Tag Archives: perception

How Social Media Destroyed Itself

SelfDestructButton
To everyone who’s ever created something and shared it online, I’d like to say one thing:

I’m sorry.

See, those of us who’ve been doing this for awhile now — we’re the ones who invented blogging, and tweeting, and YouTubing, and social networking, and we’ve been preaching about “the digital revolution” for the past 10 or 20 years — we all got it wrong.

We thought the medium would change the media.

We thought the gatekeepers were dead.

We thought meaning mattered.

Nope. We all blew it.

And unfortunately there’s no going back.

How We Misread the Digital Tea Leaves

A funny thing happened around the turn of the millennium.

Those of us who were busy pioneering the digital formats we now all take for granted believed then that our newly “democratized” means of media production would change media as we know it. We presumed that audience tastes would change with the new formats, and that traditional media channels (TV, film, radio, publishing) would need to adapt to our way of life.

Why? Because we were ahead of the curve. We saw the potential of new forms, and we thought we’d be able to harness them faster than the “dinosaur” media conglomerates we derided.

We were right about our own speed, but that’s because most of us were young and childless then, so we had nothing but time to tinker with these new toys. We could afford to spend days and weeks and years perfecting our videoblogs and podcasts and other labors of love because we still felt like the underdogs who had something to prove to the dinosaurs we were outfoxing.

We claimed we wanted to plant our flag in their territory… but we were only being half honest.

Problem is, we also courted those same dinosaurs, because we wanted them to play in our sandbox. We wanted the validation of their attention and their money. We wanted them to acknowledge that we were right, and to reward us with seats at their table. We just thought we’d be the ones who’d be able to set the new rules, just because we were there first.

Boy, were we wrong.

What Happens When You Ask All the Wrong Questions?

I was at the first PodCamp, back in 2006, when “podcasting” was new enough that it was still called “podcasting,” and the people who did it were rare enough that we could pretty much all meet in a single auditorium. And the question we all asked ourselves then was, “When will brands realize this is the new way to communicate?”

Whoops. Be careful what you ask for.

I was at the first Video on the Net conference back in 2006, when such an idea was revolutionary enough to actually be termed “revolutionary.” We were the rebels in cargo shorts getting strange looks from the suits who thought we were a fad. And the question we all asked ourselves then was, “When is old media going to wake up and catch up?”

Whoops again.

Instead of trying to find our own ways to succeed, we were trying to make our new media fit the old paradigm. And when you do that, the old paradigm will gladly eat you alive.

In 2007 or 2008, I was invited to a focus group at Turner Broadcasting. A roomful of us who were social media creators spent a day giving Turner our thoughts on the future of media. We were thrilled; we thought we were being taken seriously.

None of us were self-aware enough to realize we were actually volunteering our own demise.

(I think they paid each of us $3000 for the privilege. I could be wrong; it may have been $1000.)

What we were too inexperienced and deluded to realize was this: as soon as we proved that these new formats could work, the dinosaurs who stood to make actual money with them would co-opt these channels and fill them with the same media (and the same business models) they’ve always followed. They didn’t need us, and we didn’t really need them… but we thought we did. So we started playing their game, hoping we’d win. But we lost.

And as these new systems got rolled into the old processes, what changed wasn’t the processes; it was us.

When In Rome…

Some of us sold our “social” skills to brands as a means to make ourselves seem newly relevant. Big business knew there was money to be made by advertising to hordes of eyeballs, and if we knew how to attract those eyeballs, weren’t we useful?

We figured out pretty early on that we could make money teaching old dogs new tricks. It took us longer to realize that these old dogs would eventually master our tricks and we’d need to find a new way to remain relevant (and employable) to them.

So we started becoming social media marketers… then social marketers… and eventually just marketers. What mattered wasn’t the media, it was the reach. What mattered wasn’t the community, it was the degree to which they could be monetized.

Those of us who used to dream of a new digital future never thought that future would just end up being us using the tools we once loved to convince strangers to buy someone else’s products, for which we’d be rewarded with book deals about the value of trust and influence.

