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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Public secrets.

Originally, I liked the thoughts found on PostSecret and the forms they took. Scribbled notes. Pictures. Collages. Whatever. But then the online experiment morphed into a book, and I hated that the emotional moments shared by anonymous people were now exploited for profit.

If people had known from the start that their content existed only for someone else to make money off it—and that they wouldn’t share in any of it—would they have shared? Yes and no.

It happened with Nick Douglas’ book of re-tweeted tweets, where people knowingly signed up in hopes of taking part. Their only compensation was being able to say—wait for it—they got a tweet in a book. They knew from the start what the agenda was; it was their choice to participate or not.

It’s the problem I have with social networks in general, where owners of a given site can see it valued in the tens of millions, and the only compensation to the community is the perceived value it adds to their online life? Sign me up! Would Zuckerberg though accept being paid in how much value Facebook brings your mom?

I bet. He’ll take cash please.

There’s a love/hate thing going on with this video exploration. I like how the book and now the video have changed the dynamic of the original concept. From a purely marketing perspective, it shows how to take an idea in new directions. In this case, the dynamic of the camera affects how people respond as compared to being anonymous behind a monitor.

Which leads to the hate part.

The sympathy I once felt for the person who shared her note about suicidal thoughts? It now feels more like awkward embarrassment as I watch a guy tell his girlfriend what really happened to her cat. That’s the nature of video though where you’re no longer left to your own interpretations. The ethereal music, out of focus close-up shots and attractive people do look great, but it still can’t mask how uncomfortable I feel watching someone pour their heart out, not sure of how they should act.

It’s Springer with production value.

Compare it to HBO’s Taxicab Confessions. The hidden lipstick cameras lent the show a grittiness that supported the voyeuristic dynamic of the conversations. Anyone got in that cab. There, it didn’t feel like exploitation because with cab drivers, isn’t the universal expectation that you can tell them anything? They’re your shrink and confident—at least until you get to your destination.

The brutal honesty emerged because people weren’t knowingly playing to a camera. That’s what happens when people think their secrets are private.


Nick said...

Hi! I'm Nick Douglas. You know how people contributed to my book to say "I got a tweet in a book"? I edited that book to say "I edited a book of tweets."

My contributors had a few other motives. Some are budding professional comedians looking to get noticed. Some are friends who were glad to help with a project of mine. Many were just glad to be involved with something along with other internet friends they'd made on Twitter, and any one of us from the community could have edited that book.

We bloggers can be bad at thinking about other people as real human beings with complicated motives before we write dismissive things. I work hard to counter that motive in my own writing, and I hope you try too.

mtlb said...

Yep, I know who you are Nick. I’m pretty sure what I wrote about your book acknowledged those points regarding why someone would participate. While I considered going further and bringing up the fixation some people have with being internet famous (in this case, them wanting their tweets in a book), that’s a whole other topic for another time.

Your book was used as an example of the way Post Secret could’ve gone about things. And generally, I’m pretty fair before I get to the point of being dismissive.