Five Things You Don’t Know About Me…

Imagine my horror when, upon discovering that Henry Jenkins took me up on my tag to disclose his secrets to success (revealing, alas, that constant work does seem to be his main strategy), I also found that he had tagged me on the 5 things you don’t know about me thing several weeks ago and I managed not to notice. Yikes. shame on me. Bad blogger, no tags. So now that he has shared his far more interesting pieces of advice, I will humbly generate 5 things you may not know about me and then in the name of avoiding chain letters, pyramid schemes, good memes gone bad, and getting back on topic, I will set it to rest and not tag anyone else.

1. When I was 2 years old, my parents took me all over the world for a year: Denmark, Germany, Japan, Cambodia, India… When I got home, I asked where all the elephants were and why all the kids had shoes. I don’t remember any of this, though my dad, a great photographer, took many slides. I’ve got a picture in my dining room of 3-year-old me staring up in awe at carved goddesses at Angkor Wat . I attribute my inability to comprehend xenophobia, racism, homophobia and religious intolerance to that early experience of immersion in difference at a time when I must have been first learning the world’s boundaries.

2. My stepfather, a famous Keats scholar, raised me to be deeply spontaneously silly. When I was a kid there were a lot of family dinners where I’d be lying on the floor holding my sides trying to stop laughing while milk squirted out my nose on account of some hilarious thing he said. He used to park at the far end of the parking lot at fancy restaurants and do John Cleese silly walks up to the door. I laughed an awful lot at playful nonsense and it had a permanent effect on my approach to life.

3. In 5th grade, I calculated the age difference between Paul McCartney and myself and noted with despair that if things went wrong with Linda he was never going to marry anyone as young as me. And now he’s divorcing someone younger.

4. I had a profound mystical experience one sleepless teenage night. It was a total epiphiny in which infinity, the oneness of the universe, and my unity with all of this made complete intuitive sense and I felt giddy with bliss. A few months later, my English teacher brought an article from Life or somesuch magazine about mystical experiences to school and read it outloud to the class. In retrospect it seems pretty weird that she did that.

5. I took a lot of art classes as a child. This was my masterpiece:

The Chef

Unfortunately, he has no ears, but he is much beloved on his perch in my mother’s dining room, and I am always happy to see him when I travel home.

Passing for Normal

If you spend any time around famous people, the first thing you realize is that they can’t go anywhere without being THAT FAMOUS PERSON. If they’re out, they’re game to be observed, evaluated, commented upon, and interrupted. You hear a lot about how the internet allows people to compensate for the shortcomings of their body-to-body persona: they can pretend they are older or younger, they’re male, they’re fully able-bodied, they’re skinny and cute, whatever it takes to get the kind of attention and connection they’re after. I’ve always thought one interesting piece of this that I’ve never seen anyone really talk about is that famous people are also invisible when they’re online. Julia Roberts can go hang out in a chat room or on a message board and no one needs to know it’s her. Or, apparently, so can Halle Berry:

Oscar winner Halle Berry loves chatting to people online using a pseudonym.The Monster’s Ball beauty regularly posts messages to fans on her official Hallewood internet site, but also visits other chat rooms under an assumed name.

She says, “I have gone online and pretended to be someone else in an attempt to have some anonymity.

“I have tried, many times, to have a normal conversation when celebrity was not a part of it. Sometimes it works and at others it gets a little weird.

I remember in the mid-1990s when celebs first started showing up in the online spaces where people were talking about them. People put Michael Stipe through quite a grilling until he answered some trick question about a movie “correctly.” People doubted Courtney Love’s authenticity until she started ranting as only the real Courtney could. There were a lot of cases of it. How weird, and perhaps refreshing, to have people challenging that you are who you say you are instead of being unable to escape being who you are. Not surprisingly, the same thing happens to Halle too:

“(Occasionally) I say in a chat room, that I am Halle Berry. But the reaction is, ‘You are kidding – get out of here.'”

and yeah, who would believe it?