It took us even longer to admit that nobody on YouTube was getting a TV series anytime soon.

Nothing to See Here, Move Along…

Now we live in a world where Facebook and Twitter have gone IPO, which means they exist to please shareholders and advertisers, not users.

Now we live in an age when Yahoo! makes headlines for announcing they’re getting into the TV business… by seeking series deals from established TV professionals, not Internet creators.

Now we live in a reality where some of us are apologizing to brands for misleading them into a social economy, because once we opened those gates, the brands and the social networkers both suffered from a pollution of white noise and an atrophying ability to care.

And now I feel it’s worth apologizing to everyone else who isn’t a corporation. I feel it’s worth acknowledging that our old dream of self-created digital media “rock stars” who would change the way the world works was, at best, naive and, at worst, dangerous.

Because while we early adopters were patting ourselves on the back for “getting it,” we were unwittingly painting a target on the back of the whole digital revolution.

And I, for one, would like to start making up for it.

Image by hryckowian via Flickr

8 Things You Can Stop Doing Right Now

This post might be hard for some of you to read, but I’m writing it for your own good. And mine.

Please stop telling the world how much you’re “crushing it.”

Yes, I’m talking to you. If you’re tweeting and Facebooking and Instagramming power quotes and humblebrags about how relentless you are, or how grateful you are that your life is so incredible, or how much you hope everyone else will someday be as awesome as you are, you’re not fooling anyone. Well, maybe except yourself.

See, most self-help blogging — and, by extension, most social media — is just people yelling at themselves to get out of their own way. What others see as “inspiring,” I see as “terrified people convincing themselves it’s all going to be okay if they just keep pretending.”

Look, I’m glad you feel motivated to improve your life. And if you enjoy inspiring others, rock on. But every time you tell me how much you won’t back down, I suspect it’s because you’ve realized your life is empty and you’re stapling public meaning on top of it as a parlor game to distract you from your own night terrors.

I’d like to suggest a different tactic: admit you’re unhappy, or frustrated, or afraid of being exposed as a know-nothing or a slacker or a deviant or a failure. Admit it to yourself, at least. And then take action to fix it. Not the public action you can build a personal brand from, but the private action that leads to successful habits and self-confidence in small doses. The kind that erodes your worry until you can at least leave the house, literally and metaphorically speaking, and do the actual work that inspires people, rather than the documenting of a process that confuses activity for accomplishment.

And while we’re being honest about how we see ourselves, I’ll be honest about something else:

I’ve been thinking about taking some risks for awhile, but I keep talking myself out of them. Not changing is easy. Telling myself the odds will be better later is very tempting. And while I’m waiting, I’m comfortable in my familiar habits. Well, maybe “comfortable” isn’t the right word for it… maybe “safe,” or “not inconvenienced,” or “acquiescent.”

Truth is, I’m lying to myself.

If I’m not happy, or if I feel unfulfilled, no one else is going to fix it for me. It’s not their job; they’re trying to make themselves happy and fulfilled, not me.

I get why we all publicly proclaim that we’re on the path to something amazing. It’s the same reason I tell myself I’m “writing” when I’m usually just “surfing the Internet and thinking about writing”: because I’m afraid of admitting to myself (much less to others) just how hard I’m not working at succeeding.

So, in the spirit of yelling at myself to get out of my own way, I offer myself this advice. Feel free to yell at yourself with this same advice, if it helps you.

Insomnia

Stop waiting for “the right time” to do something.

Unless you’re a hostage negotiator or a paratrooper, timing isn’t everything. Sure, some times are easier or harder than others are for accomplishing whatever it is you want to do. But there’s no such thing as a “right” (or “wrong”) time to get married, start a business, have a baby, switch careers, break up, move, quit, or take a vacation. People have succeeded and failed at those adventures for centuries, regardless of when they started or what odds were against them or in their favor. What matters is how you go about it in terms of resolve and tenacity, not whether or not the stars are properly aligned to make your job easier.

Stop waiting until you have “enough money.”

