Mon 9 Jan 2012
when i first knew Dave, he was a cocky 22 year old with a scruffy black notebook always in hand. i asked him once – because my own writing was then so closeted i turned pink anytime i cracked the spine on my journal – what he wanted to write for.
did he have an end in mind? a great novel? an opus? a garret to freeze in?
i think he laughed. and paused. and then he said, i want to be interviewed by Peter Gzowski.
if you lived in Canada through the 80s and 90s, maybe you know what that means. Gzowski was the lion of CBC morning radio. me, i barely came out of my self-imposed radio-free cloister in time for the end of the man’s career; i passed much of my misspent youth under the impression that radio was merely a commercial haven for swaggering DJs, Rick Astley, and my mother’s beloved Saturday Night Hoedown. but my liberal arts education eventually bequeathed me the CBC at the height of Gzowski’s reign. he accompanied a whole generation of us X-ers into the mornings of our adulthoods, with his courteous curiosity and his capacity to make everyday corners of our huge, vanilla country seem absolutely riveting. he did it not in soundbites but in long, drawn-out conversations that always always made me wish i were the third cup of coffee at that table for two voices.
so when Dave said Gzowski, i understood. Gzowski was not about fame, per se, or writing as discipline and craft and greatness. Gzowski, as a definition of success, was about access; the honour of sitting at the table where the big story was being told.
Dave was an early adopter of the 21st century outlook on creative expression. art, like technology, is not an end in itself; it is simply what it affords us. it is – or can be, if one is lucky – a seat at the table.
in the old model, singular greatness was supposed to be both its own reward. it was also supposed to launch one to fame and fortune, but it was vulgar to consider those goals. success was entirely a vertical game.
Gzowski was my first introduction to the idea that it might be more horizontal, more about voice and access and participation in a conversation than some mysterious process of coming to exist on whole new planes of merit and grandeur.
Peter Gzowski died almost ten years ago, on my thirtieth birthday.
yesterday, a couple of weeks before my fortieth (mercy), i got closer to Dave’s old dream than i’d have imagined possible, back then. i was on the CBC’s The Sunday Edition. national radio. a seat at the big table.
i’ll never meet Gzowski, but an hour in the CBC studio talking to Ira Basen, with his convivial, intelligent questions? hearing myself on national radio talking about momblogging and monetization?
i was honoured. and flattered. as The Pogues taught me long ago, when you live with someone years on end, you kinda end up taking their dreams as your own. being on The Sunday Edition is my idea of doing Dave proud. and myself.
and it was as cool as i’d have thought it would be. almost.
it is almost impossible – as almost anybody in momblogging will tell you – to talk about momblogging without treading on toes. we’re the Fight Club whose fights and divisions and hurt feelings stem almost entirely from breaching the unwritten rule of not talking about Fight Club. we are a community that hasn’t really been a single community for years, like most in social media. but we still get lumped together – even by many of us, me included – under the convenient if always controversial and slightly pejorative handle of mommybloggers, and we bristle and feel misunderstood and wonder what the hell we have in common.
even in polite Canada.
the documentary explored The Great Monetization Divide of Mommyblogging. i liked it. my sense was that Ira tried hard to treat both sides of the monetization conversation respectfully.
my voice ended up on the non-monetization side of fence: a partial truth, but you dance in a two-sided polka and you end up in pants or a dress, i suppose. narrative conventions dictate that there BE two sides, given equal air.
i see it more like this: i haven’t monetized this blog, but i do get to speak at conferences, and the blog has gotten me paid work in other venues. i see myself as a part of the networks and economy that make monetization possible.
i said that, but not all of it made it to air. that’s okay. it’s not the CBC’s job to represent me to the world.
that’s MY job.
for me, social media has been about taking the Gzowski model and truly, uh, horizontalizing it: giving regular people platforms on which to publicly tell their own stories and host their own conversations about their riveting corners of otherwise seemingly vanilla worlds.
these platforms are built of people. networked audiences, in peer-to-peer relationships.
social media also has vertical channels, avenues by which ordinary folk can sometimes find seats at tables that were once closed. this too is a sort of democratizing force, compared to the old models of how people got their voices “discovered.” these vertical channels of brand and big media are also increasingly the business engine by which social media sustains itself.
most of us whose audience aspires beyond an intimate network of friends are invested in both the vertical and the horizontal. but that’s what’s getting lost in the increased polarization between monetized and non-monetized camps.
i hear the critique on both sides; personal bloggers are indulgent crap. monetized bloggers are sell-outs. you can be a friend, but my peers are professionals, now. we’re splitting ourselves down the middle based on horizontal or vertical aspirations. and i’m tired of feeling like i’m caught in a bad divorce.
truth is, you can’t have social media without the peer-to-peer connections. then it’s just media, my friends. and there are never going to be jobs for all of us in a traditional media economy. i think we’re stuck with each other, building horizontally as we build vertically, unless we want the whole shebang we’ve built on these peer-to-peer connections to come crumbling down.
a non-monetized blogger benefits from the profile gained by vertical national exposure. people with entirely vertical aspirations need build enough horizontal peer-to-peer buzz and profile that they begin to stand out to those peering in from the vertical towers. BECAUSE WE’RE IN THE SAME REPUTATION ECONOMY. that’s what social media IS.
the divide between monetized and non-monetized? i think it’s a fake one, a trap we’re party to constructing and leaping into.
remember Jon Stewart in 2004, shrieking at that little Crossfire turd in the bowtie and his so-called liberal foil? YOU’RE HURTING AMERICA! ?? yeh. remember that?
we don’t have to play along with the theatre that divides us by pretending we have nothing in common. a whole lot of us have both horizontal AND vertical aspirations.
but maybe we don’t know how to talk about it. maybe we don’t hear about it on the radio, or even see much of it on Twitter. we start thinking about social media as us and them.
so the CBC documentary? great for me, so long as all those of us who heard it didn’t walk away even more convinced that the polarization is natural and inevitable and hopeless. and moreso, so long as, if we did, we don’t just leave the conversation there.
because the beauty of social media is that sure, an industry giant can explore us and reflect us back to ourselves. but our platforms let us pull up to the table and join the conversation: our critical reflection comes as part of the deal.
social media gives us access: lets us all talk to Gzowski, in the figurative sense. i don’t want to sell that short.
can we talk about Fight Club? or blogging? or whatever the hell we ought to call it, from here on in? tell me what YOU want from social media, for 2012. tell me what YOU’RE invested in, out here.
can we split this conversation beyond the two camps, once and for all?