Celebrities obviously aren’t ‘typical’ people, but I think they’re an interesting exceptional case to consider when we think about identity play, freedom, power, constraint, and the nuances of using the internet to perform selfhood.

The Widgetized Self

I keep hearing that the future of the Web (“Web 3″ as some are calling it) is going to be like Second Life. We’ll all be hanging out in rich visual spaces decking ourselves out in fabulous fantasywear while making lots of money with remote colleagues. And who’s to say that’s not going to happen.

But that’s not what I think will happen. I think that we are going to move further and further away from going to websites toward using personal portals decked out with zillions of dazzling widgets that bring the web to us.

The extent to which we are increasingly spreading ourselves out over more and more online sites is just not sustainable in the long haul. It takes too much time. We have to remember too many logins (a problem that things like OpenID and ClaimID try to address). We have to recreate content in too many places (Virb goes some way toward handling this by allowing the import of flickr feeds, youtube videos and forthcoming rss importing). Social networking sites are proliferating at an absurd rate, as though there’s a limitless populace of people eager to build profiles for sport, or huge tribes of nomadic social groups perenially on the prowl for a new space to colonize (too bad for the sites in which they’ve lost interest). Fan groups are becoming increasingly distributed. There are still many fan communities at a URL on the internet with their own ways of doing things just like I wrote about in Tune In, Log On. But my sense is that more and more, clusters of fans are spreading themselves out through multiple sites. They meet again and again in fan sites, p2p trading sites, social networking sites, blogs, and many other online places. Your online community is the collective you bump into in multiple online locations (for instance: I am thrilled to find an old The Fine Arts Showcase video on YouTube, and then realize that it was uploaded by someone I know from Its A Trap, who is a friend on, and with whom I’ve emailed several times. That’s one example, you’ve probably got your own.)

What I need, and what I think everyone else needs too (even if they want to hang out in Second Life a lot) is my own portal that I can just set up with a collection of widgets that bring all the sites I care about to me. Start pages on steroids. In my dream portal I can read and write to all the sites I want without having to leave my page. I can leave comments on blog posts, post to an online discussion on a forum and do everything else I want to do — and make it available to others — from my own little spot. Widgets gone wild.

My vision of radical me-iffication through widgetization got a boost when I heard of this: Media Master is letting people upload their digital music libraries and display and stream it through widgets. People can publish streaming playlists or (I think) make their collection available for shuffling. It generates a spiffy and interactive widget displaying your record covers. If they then go to a social network approach to turning people on to new music based on what’s in their libraries and make that happen through widgets on your own site instead of profiles on a branded site, it would be a very interesting step. Whether this particular site will work out or not, I don’t know, but the concept is golden and I am betting it is one of many services to come that depends on users exporting their information from the branded space into their space of choice rather than spending time in yet another web site.

Update: Not widgets, but Tech Crunch draws attention to Loopster, a social network aggregator. TechCrunch writes:

Sites like Loopster are a sign of a mini revolution happening with the social web, where instead of managing and linking documents, we are managing and linking personal identities. Traditional search engines like Yahoo and Google are very poor at discovering and managing this information since social relationships aren’t always hyperlinked.

Scorpions Bite

The French fan site for the Scorpions, Crazyscorps, is shutting itself down for 8 days to protest what they see as the unfair wrath of the band and its management in the face of their distribution of an already-leaked image of the forthcoming record cover. Their statement (also available in French and German) reads in part:

Moreover, the main reason of CRAZYSCORPS’ existence has always been to give our love and support to the Scorpions so that they continue to exist in the hearts and lives of the fans even when no promotion is officially organized by the main interested parties to this end.This is why, a short time ago, we put on line the artwork of the new album Humanity – Hour 1 we had found on the Internet. Unfortunately, we made the error not to inform us whether we had legally the right to do it or not. We reacted like simple fans filled with enthusiasm by this first concrete detail of the new album awaited so much since nearly four years.