You’ll never have enough money. If you get more, you’ll spend it. If you save some, an opportunity or an emergency will come along and then you’ll be back to zero. Money is a resource. Don’t expect to reach a point where you’ll have “enough” money to accomplish X. Find ways to multiply your revenue streams en route to accomplishing X regardless of how much money you started with. What matters is accomplishing X, not reaching a magic dollar amount that will let you believe it’s “okay” to get started.

Stop waiting for permission.

Nobody else is paying attention. And if they are, and they tell you “no,” do it anyway, because you’re not going to be satisfied unless you experience your accomplishment. And if it costs you someone else’s good graces, it’ll gain you something more important: the knowledge that comes with success or failure, rather than the caged feeling having been allowed to act. If your path to success includes a step where someone else can stop you in your tracks, reroute your path. (Unless you’re the kind of person for whom permission is more important than accomplishment — in which case, acquiring the permission IS your accomplishment. And if that’s who you are, then the rest of this won’t make any sense.)

Stop thinking you’re the one who has to get it right the first time.

Failure teaches us what not to do. Sometimes we need to fail more than once at something in order to understand why we’re not getting it done right. Over the past 20 years I created a comic book, a freelance business, and two different web series that achieved varying levels of success, but they all ultimately ended before I wanted them to. And yet, what do I lay awake at night dreaming of doing? Making TV shows and movies and web series and novels and stage plays and comic books and video games. “But I already failed at them more than once,” I tell myself. And then I remind myself, “no; you started them more than once. Maybe it’ll take ten starts, or twenty, to find one idea — and one process — that sustains itself.” What matters isn’t being a prodigy who never makes mistakes; it’s continually surviving your mistakes until you either succeed or you find something else to pursue.

Stop thinking other people are succeeding because they’re special, or because the world is out to get you.

Networking helps. Talent helps. Perseverance helps. Luck helps, but no one is perpetually lucky or unlucky. You’re not failing because “this person doesn’t like me,” or because “everybody just promotes their friends,” or because “I’m just not good enough,” or any of the other excuses you’ve invented for not working hard and habitually enough to earn your own toehold on success. And yes, some people may continually get breaks because of who they know. That’s how life works: people prefer to work with other people they’ll get along with, and knowing someone is the first step to peacefully coexisting with them. But even if a person is well-connected, s/he still has to be likable and competent. So maybe start there?

Stop making the same mistakes the exact same way.

If you try something once and it doesn’t work, try again, but change something in the process. You may have the right idea but the wrong execution, or the wrong framing, or the wrong support, or the wrong price. Don’t change everything all at once, but do change at least one variable. If your idea is sound and you keep hammering at it from different angles, it’ll push through eventually. And if it never does, then either the idea isn’t useful enough to people you’re not being honest with yourself about why it isn’t working.

Stop expecting tomorrows.

You’re going to wake up again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after, until one day you don’t. And you never know when that day is going to be. So if you’re waiting for the stars to align, or until you have enough money, or until the marketplace catches up with your obvious genius, how ironic will it be if the day that happens is the day you didn’t wake up? Not that you’ll appreciate that irony, because you’ll be dust. And while you may have a pleasant eulogy, it’ll be shorter and less dynamic than it would have been if you’d started that next thing today.

“Insomnia” image by Carlos Martz on Flickr.

What I Learned by Quitting Social Media for 100 Days

I struggled with whether I should even write this post.

On Twitter, I joked that blogging about a social media cleanse would be like getting fat to protest diabetes. But that “purpose vs. action” conflict is one of the big reasons why I walked away in the first place, and it’s also why I bothered coming back.

That’s a purposeful word: “bother”

It means I took time out of what I’d prefer to be doing in order to do something else due to a perceived sense of obligation. But why, and to whom?

I’ll try to explain.

The Shutdown

Every year, I take a break from social media around Christmas and New Year’s. Sometimes that break lasts a few days, or a few weeks. It makes travel easier, and it also gives me time to reflect and recalibrate.

