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 […]