Author Topic: The Pararelational Paradox  (Read 2202 times)

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 29169
  • Karma: 121
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
The Pararelational Paradox
« on: June 06, 2019, 05:26:23 PM »
The Pararelational Paradox
By Jubal




Are creators becoming overloaded nodes in our social networks?
So today I want to talk about pararelational hell, and whether and how we can avoid it. In short, what I’m talking about is the tendency for creators to either directly expose, or present a manicured version of, their lives outside their work, and directly drive engagement with their work by creating the impression that through it one can have a direct and personal relationship with them as independent from their work.

Examples of this are not hard to find, though there’s clearly a spectrum both in how well different people can cope with pararelational situations and how heavily people lean on this as a marketing strategy. I’ve certainly seen successful creators whose social media has ended up 50% apologies for being unable to respond to the deluges of personal messages they get from fans and connections, but who still feel that the solution to this is to keep engaging those people with “hey everyone tell me what you’re doing today” posts (as if this was something possible to keep track of for a person who’s at the limit of Facebook friends or who has tens of thousands of Twitter followers). On top of that there’s the pressure of being constantly accessible; whilst I’m sure some creators love being able to share good and bad news with the folk online who care about their work, others feel that they will be penalised for not explaining that no, they couldn’t get a comic up this week due to a recurrent illness or a bad breakup – and that part of their job is not only to share their own lives but to directly care about and deal with the issues in the lives of their community of fans on an individual level. It’s an impossible task.

I think this is genuinely primarily a tendency of the internet age: large numbers of people are now on the same social media services as creators they love, and this moves things from what in the old days would’ve been restricted to snail-speed fan mail (which few fans get the time and energy to write, except for e.g. world famous authors) to the point where a creator can tweet make a Facebook post and get two dozen replies within an hour. Broadcast social media such as Twitter and YouTube, which mostly function via open public posts, perhaps particularly encourage such a strategy, though Facebook tends to host the worst examples I’ve seen as the lure of being “friends” with a creator or commenting on their public posts seems to make people feel even more demanding of replies. Patreon and systems like it, whilst extremely good for the independent creative industries generally, also form a part of this, as one of the most standard marketing strategies is additional vlogposts, Q&As, and otherwise access to the creator in question.

So just to be clear here, I meant it when I used the term pararelational hell at the top of this post. I think pararelational marketing is exceedingly unhealthy. It screws over people who are unable or unwilling to participate in it by messing up audience expectations, burns out creators by getting them to effectively sell a huge amount of emotional labour along with their work, and leaves audiences understandably dissatisfied. The fact is that creators can’t put in the effort needed to have several hundred (or more) good friends who they talk to all the time as well as buying their stuff. I don’t say this at all as someone who feels like I’m immune to this sort of system – as you might guess from the fact I founded this website, I find creative people wonderful and interesting and want more chances to talk to them – but the extent to which we’ve normalised people being expected to lay their lives bare to those accessing their work I think is a problem, one that’s hurting creators who participate in it and those who feel unable to alike.

So what are the solutions, if there are any? It’s a difficult question to answer without trying to go through an unhelpful process of apportioning blame, which wouldn’t, I think, help anyone – both creators and fans need to readjust their habits toward something more healthy and it’s a question of how we put in systems to best help our communities do so. I think one big part is better community reporting and magazines in indie creative communities – they provide an alternative route for players and fans to find and appreciate creators’ work. Good indie journalism, if supported well, might take pressure off creators. Sure, it takes time to do press releases and so on, but better hub systems for such releases and more journalists willing to go out and find stuff rather than just waiting for press releases to roll in would help share a load which is pushed far too much onto the creators right now.

