballs to advertisers. You don’t have to be anyone’s best friend, but you do need to be respectful of the dynamic here.”
I really took that advice to heart. I didn’t let people monopolize me or be scary stalkers, but I did react graciously when people accosted me in the supermarket to say, “I liked/didn’t like that story” or even more personal comments like, “Gee you look better on TV” or “Your old hairstyle was really much more flattering. Why did you cut it?” I certainly didn’t whine that they didn’t know the “real” me and they were being mean to me. I gleaned whatever was valuable, dropped the rest and moved on quickly.
It works the same way with bloggers.
If you aren’t receiving ad revenue now, you are probably gunning for it. Or at the very least you are enjoying the ego boost of a large readership. If you truly wanted to be personal and private, you’d be writing in a journal or posting to a password-protected site that only your friends and family could access.
I know so many women bloggers want “our” Internet to be a kinder, more nurturing place. But I’m getting more than a little annoyed with this attitude that anyone who isn’t “Love Bombing” you (as the Moonies say) is a nasty, flaming troll.
I’m truly sorry to have hurt anyone’s feelings. But my comments were all focussed on the professional. I didn’t make snarky comments about hair, weight or appearance. I commented on a product I’d paid for with time and money that didn’t appear to live up to its potential. Having done my share of public speaking and attended my share of conferences, I’ve got a pretty good idea what went wrong. Have we all developed such tender feelings that we crumble even in the face of professional criticism?
It’s been a while since I was in the thick of Corporate America, but I did notice one sad sex-based trait that I always thought held some women back. It has been theorized and, to some extent proven, by psychologists that women are subtly raised differently than boys. I pray hard that this is changing. But some will tell you that girls are often encouraged to please, to make sure people LIKE them. One thing I always admired about a lot of successful male executives is that they seemed to have developed the ability to separate constructive criticism of their work habits, performance, results, etc. from fear that they are not liked. That allows them to evaluate the criticism for its validity and make a more dispassionate decision how or if to incorporate it. And still feel confident that they are the great guy everyone wants to go to ballgame with. (Or in the new Millenium, to a metrosexual salon or wine bar.)
The Internet is still a new frontier. It’s possible that women, at least in the realm of blogging, will come to dominate a good section of the monetized part of it. If so, we need to toughen up and forget high school. Let’s steer clear of desperate Sally Field “You like me, you really like me” thinking.
Okay, let the flaming begin. I’m tough enough to take it. [in still small voice] I think.
Note: The great “flying puppies” picture that Lucy is looking at is from the Flickr Stream of an exceptional photographer named PJ Taylor. See the photo big here. Then visit her website. Admire her work. Give her lots of money to take pictures of your event.