Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Confessions of an Audience Member

Rod Serling Never Braved the TwitterZone

Rod Serling Never Braved the TwitterZone

I should know better. As a guy with two theatre degrees, I know first hand the terrors (and joys) of putting oneself and one’s work before an audience. You can try to tell yourself that you don’t ‘need’ or even ‘want’ their approval, but the truth is you wouldn’t be there at all if you didn’t. Rod Serling’s voice is under any live presentation saying “submitted for your approval” to the audience.

I should know better. I have presented ideas, products, plans, and research to groups small and large. I’ve never been a paid conference speaker, but I have been paid to make sure presentations go well.

I should know better than to make a snarky comment publicly just because it struck me as funny for a fleeting moment. Apparently I didn’t know better at the Web 2.0 Expo last Wednesday in New York.

danah boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society whose blog and articles I’ve dipped into from time-to-time, was off to a rough start with her presentation and well… I was distracted by the Twitterwall backchannel and stupidly tweeted the first snarky comment that came into my head including the conference hashtag.

After a busy couple of days working and traveling I logged on Friday and realizing the error in my ways, expunged my Twitter account of the snarky comment and apologized to Danah on her blog via the comments.

Since then, Ilana Arazie at Social Times took another look at the Web 2.0 Expo Twitter Circus and Danah Boyd posted about what happened from her perspective.

Now, my comment wasn’t the worst of the bunch (you can find it quoted on a couple of blogs about the event if you try), but for me that’s not the point. I want to know what went wrong in my wiring as an audience member. Was it a fascination with the power of the new technology (this was my first Twitterwall experience)? Was I tempted by the chance to mock someone without her knowing? Look, I’m not hiding from the fact that I’ve been a bit of a wiseass my whole life, but I haven’t been rude or a scene stealer.

My confession here is that I simply don’t know why I joined in the snarkfest. I wanted to hear what danah Bbyd had to say. I wanted to be challenged after some relatively light weight keynotes (no offense to the other speakers, but boyd they ain’t). Much of the active online discussion around the event has involved known speakers or aspiring speakers, but relatively few audience members. Perhaps other audience members have already moved on to the next event or it just wasn’t such a big deal to them or maybe they just don’t think about this stuff. My guess is that most of us don’t know why it all happened, we twittered and tittered and indulged in the powerful ignorance and juvenile behavior of the crowd-mind without really choosing to and made up our excuses or denials as we went along.

I spent most of my time in school and a lot of time following it thinking about performance and the relationship of  audience to performer. I delved into Aristotle, Brecht, Artaud, Grotowski, John Cage, the Situationists, and Dada, dabbled in surrealism, Fluxus, and the Wooster Group, I interned with Reza Abdoh, wrote pieces performed on the move through grass fields and cemeteries with characters named ‘I,’ ‘she,’ and ‘shirk,’ and sincerely wrestled with the angel of theatre that mutes an audience of the majority in favor of privileging the voices of the performing few.

Why does that relationship, performer to audience / audience to performer, matter so much? Why should we and do we recreate it in the face of all the technology that proves we don’t have to? My answer: we crave those relationships because we are hard wired to as humans. Knowing more about that relationship will help us know more about what it means to be human. The ambiguous nature of humanity is the true subject of much (if not all) of our art and science from the first cave painting experiments to our own twitter-fed-blogspiels. We want to know ourselves and creating audience-performer situations is one way we learn more, but only if we ask questions about what happened in the performance space/conference hall.

My next few posts will be about the Web 2.0 Expo and what I saw and heard there, particularly as it relates to audience relationships, performance, and the screen as a stand in for the theatrical frame/proscenium.

3 Responses to “Confessions of an Audience Member”

  1. weston » November 25th, 2009

    As someone with zero theater degrees but who spent a lot of time in a mosh pit, if a crowd hates you, it hates the fuck out of you, if it loves you it irrationally adores you. There’s no individual or reasonable emotions left, which is why prinicpally as a misanthrope I find both audiences and performers to be an unproductive ego game or a sort of emotional addiction that can go bad, quick. And social networking technology is all about getting a big goddamn unreasonable crowd together. But you had the balls to admit you lost your head, so kudos for that.

    I would also refer you to “John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”

  2. Laura » November 25th, 2009

    “We crave those relationships because we are hard wired to as humans.”

    That statement resonates with me. I think it’s part of the same genetic code that makes us crave god or find patterns in our life to better understand our place in our own life.

  3. Backchannel Fail: When Twitter Distracts From Really Great Content « Fleep's Deep Thoughts » November 28th, 2009

    […] want people who behave like that in my network. But alas, I couldn’t find them anyway, at least one fellow who contributed seemed remorseful, and it might be an interesting case study in mob psychology […]