Secondly, I think we need better fan communities per se that are built around appreciation for the work, not built around personal interactions with the creator of a work. This is a problem for social media design as well, which elevates personal and direct connections to an extent which can swamp people. Actually, we may need to rebuild fan communities and news outlets which allow the creator to retain or regain a little distance. The collapse of an effective “mid tier” of fandom consisting of interviewers, community admins and moderators, and suchlike has rolled too much of the work in many cases onto creators themselves, many of whom don’t have the resources or experience to deal with it. We need to start valuing that interactivity in communities more, and see creative communities as, ideally, communities rather than just conversations. Connecting people up is not enough, and risks pressing creators to try and build the nexus of a community around themselves without the support that comes from taking a more workable, sustainable, communal approach.

All that said, I certainly don't have all the answers - I don't know what level of engagement is desirable or sustainable and I'm sure that this will vary hugely between people as it always does. But I do think the tendency to go pararelational, fuelled by a media sphere that emphasises individual connection over communal discussion, is something that we need to think about more, and I hope this has provided some thought on doing so - thankyou for reading!
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2019, 04:40:38 PM »
I would also mention the collapse of specialty mailing lists, newsletters, and forums.  People moved to reddit, facebook, and twitter, but those jumble different things together, drive away experts in a crowd of demanding ignoramuses, and are searchable at the whim of the centralized owner which can and does alter the deal at their pleasure.

I also see creative people who feel obliged to attend what feels like an excessive number of far-away, expensive conferences and conventions to me.  Maybe they are lonely from working at home in unwalkable country though?

The journalists are in the same trap as all other creative people: chasing a constantly changing sets of rules, chosen by liars, in hope of a pittance of money.  My decision was not to play the game, but instead to start from the assumption that I am never going to make serious money from free online writing and photos, and model an Internet which is healthy for me and for society: decentralized, searchable, slow (a regular weekly post), with links from centralized proprietary sites to the real Internet not vice versa, and presenting a specific persona not everything that is happening in my life.  If you start from the assumption that birdsite is never going to deliver amazing rewards to compensate for the distraction and the serious personal risks, you make different choices (and I don't actually know anyone in person with a birdsite account, except for one ex-professor and a friend's brother who has one for work).

We need both individual action and collective activism towards structural changes, but the 2010s internet is the wrong place for me to be doing the later, and an hour a week of action is worth ten hours a day of talking about what someone somewhere should do.  Most of my face-to-face friends have never heard of patreon, they don't need to be lectured not to be demanding of their creators. 

I have my real friends who I see in person, and what cannot go on forever will not go on forever: eventually the investors will wise up to investor storytime, and the creators will realize that they are being conned like Orwell's lottery players and pterry's mystics ("keep putting in time and effort!  one day you could get rich and all your problems will go away!  the goal you seek is just out of reach if you keep learning today's rules.")

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2019, 04:48:41 PM »
Also, if you look at scholars in the 16th/17th century, or anyone in the late 19th and early 20th century, you will see people spending serious time on correspondence with a wide hobby, religious, and professional network, most of whom were never famous.  So the basic idea is not new, it is just that the specific form which centralized 2010s social media encourage is not as healthy as some older forms like newsletters.  "The Medium is the Message": if TuusCanullus pays per video-view and rewards people posting at least once a week, then creators learn to post lots of half-thought out rambling things not slower, carefully thought out and edited ones.  If sites don't give the option to turn of the 'messaging' or 'private message' feature and boast about how quickly users reply on average, that changes behaviour too.  The interests of these sites are not the same as the interests of creators or users.

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2019, 05:06:24 PM »
Another useful concept is Vi Hart's Internet Votes, and normal people's discovery that what the chattering class talks about, or people on a centralized social media site talk about, can be ignored with no effect on their offline life, or a model's observation that some people click and comment on every centralized social media post and photo but never buy anything, and some never react on the public Internet but send an email beginning "Hi!  I have been your fan for years and I am looking for someone to fill this $5,000 contract ..." AND ACTUALLY PAY UP PROMPTLY.  What produces the most visible reaction on the Internet is not what produces the reaction you are looking for offline, and most of the people who find value in what you are doing will never tell you.