This year I decided to take a purposely long break because I was finding the daily manufactured outrage on Twitter and Facebook to be emotionally exhausting. Every statement anyone made seemed like an excuse to chastise or polarize. The habitual daily interaction with people I know and “know,” which I used to enjoy, I was now dreading.

So, on December 11th, I announced I was taking a leave of absence from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogging. (Yes, that’s a self-aggrandizing “personal branding” thing to do, but I interact with a lot of people in these channels and I’ve learned that they come to expect a consistent level of interaction from me. Also, I once walked away from Twitter for several weeks without warning and I started getting concerned emails and phone calls from people, so this time I thought I’d provide some context.)

I figured I’d be back in May, on my birthday. Instead I came back a month earlier than expected, on March 31, for a few reasons — some personal, some professional. However, I should stress something here: I didn’t come back because I missed it.

On the contrary, I loved being away from social media. I may have missed the interaction, but I absolutely did not miss the form that interaction takes.

Was It Hard?

No.

Admittedly, I was pretty burned out when I walked away, so I needed the break. If I had been loving social media and I suddenly decided to give it up at random, I’m sure it would have been much harder. But no, aside from two or three urges in those first two weeks, I found it extremely easy to not take part.

Privately, several people told me they weren’t sure how I could do it. They didn’t think they would ever be able to walk away from these channels that didn’t exist 10 years ago but which we now take for granted.

Me, I’ve always been a bit of a Luddite. Despite working in the digital realm, I’m amazingly slow on the uptake when it comes to new technology. Seeing people in their 20s sitting together but individually glued to their phones makes me feel like the old man in the room, wondering when we all stopped having actual conversations. I like what technology can do for us, but I’m more interested in the ends than the means.

[I should clarify something here: my day job still requires me to login to Twitter and Facebook every weekday, so it wasn't like those channels ceased to exist to me for three months. I could still look at what was happening, but what I was preventing myself from doing was replying, liking, favoriting, commenting, sharing, or otherwise generating new content myself. And I only paid attention to things in the most minimal of ways. For example, I'd see that day's top Facebook post in my feed, but that was all I had to see en route to managing my employer's brand page.]

What Did I Miss?

Surprisingly little, and yet what little I did miss was equally surprising.

Having used Twitter and Facebook daily for years meant I’d developed a reflexive attitude toward them. I’d often tweet or share dozens of observations in a single day, because I was used to forming on opinion about something and immediately projecting it out into the world. Or I’d read something I felt would be useful to the people I consider “my audience,” and I would share it because I felt like they would benefit from my curatorial action.

At first during my social media sabbatical I had to consciously stop myself from sharing, because not sharing felt unnatural.

I still had all the same observations that I would normally have tweeted or shared, but which I now had to enjoy privately or share with my girlfriend through a text. My public sharing reflex died after a couple weeks, and it was replaced by a new reflex: to actively suppress my desire to share.

I became conscious of my habits in a way I wasn’t when I was doing them.

After awhile I started asking myself why I would have bothered sharing this or that in the first place.

Who really benefits if I share this?

Why would I take up someone’s time with that?

And that thinking ultimately got me to ask myself two formative questions: when it comes to social participation, what do I want (and why), and what do others want from me (and why)?

Actions as Self

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I’d joined Twitter under a pseudonym, rather than as myself. Because who I am publicly on these channels is who people expect me to be, and partly who I expect myself to be. My actions there establish my persona in their minds, and in my own.

The act of sharing something, or stating on opinion or observation, is as defining as not doing those things. And yet, no one knows what we didn’t do, so our public identities are disproportionately constructed by our actions, not our restraint.

Did I cease to exist for my 100 day sabbatical? No. But @JustinKownacki did, within the context of the daily real-time conversation about life. Also during that time, my ability to define myself internally by my actions (and by others’ response to them) went on hiatus, so the only person who could tell me who I was was me. And I’m not always the most reliable self-narrator.

What’s It Like to Be Back?

Confusing, because I’m not sure why I do this.

