In which, a doddering old guy takes insight from a couple of young men. And, in which we explore dualisms and speculate on more fruitful x-y-z coordinates.
Rather than seek out pre-existing definitions I would like to struggle a bit in order to formulate, abductively, my own definitions. In order to establish a point of reference, first I want to develop a couple of case examples. Perhaps these represent fully developed web presences. Accordingly, I offer Jon B., at Fishing the Midwest on YouTube and Brennan (several YouTube channels actually) at GoldGloveTV and on Twitch. These two are not alone, nor are they the most successful; however, they offer good cases. We are broadly familiar with YouTube. Twitch, however, is more of a niche social media, and bears some additional introduction. Twitch is a platform that allows computer gamers to broadcast live and real-time their game-play. Frequently there is a social component to the game-play, either through the game being a massive-multiplayer-online (MMO) or through a co-op element to otherwise single player games. Twitch facilitates the creation of online communities and potentially a revenue stream for successful “hosts.” Content creators can monetize their accounts by permitting advertising, and promoting subscriptions.
The two young men I have chosen to review as case examples here are self-employed, full-time, by and through their content creation. They have created recognizable personal brands, defined business models, and are executing on their plans. Their participation in social media also intentionally blurs boundaries of identities – this blurring is seen clearly in “vlogging” content offered by both. “Vlogging” is a “journalistic documentation of a person’s life, thoughts, opinions, and interests” (ZMD, 2005).
- Jon B. is in his early 20’s. He recently dropped out of college in order to work full-time on his YouTube content. He has been creating YouTube content since 2009; he was 12-13 years old at that time. He participates in several additional social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Jon B. is attentive to the details of his camera, audio work, and editing and he seems as passionate about them as his fishing. Recently Jon B. has traveled, fished, and created content with a cohort of YouTube channel hosts. These people might be seen as competitors; however, they are working as collaborators driving traffic to each others’ sites and appearing in each others’ videos.
- Brennan O’Neill is 25 and has likewise been on YouTube since 2009. Among gamers, he is well known and widely subscribed as well. He and his personal information are more indiscriminately available online. In addition, he is well known for his drunken live streaming and for his unfiltered, sometimes inappropriate, game commentary. His social media includes Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, and a number of game related sites. Brennan employs a Video Editor to assist with the creation of videos. He likewise has a cohort of friends with whom he games and creates content.
In the language of this assignment, we encounter several classic binaries. For example, public: private, personal: professional, and active: passive. The “passive” and “active” aspects of online activity reinforce the definition (Christenson, 2014) stipulated in this assignment “the intentional and unintentional traces left when participating online.” Of the active and passive traces, we tend to fear the passive, the notion of big data, and the Orwellian or Kafkaesque paranoia that comes with it, haunts us. Wikipedia (Digital footprint, 2016) offers examples of privacy issues that do raise serious concerns. Interestingly, I served on a jury that examined a child pornography case. The evidence showed a huge library of video and imagery. However, what trapped the defendant was not the collection of the images (abhorrent but a relatively passive set of traces was left by that activity) rather it was setting up a file sharing system and making some of the collection available for download. The transition to “content creation” or “distribution” was a movement towards an “active” digital footprint, as it were, that tripped up the defendant. A tiny bit of “passive” evidence was used in court; however, the telling evidence was the “active” footprint.
That distinction brings us back around to the case examples above. These two young men really vex a traditional notion of these categories — public: private, personal: professional, and active: passive. Brennan, for example, clearly drinks on the job. Moreover, both Jon B. and Brennan appear to be role models since their primary market segment is 13-17-year-olds. Both employ vlogging sometimes discretely and sometimes woven into their specific content. It is a challenge to speculate on their concerns about the passive elements of their digital footprint; however, their active content creation is plainly visible. Jon B. challenges the boundaries include the virtual: real boundary. He maintains a post office box and takes fan mail there and then videos the unboxing as channel content. Going the other direction he takes fans fishing or attends real world “meet ups.”
I have really only ever worked with post-secondary young people. Our two case examples fit this demographic as well, perhaps revealing my affinity for them and selection of them as case examples. Nonetheless, it seems that many Millennials are self-conscious of both their web presence and their digital footprint (Eddy, 2015). I have heard colleagues in higher education speak poorly of these young people’s judgment and attitudes, broadly, but also specifically regarding their online sophistication. Given the two case examples, I suspect this reflects a superficiality in my colleagues thinking. One frequently touted truism is that Millennials learn first from each other. Given the case examples participation in a cohort of channel hosts and their apparent status as role models, we see some evidence for this truism. I also suspect these two case examples are acutely aware of both their active and passive footprints. Hence, I wonder precisely what I might “teach” their cohort about this topic. Brennan and Jon B. are living it in full color and at top speed and certainly, have more credibility than I. Instead, I might offer examples, open a discussion, and facilitate the conversation along the lines of the tensions we are exploring here — risk: reward, personal: professional, public: private and active: passive.
It is precisely through the introduction of the risk: reward binary that my thinking became more complicated and richer. This sparked my recollection of White, & Le Cornu, (2011) who offer a criticism of the binary digital native: digital immigrant. However, they do not stop there but rather they develop a theory of visitor: resident as a continuum of participation in their article Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement.
In this video, White complicates our thinking in several key ways; first, he calls into question the importance of “generation” in our thinking about web presence. In this essay, I persist in using the demographics of “Millennial” and “Gen X” and this is predominately a contrivance of convenience – but it is not without self-consciousness. White’s video further complicates our thinking by introducing the model of continua in contrast to binaries. White also introduces the importance of motivation in propelling a persons’ relative residency or visitor status. Taking these notions together allows me to sketch a framework to review our case examples and to reflect on my own web presence.