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 29169
  • Karma: 121
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2019, 11:35:34 PM »
Welcome to Exilian :) And thankyou for the thoughtful comments!

I see your point about networks being much older and agree of course - but yes, I think the greater effort needed to enter into correspondence helped provide an element of friction that stopped particular people getting so easily overloaded. And I certainly agree that a lot of websites build their systems in ways that promote unhealthy usage - I focused in this article on the specific feature of them pushing things onto individual interpersonal connections, the "conversation over community" bit, but as you point out there are other parts to it including the financial incentives.

Quote
I also see creative people who feel obliged to attend what feels like an excessive number of far-away, expensive conferences and conventions to me.  Maybe they are lonely from working at home in unwalkable country though?
I think the second sentence of this is right - not necessarily unwalkable country either, but mobility can be a double-edged sword. For someone like me who moves around a lot, gatherings like that can be important for me to see the people I care about and are vital if I'm ever going to find the small number of people who can have a sensible conversation with me about things I work on. Though I'm sure people do sometimes attend big or far off cons "because they feel they should" which is less good.

Quote
most of the people who find value in what you are doing will never tell you
This is a really interesting one - and one of the most difficult ones to come to terms with when doing these things. But yeah, even as our post counts have struggled or dwindled in recent years, the view counts per page on this website have kept climbing. So maybe more people care about what we're doing than I think, and just never say so?
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2019, 11:32:56 AM »
Thanks!  I have a blog post sketched which will explore that idea, and other assumptions I see like "if my website is not constantly pinging and buzzing it is a failure," but I have not made time to finish that particular one.

I am throwing up in my mouth as I say this, but its also part of the atomization of late capitalist society: people are expected to be their own public relations team and customer service, just like they are expected to be their own secretaries, run their career independently of their kinship network, etc.  And as Xenophon tells us, someone who must do many tasks is not as good at any as someone who devotes themself to one.  But late capitalism won't survive forever.  It might be that we go back to an age where storytelling isn't something people do for money but for other rewards within their community (in fact, fanficers are like that right now).  Lots of people can see that the neoliberal ideology that the capitalist business is the best form of social organization (so self-improvement is "investing in yourself," a hobby should be a "side hustle" to "build your personal brand," and universities are corporations which just happen to sell sheets of stamped parchment) just does not work.

When I read Patreon's update emails, the impression I get is that they have no idea why some people get a lot of donations, beyond that if you are already famous, its easy to get more famous, introduction videos help, and accounts on multiple social media help.  Quite a few people seem to use it as a subscription business, but some people earn serious money for things anyone can see.  So I am not so sure that the style of engagement which people are trying to sell creators on is really necessary.

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 29169
  • Karma: 121
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2019, 12:35:37 AM »
Look forward to seeing the blog posts, that sounds a very interesting thing to tackle :)

And yes, I think you're very much right that our current society produces the dynamics you describe (I dislike the term late capitalism to cover that, but that's a personal/historian twitch on my part), and it's interesting the way in which that throws into reverse what were once thought of as almost whiggish historical trends towards labour specialisation as people are forced to branch out to cover the things they're expected to do... I agree very much with your final point too - there's a fundamental and large stochastic element to the system which nobody is prepared to admit to because it would bring either their fantasies or their self-esteem in having obtained their position crashing down. Which is why accounts on multiple social media help - because buying five lottery tickets gives you five times the chance compared to if you'd bought one. You're still trying to win the lottery though at the end of the day. But there's a lot of very wide points about society there that one could spent a lifetime discussing!
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

rbuxton

  • Posts: 73
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2019, 10:18:43 PM »
Thanks, Jubal, for putting a name to a concept I've been thinking about recently (I'd be interested to know where you got the word: googling it does not give me much).  I accidentally found myself behaving in some of the ways you describe when I discovered that many of the creators in my field, myself included, had defaulted to their personal Facebook accounts for networking. Keeping in touch with people now often involves a friend request: something they may not feel comfortable with. Interacting on a Facebook forum comes at the cost of revealing your personal profile picture to several thousand people. I'm no longer sure where my own boundaries lie between friend, professional contact and potential customer.

