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 […]