We were informed by the webmaster of the official website that the band itself had been informed of our mistake and that they are angry with what we did. It seems today that the band members and the management hold us responsible for having unveiled the new album artwork and really feel angry against CRAZYSCORPS.

We find this reaction completely disproportionate compared to the error we made. On the one hand because we ourselves had found this image on the Internet and on the other hand because the band should understand that we never did that to harm them but by excess of love and enthusiasm.

I love that these fans are saying “hey, we are providing a service (promotion) for them, and if they are going to get ticked off at us for that then we’ll strike.” It’s an empowering and empowered response (though how effective remains to be seen). On another level, though, there’s a strong sense of hurt — “we love you, we do this to connect with others and build on our love of you, and you go and get totally flipped out over THIS?” And that’s sad, both for the fans and for the band, who ought to be building connection with these people.

I ran into this story through, where a stream of anti-Scorpions rhetoric has been unleashed in the comments. My favorite: I guess they are going down the “We suck the corporate cock of Satan” Path.

What should the Scorpions have done? Sent them a few more secret preview things to share through the site to help build more excitement for a band who haven’t left the masses breathless in years.

Here is my funny anecdote: I was in the Albuquerque airport about 20 years ago and in came this kind of dumpy overweight nondescript guy with an anvil briefcase and a woman who was about 6 inches taller than he was, in stiletto heels, looking like a supermodel, and I thought to myself “that man is the tour manager of a successful rock band.” And then the Scorpions walked in. Sometimes social cognition really works well.

Fans as Import/Export Mavens

A topic I find increasingly fascinating (and which I am working into a proper research project about), is the role of fans in the export of Swedish music, particularly indie music. This is one manifestion of a much broader trend in which volunteer fans are serving a new (international economic) role in promoting entertainment media across international boundaries.

One example of this is the blog SwedesPlease, by Craig Bonnell whom I interviewed here. Another is Its A Trap, an all purpose news blog, mp3 blog, record store, record label, message board (to which I sometimes contribute record reviews and mp3 blurbs), you name it run by Avi Roig, who is up there in an elite class of music bloggers to whom artists and labels need to attend.

I keep meaning to interview him myself, but in the meantime, here is a nice interview with Avi (originally done for the Swedish press, here in unedited English form). It’s interesting background on Its A Trap and on his take on the increasingly chic Swedish scene (paging Peter Bjorn and John, of whom I can honestly swear to being an early adapter). Here’s a couple of bits about IAT in particular:

How long have you been running itsatrap?
Since September 2002. It’s been slowly getting more and more time consuming ever since.
You have to remember that it wasn’t always so easy to find information about Swedish music online – there was no myspace back in the day and a lot of bands didn’t even have websites, much less ones in English. I saw my mission as a challenge and still do to an extent. How is it that some American kid who barely can read Swedish (me) can track down all the latest music news much better than the local press? It defies all logic and I love it.

How many visitors do have?
It varies quite a bit, but I typically see something close to 3k per day at my most recent count. You must consider however, that it’s not always about how many people you reach as long as you reach the right ones. That’s something I feel I do very well.

I agree that defies all logic and is something to really love about the internet that someone like him can do what he does with the level of success I think he achieves.

It seems like there used to be some really clear boundaries: Bands had a presence that was controlled by their label, with which they generally played along, then they had a presence that was created by the professional music press and professional radio programmers (ok, there was college and sometimes community radio). And then there were the fans who bought it and dug it and did their own social things with and around it, but who generally didn’t have much ability to promote it outside of their own immediate social circle. And we didn’t have international instant easy free publishing media. But now we do. And one consequence (of many) is that fans are serving as cultural ambassadors and promoters, exporting music across national boundaries by writing about it, posting it, explaining the networks of relationships behind it, and doing it in English (many, if not most, Swedish indie bands sing in English). As I say, I’m on the cusp of plunging into a deeper analysis along these lines (with Robert Burnett), so any thoughts you have on this topic — general or specific, background, references — are most appreciated.