Fortunately, my day job prevents me getting sucked into social media maelstroms. Making this sort of relationship-building a healthy and controlled part of your lifestyle is, I suppose, a part of being a creative person in the 21st century.

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 29169
  • Karma: 121
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2019, 11:12:09 PM »
Quote
I'm no longer sure where my own boundaries lie between friend, professional contact and potential customer.
Yes, this is an interesting feature. Though in some ways I don't think this is historically unusual - personal relationships underpinning commerce have never been abnormal. But yes, centralised social media makes it harder to present in different ways with different groups of people and can lead to over-sharing when you didn't want to and so on and so forth.



I had to think about where I got the word from and then realised it was because my brain had smushed together a longer pre-existing phrase - so consider "pararelational" as short hand for "relating to a parasocial relationship".

And I think I mainly came across that via this article, which is themed similarly to mine but with more focus on YouTube specifically:
http://digg.com/2018/parasocial-relationships-shannon-strucci-interview

The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2019, 03:16:48 PM »
I have been thinking that one of the things with the highest "impact to effort" ratio which fans can do is sharing things on social media so creators can focus on big projects, but the problem is that we are all bombarded with requests to review this podcast and like this page, and it also contributes to this culture of presentism where things which are not new get forgotten.

Aside from the Vi Harts and the Maciej Ceglowskis and the Ad Contrarians and the other usual suspects, Alexiares has a series of posts like What's Right With the Web, Part One and Like a Lumber-Room.

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2019, 10:00:52 PM »
I also try to share primary sources ("A made a thing!") rather than secondary sources ("X says that Y is good") or tertiary ("A says that B should not say that C is good").  I think a lot of the ways people behave online are modelled on old-school media, just like the Big Five internet companies are looking a lot like the record labels of the 1960s or the 'one paper per town' era of the 1990s.

I have friends in the fiction, roleplaying game, and tabletop game industries, and I am just not sure if what they do really makes sense as a business, or whether they just organize it as a business because that is how people in their culture organize things.

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 29169
  • Karma: 121
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2019, 10:50:34 PM »
Ooh, that post on publishing is really interesting - thanks, that was a good read. I think the only point I'd query is the assumption that the number of writers is static over time (at least that's how I read your "I don’t see any reason to think that there were more wannabe writers in 2014 than 2005") - I'd expect the number of writers to increase noticeably over time, because on a global scale, there are more people and more of them are literate so more potential writers have the tools to actually do so. The market meanwhile won't accommodate more writers so well because you can just sell the same book to more people. I don't think that's strongly correlated with the financial problems of writers in the short term, but I think there might be a long term trend in that.

I agree re social media sharing, too, though in practice actually getting people to share things is like drawing blood from a stone. Part of this is because algorithms block independent content in favour of paid content (looking at you, Facebook) but as large a part is that people generally just don't see projects they like and immediately think "I should share that", despite the fact they do think that about e.g. funny cat pictures. I'm not really sure how one changes the mindset there, if indeed it's worth trying to do.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

Othko97

  • SotK Beta
  • Patrikios
    Voting Member
  • Posts: 3241
  • Karma: 9
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2019, 07:04:30 PM »
First, I'd just like to add a couple of links to related videos to the topic, although I expect most people will have seen them. First would be Sharon Strucci's Two Part video series on parasocial relationships, the second of which is (in my eyes) very effective at highlighting the potential concerns with parasocial relationships. PhilosophyTube also has a video somewhat related to the same questions.


Secondly I'd like to add my own thoughts on the topic. I don't think that all aspects of parasocial relationships are necessarily a bad thing, but generally I think they have a tendency to cause more harm than good. It's probably the case that much of the prevalence of such relationships is just due to a human desire to be close with people who we like/like us, and this is supported by previous culture around sending letters and "fandom" in older times, for example the cult of personality surrounding popstars in the '80s.


