Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Weird and Wakky Internet

Ok, this is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I’m not exactly sure how to put my thoughts into words.

It concerns the Internet and the creator-audience relationship.

Two things got me thinking about this, one was a personal experience and the other was a comment made by Scott Kurtz of PvP.

You see, the internet kinda turns the creator-audience relationship into a bit of a grey area. Something that doesn’t really happen in other media.

For example, if you’re watching a network TV show and an actor gives a particularly good or bad performance, very, very few of us would consider trying to contact that actor to either congratulate them or tell them they suck. Very few people think of contacting the writers of shows to offer ideas or suggestions.

The internet isn’t like that.

My personal experience of this came from a couple of the reviews I’ve written over the years. My reviews are the one thing on this blog that I consistently get emails about. People often arrive at my reviews when they have a problem with the thing they’ve bought and ask for help or advice.

Now, most people understand the relationship I have with them through this blog, which is that I’m a normal, every-day person who just happens to have experience with the thing they’re having problems with. These people tend to write me nice, ‘personal’ emails along the lines of:


You don’t know me, but I read your review of the Casio LK300TV keyboard. I read in your review that you managed to put your own midi files onto the keyboard. I’ve tried but can’t get it to work and I can’t find a tutorial or anything anywhere. If you aren’t too busy, is there any chance you can write me back and let me know what I’m doing wrong?


I really don’t mind getting these types of emails and most of the time I’m more than happy to help. I’ve done the same thing in my time and what goes around comes around.

It’s the other types of emails that piss me off. These are the ones that don’t ask for information or help, they demand it as though I actually work technical support for the company whose product I bought. These tend to be more like:

I bought a Casio LK300TV and midi files won’t transfer. Send me info on how to do it.

These ones I tend to prickle at. I think “Dude, I’m not your personal tech support. I don’t owe you anything and I have better things to do with my time that spend an hour researching a problem for a random stranger who didn’t even say please.”

This is one side of the creator-audience coin. Because of the anonymity of the internet, people forget that an actual person writes this shit, and it’s not some automated info-service set up just to assist them. Because people just see a webpage, they forget that just emailing and demanding info is like seeing someone walking down the street with an iPod…and just walking up to them and demanding they give them detailed instructions on how to work iTunes.

The other side of this coin is a little more complicated.

Scott Kurtz commented on the emails he receives where people he’s never met write to him as thought they’re close friends…even going so far as to write long ‘break-up’ emails if they decide they no longer like his comic.

I can totally understand his point of view. I mean, imagine how freaked out you’d get if someone you’d never heard of wrote you a two page email about how much they used to love your blog, but recently decided that you’ve totally ‘lost it’, your stuff just isn’t interesting or funny anymore and because of that, after two years of dedicated readership, they will no longer be reading your blog.

My response would be a solid WTF? If you’ve been reading my blog and decided you don’t like it anymore, just stop reading it! Do you expect me to feel bad that one of my readers no longer likes what I write? Do you expect me to work extra hard to recapture that ‘old magic’ to keep you? Hell no.

The problem is that the internet creates a definite feeling of ‘false closeness’.

Take Scott Kurtz as an example. I’ve been a dedicated reader of PvP for about the past four years. I also read his blog and listen to his podcasts. Scott is also almost unique in the way that he tends to share some details about his private life in his blog.

I think the podcasts are most to blame here. ‘Webcomics Weekly’ is a podcast where Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, Dave Kellet and Brad Guigar basically sit down and ‘talk shop’ for an hour or so. ‘The Daily Affirmation’ was a podcast where Kurtz and Straub would just turn on a couple of microphones and chat for fifteen minutes before starting work.

Because these podcasts (especially The Daily Affirmation) were so informal, it gives the listener a sense that you’re simply sitting in a room with these people listening to them chat. Basically, think of all the times you and a few friends have gone to the local Applebees and sat and just chatted for an hour or so…that’s what these podcasts are like.

So, while I’m sane enough to realize that none of these cartoonists actually know I exist and that we are certainly not friends, on some level you do get a sense of that kind of relationship…so while I understand Kurtz’ point of view, I can also understand the point of view of someone writing and email to give their two cents on a podcast discussion.

It’s actually something I caught myself doing until I caught myself. I was having a problem with a particular Photoshop technique that I know Kurtz uses, and having just listened to three back to back episodes of ‘Webcomics Weekly’ the night before, I found myself thinking “Hey! I know, I’ll email Scott and see if he can help me out!”

Of course, being sane, a few seconds later I realized just how inappropriate that would actually be. As much as I ‘know’ Scott Kurtz, I don’t actually know him. Essentially, what I’d be doing is contacting a complete stranger totally out of the blue and asking him to take time out of his very busy day to walk someone he’s never heard of through a Photoshop technique.

See what I mean? ‘false closeness’.

Maybe ‘closeness’ isn’t really the right word. The best way I can explain it is that the internet works in such a way that it makes us see strangers in the same way we see acquaintances.

1 comment:

OzzyC said...

Since taking my blog private and changing my email address, I get a lot fewer random people trying to contact me... which suits me just fine. The older I get, the more introverted I become.

I got your point though, and I think you did a fine job of clearly making your point