Sunday, March 9, 2014
Knack Factory is a creative and commercial content company with a focus on photo, video and strategy, based in Portland, Maine. Alex is also a politics and lifestyle blogger, "Bourbon. Portland. Beer. Politics.," with the Bangor Daily News.
DiaryLand, the performance of expressing an emotion, and on being a vanilla weirdo.
As with most of my interviews, what you'll read here is a greatly condensed version of our conversation.
What was your first experience with social media?
"Literally, the first time I logged onto the Internet I was at my uncle's house and I was 13 years old. At the time I was a really big fan of independent cinema from the 1990s for whatever reason. Maybe it was because 'Kids' had recently come out. I was a big fan of 'Clerks,' Kevin Smith's film. Smith has been huge in trailblazing the artist using the Internet to connect with a fan base. On the website for his production company [View Askew Productions], he had set up a message board and I used it as a base for my Internet use for like six years. The board is still there, actually. I'm still in touch with some of those people 16-17 years later."
"I grew up out in the country. If I had grown up in the city, I would have had access to punk and zines and stuff like that—I did get into zines, but that's a different story. I was really intellectually curious and there weren't a lot of places for me to be that way when I was growing up. Kevin Smith's message board gave me the place to focus those curiosities. Actually, when I was a teenager, I held this fundraiser at my school for victims of these tornados in the South and because of my participation in that Internet community, Smith's company matched the money I raised. In retrospect, that was really, really cool."
"Later, when I was 17ish, I would set up a blog without realizing what blogging actually was. I used DiaryLand. It was the cousin of LiveJournal. If LiveJournal was for kids who listened to the Dresden Dolls, then DiaryLand was for vanilla weirdos, I guess. It was largely people I knew. People I actually knew. I can't remember exactly how it was structured but I'm pretty sure people could 'like' posts and communicate with other people through DiaryLand's messaging system. It was actually really fascinating because there were designers in the community who could custom-make your background for you. The way that you would pay them was through their Amazon Gift List. So, you'd buy something off of their gift list for them and they'd make you a background. It seems so primitive in retrospect."
What do you like about social media?
"Of all of the people who I have close to an intimate relationship with, beyond people you just see in a coffee shop and say hello to, I'd say nine out of ten are people I had first contact with through social media. I met two of my best friends via randomly messaging people from Maine via AOL IM. That for me has been a hugely positive thing."
"As I noted earlier, the broadening of possibilities for individual expression were huge for me, and that is something I have paid special attention to over the years. My expression tends toward the heightened and thoughtfully manic, though confidently assertive. Even when it looks like I'm being crazy, I am thinking through my style of message delivery. Sometimes I say inflammatory things explicitly to provoke conversation. I want to see the conversation that comes out of it. There are shades of grey that my more absolute statements ignore and I believe in the validity of those shades of grey, but I'm presenting something in a certain way because by presenting something in that way, conversations happen. I appreciate that. It's as though I am communicating an emotion rather than a steadfast belief. It's the performance of expressing an emotion, an acknowledgment of a moment in time when I'm very emotional. If you are going to assume this style, though, it is important to own your mistakes and apologize when you are wrong. I have had to do this before. I think that in order to be able to successfully navigate all of this you need to be able to admit that you're wrong, apologize right away and be really transparent about that. And, be willing to learn."
"This said, I enjoy the potential for more constructive inclusive public conversation. Take the gun issue right now, for instance. When Columbine happened, the outlets left to steer the dialogue were basically Time and Newsweek and the nightly news. And, you were only able to process things alone or with your family. Now news is processed publicly. There are negatives to that, sure. But, there's also the element of public grievance and public celebration—things are processed publicly and that leads to greater transparency. And now if the media screws up, as CNN did with the Steubenville rapists, people call them out on it. I also think we get more positive solutions out of public deliberation than when we just watched TV seven hours a day and processed the news alone."
What do you dislike about social media?
"What can happen with social media over time is that you can get used to a very positive echo chamber. You state your belief and all of your friends and followers agree with you. Of course, that's not grounded in reality. I think we'll figure out a way around that once we all figure out our role in it. But, that's not social media's fault. That's people still learning how to work within its confines."
"I think Tumblr's reblogging mechanism has decimated the the notion of attribution and giving credit where credit is due. Those were hard enough disciplines to master anyway. It's made an already difficult process even more complicated. Not to mention that it just makes people stupid."
"The way that people respond to something on social media is sometimes a GIF. That's just depressing."
"Another thing that bugs me, and I can't imagine that this is exclusive to Portland, is the willingness of one party to passive-aggressively talk about another party in a non-constructive and critical light. People calling negative things out on Facebook and Twitter. I don't like that at all. Businesses do this under their identities, and it drives me nuts. It is beyond a rookie move. I don't like to even patronize businesses that do that. It all feels petty. If you can't figure out not to do that, then it makes me wonder what else you are screwing up with your business. If I ever have a contention with someone, a million years before I address it with them on social media, I'm going to address it with them personally."
What would it be like for you to disconnect from social media for six months?
"So basically, I could hire someone at my company to maintain our social media accounts? If that's the case, it would be fantastic. The fact that you're always connected means that you have so much less time than if you weren't connected to synthesize and analyze. I would just read a stack of books and spend time with my family."
Is there a person or brand that you think uses social media effectively?
Heidi Moore, @moorehn. Heidi is a finance and economics editor, and she just GETS how to use Twitter. I have been following her for about 3 or 4 years now and I learn new stuff from the way she uses Twitter every day.
Johanna Fateman, Musician/Owner, Seagull Salon, @johannafateman @seagullsalon. Johanna is a hero of mine for her feminism and her zine/Le Tigre days, and I love the way she and her salon use Twitter. They both use this voice that reads like their followers are in on some out-of-context in-joke. Their Tweets read like mid-conversation text messages from your best friends, and it is lovely.
Sean Hackbarth, @seanhackbarth. Anyone who follows me on Twitter is well aware that I am an unabashed lefty, but I adore conservative blogger Sean Hackbarth's feed. Two reasons why the conservative movement has a hard time connecting with young people is that, as a whole, it seems humorless and they generally have bad taste in music. Sean listens to great music and he is hilarious. His voice is an extremely positive contribution to American conservatism.
I want to thank Alex for taking the time to talk with me about his opinions on, and experience with, social media.
You can find Alex on Twitter at: @alexsteed
You can find Knack Factory on Twitter at: @knackfactory
You can find Alex on Tumblr at: Final Girldom
You can also find Alex on Tumblr at: Maine. Obviously.
Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.
Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).
Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg
His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).