My old habits came back quickly. By the end of my first day back I was endlessly refreshing my feeds, hoping for that dopamine hit of a like or a comment on something I’d said. Recognizing that this was a waste of time, I deleted my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram icons from my phone’s home screen. If I’m going to check those feeds, I want to ask myself, “Is it really worth hunting for that app?”

I’m reluctant to post things. Every time I share something, I feel like I’m creating unnecessary distractions in the streams of the people who follow me. Not that everything else isn’t equally distracting — if there’s one thing I didn’t miss, it’s the low quality of the content or the reptilian nature of the dialog — but just because I might feel that some of my own “creations” deserve more attention than some other people’s, that doesn’t ultimately mean that mine have more of a right to exist.

This has me thinking a lot about voice, and purpose, and why we all bother talking to each other in the first place. I don’t have the answers, but I do have new instincts and urges — some of which I’m fighting against, and others which I’m glad I’ve developed, and which I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t given myself the mental space to create them.

What Now?

I’m not sure.

I really have to think about what I want from existing online.

If I actually were a brand, it would be easy, because my purpose would be to sell. But I’m not currently freelancing, so anything I do online is just an extension of my own humanity. And that’s a strange thing to have to manage.

11 Things I Forget About Myself Every Day

Justin Kownacki in Affogato

Despite knowing that each of these things is true, I seem to forget them every day.

1. I feel better when I eat well.

2. I feel better when I don’t sleep in.

3. I feel better after accomplishing something physical.

4. I get more done when I’m already busy than I do when I have free time.

5. Giving myself “just five more minutes” to surf the Internet will kill a full hour.

6. Relaxing for a whole day is bliss; relaxing for two days straight drives me insane.

7. I won’t have time to do it in the morning, so I should do it now.

8. I’ll never have “enough” money because there’s no such thing.

9. Almost everything I’m worried about is inconsequential.

10. I don’t want to lay awake thinking about “next time.”

11. One of these todays won’t have a tomorrow.

Thanks to Andy Swan for the inspiration with his 36 Truth Friday.

Photo by Rob de la Cretaz.

I’m Doing the Internet Wrong

horror-like

I went to art school, and I spent about a decade producing my own media, from a web series to a pretty frequent blog (this one you’re reading now, actually). But lately, something’s changed.

I don’t create much anymore, but I do share a lot. I post dozens of updates to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram throughout the week. And most of what I share are links to articles I’ve read (well, skimmed) which I think the people following me will enjoy.

By which I mean: I share things that I think other people will like, comment on, or share, because their response validates the act of me sharing it in the first place.

In short, I’ve become a Pavlovian Twitterdog.

Now, before I share anything myself on one of those channels — before I write a Facebook update, or take an Instagram photo, or link to an article on Twitter — I subconsciously ask myself if I’m about to post something that will get a reaction. Because if I don’t, I’m less inclined to post something similar in the future — not because I don’t think the content is valid, but because I won’t get the dopamine jolt of subsequent likes and shares.

I doubt I’m the only one who does this. I doubt I’m the only person who feels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are performance spaces, and everyone following me is basically an audience member who’s individually capable of momentarily validating my existence with the click of a button.

What frustrates me about this evolution (if we can call it that) in communication is that I’m simultaneously less likely to share things that I don’t think will get “traction” among my audience — and that includes whole kinds of media.

This is one reason I don’t read books very often anymore: they’re harder to share than an article or a photo. I also watch fewer movies and TV shows than I should, because they’re harder to share than short YouTube videos are. Rather than consume this media directly, I read about their making and marketing and business success… and then, instead of being inspired to create my own media and share that with my audience, I just share the articles about all this media that I haven’t watched.

For a person who aspires to work in entertainment, I’m probably doing it wrong by not actually making anything anymore. I’m sure I should get back to that.

If only the act of making — which can take weeks or months to produce something worth sharing — were as rewarding as the act of sharing what someone else already made and getting a like or a favorite as a reward for my split-second curatorial efforts.

If only I weren’t deluged by the instantaneous when I should be focused on the long game.

If only I could just turn off the Internet and