That said I think this is encouraged far more thanks to the systems and culture online. First and foremost content curation sites such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter actually encourage parasocial relationships to form, whether by explicitly telling creators that they need to form such relationships in the guise of "generating engagement" or by subtly controlling the stream of information provided to users. These companies have a vested interest in cultivating such interactions as they increase the time users spend on the site and hence the number of ads reaching eyeballs.


A more subtle influence is the focus of the large sites on "engagement." This obviously builds a need for creators to build parasocial relationships or face a harder road to success on the platform - less engagement means less exposure through the algorithms used to promote videos, which at least consider engagement to be an important metric. Altering these criteria for success is a tangible goal for platforms to reduce pararelational anxieties in both creators and users (if the platform ever found a need to actually care about these problems.)


The final catalyst to this increase in parasocial relationships is the culture surrounding content creation on the internet. Creating content shared online is considered a viable career path now, although I do think the attitude is closer to trying to become a popular musician rather than becoming an accountant. As a result more and more people are drawn to this as a profession and all of them need to try to foster parasocial relations to succeed in their given field. From what I see, creators are actively trying to create "fandom" around themselves, which only exacerbates these issues - if viewing a particular content creator is a large part of a person's identity, then they are likely to create a stronger parasocial relationship than otherwise.


In terms of solutions to the current "pararelational hell" I think that the best way forward is decentralised platforms that don't try too much curation of content based on the viewer - not only is this bad for privacy, but it comes along with a whole host of other concerns. Ideally these alternative platforms would be open source, and so any curation would be transparent, and thus harder to "game". At any rate, removing the motives to actually create these relationships beyond the base desire for interaction between artists and those who consume their art will, I think, greatly reduce the issues currently seen.
Alcohol and Calculus don't mix. Never Drink and Derive.

I am Othko, the master of the 23 techniques of death, murder of the 8 popes, victor of the never ending war, he who fell from the highest of places, second of his cloning, most noble swords-bearer, Ninety-Seventh of His Name, Lord of That Bit Between High Places and Low Places Through Which One Falls In Transit Between them! Apparently, at any rate.

Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 29169
  • Karma: 121
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2019, 11:23:55 AM »
Yes, I think that tallies well with a lot of my thoughts on the matter :) And thankyou for the video links!

I think part of my theory re creating fandom around creators is also that there's a mediator layer that comes ideally between creators and fans that in some areas has been lost and that's unhealthy. In other words, if there isn't a workable reviewer/journalism culture that you can actually pick things up with in your creative field, if there aren't forum admins to help organise the community of people that might exist around your game/work, then that work just rolls onto the creator which makes parasociality an even more exhausting experience.

It's one of the reasons I still like forums so long after people proclaimed the end of "the forum era" - everything is arranged by topic rather than by person, which to me is a greatly preferable way of collecting information. Are you on Mastodon, Othko, speaking of more decentralised and open source platforms?
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

dubsartur

  • Posts: 84
  • Karma: 0
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: The Pararelational Paradox
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2019, 10:04:57 PM »
Hi Jubal,

  that is one reason why I still post on forums.  Some of the wisdom of forums, like "segregate current partisan politics to an 'off topic' section or ban it" and "you need moderators" is going to have to be reinvented by communities on centralized social media I think.

  Also, forums are run by fellow geeks.  They can go toxic in many different ways, but they are not going to delete search results containing some key technical term because in another context it is rude, or throw away the archives because they pivoted into a browser game (and communities survive as people enter a new hobby, contribute, then get bored or distracted and stop supporting that part of their web presence).

  It just seems like face-to-face communities reward "the organizer" and "the person who sends the weekly emails" but right now Internet culture is focused on people each pushing their own individual identity and hoping to make money out of it.