There is a lot of money to be made by enterprising content creators. Obviously, in the cases here revenue comes directly from online enterprises. However, I have observed young people working to develop their LinkedIn personas, for example, in order to facilitate their more traditional job search, hence to generate revenue just as real as our two content creators make. So, can we say that the reward, or potential reward, outweighs the risk? Conversely, perhaps not participating, not creating, and not managing a web presence is a greater risk? Therefore, if the simple binaries do not adequately open the conversation, what other possible models do we have at hand? Perhaps instead if we imagine the binaries as the ends of ranges and we imagine a node at which these several spectrum intersect, then we can plot our “location” or comfort in the online environment — a multidimensional map. White indeed has mapping one’s participation as a goal of his method. I mention above risk: reward, and White talks about motivation in relative participation as a key element. Yet “participation” calls into question “presence” too. “Presence” suggests a product, perhaps, whereas “participation” suggests a process.
It seems that our content creators actually create drama around these boundaries and along these continua in order to increase traffic. Interestingly, both of these content creators have crossed the boundaries of public versus private. We followed Brennan’s relationship with a young woman, also a content creator. First, as they became housemates, and then later when they broke up. Jon B. has engaged his critical commenters directly calling out boundary violations, almost as though he was taking on the role of an etiquette coach. These two seem to set public: private on a continuum rather than a dualism and they slide back and forth on that continuum to manage their traffic and personas. They are gauging this based on some risk: reward calculation that they instinctively or consciously invoke. It seems that they navigate these issues — risk: reward, personal: professional, public: private and active: passive — self-consciously and with a keen eye toward maximizing their profits.
Copyright and intellectual property are intensely important issues to these two YouTube entrepreneurs. They are acutely aware of copyright as their channels and hence livelihoods can be shut down due to copyright claims. This and the fact that most serious YouTubers routinely mention this threat in their commentary starts to put the lie to the claim that “kids these days” are pirates. Moreover, as these two make their living from their content creation, their understanding of intellectual property is key to the enterprise. I am inclined to think that some young people are more sophisticated regarding these matters than some of us older folks.
Certainly, in the case of our young men, they are their employer, at least for now, and their web presence is their business. Jon B. has moved back and forth between his full-time content creation and working for Mystery Tackle Box.
I interpret that to mean he is mindful that he may not always be self-employed. His web presence, while youthful and exuberant, reflects a more conservative approach. Brennan, on the other hand, seems fully committed to his enterprise and his style. In addition, his style does blur the boundaries. The traces he is leaving may well influence his future employability if he chooses to seek work that is more traditional.
So, based on that, it is time for me to become self-reflective and to consider my own engagement with risk: reward, personal: professional, public: private and active: passive online activity. I need to address the questions from our assignment:
Can you effectively manage your web presence? Can you maintain both a private and a public web presence? Is it necessary to separate your public and private web presence? How might your employer’s interests or policies affect your personal web presence?
I am personally less comfortable on the private-public continuum and more comfortable on the professional-personal continuum, hence, my choices in social media. I am moderately active on LinkedIn but not Facebook. Moreover, this reflects my choices around content creation. I am inclined to be more deeply cautious about what content I actively create. This caution is reflected in my participation in LinkedIn, or Twitter. I am content to share, like and retweet. I tightly manage my rendering of opinion in these venues. This caution slices the definition in a different direction. It is increasingly challenging to make sense of “public” and “private” in the online environment. Rather, I make more sense of the “personal” and “professional” distinction. For myself, I am and have been acutely aware of not violating these kinds of boundaries. In part, this is a personal value, but it also derives from the fact that my employers have always been intensely brand-conscious and protective. Trashing them either directly or indirectly through inappropriate boundaries seemed too risky for my taste.
I have maintained a blog logging my exercise for many years, though using a pseudonym. I have not promoted it and, as such, it has no traffic. Rather it served me as a journal and a way to be accountable. However, my thinking about it and my relationship to the hundreds of workouts logged there is more in line with notions of an open web. My thinking was indifferent and vaguely generous regarding the content. This indifference towards “property” and “copyright” differentiates me (and probably many) from the two case examples. I lacked the vision that personal branding and content creation could open a door to the fitness industry for me. In contrast, these young men clearly grasped their opportunities.
I have observed of late a blurring of my boundaries and a willingness to own my authorship. This in part inspired by these two young men who are passionate about both the form and content of their online creations. I find Jon B.’s excitement split equally between photography, video editing, and fishing to be rejuvenating and motivational. There is much for me to learn.
Therefore, yes I do think it is possible to manage my web presence but the calculations need to be more complex than simple binaries. I find the notions of “visitor” and “resident” valuable constructs for thinking about web presence (White, & Le Cornu, 2011) and yet I felt discomforted by these concepts, too. I am not certain that I ever will be a resident, and at home in the same way that Brennan and Jon B. appear to be. Though I wonder if that has anything to do with the internet at all, perhaps that reflects myself in any social situation, introverted, and intently observing from the margins. Nevertheless, such calculations do include a risk: reward calculation. At this time, for me, the reward is less about revenue and more about audience; in truth I suspect many content creators start with that goal.
Christensson, P. (2014, May 26). Digital Footprint Definition. Retrieved 2016, Sep 29, from http://techterms.com/definition/digital_footprint
Digital footprint. (2016, Sept. 22). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_footprint
Eddy, N., (2015, December 23). Millennials Worry About Their Digital Footprints. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from http://www.eweek.com/it-management/millennials-worry-about-their-digital-footprint.html
White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved October 4, 2016, http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049
ZMD, (2005, January 6). Vlogging. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved September 29, 2016, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=vlog