Shifting Frames of Reference

There are times in your life when events cause you to shift the way you view things. You see something from a new angle, or through a new lens, and it looks completely different. It was pointed out to me yesterday that New Media has done this to me, yet again. My world view has changed, casting light onto why some people don’t seem to “get” this space.

When I went to law school, they told us they would teach us to think in a totally new way. It’s true. Law school not only provides you the rules to the game- how laws shape our Country and Society- but also shows you a way to approach problems that may not occur to others. (For all of you potential law students out there- when you read a case, follow the money trail. People only sue each other over money, 98% of the time, in civil actions- the other 2% is revenge.)

When my husband tells me about a difficult case at work, my instant thought is what went wrong; is there anyone to blame; who is responsible if there is anyone to blame; and what can be done to remedy the situation. [What Lawyers would call Duty/Breach/Cause/Damages- the formula for a torts case.]

It’s triage and legal transactional analysis. We take apart stories and lay down the facts, like individual bricks, and reconstruct the facts to support a particular point of view. We use law and previous cases as the supporting evidence for our version of things. We try to convince others that we’re right. Stories are no longer just entertaining tales, they’re cases; your decision to do A or B is considered in a larger picture that evaluates risk and long term outcomes. You start to think defensively and conservatively. It becomes your knee-jerk response.

In new media, our world view changes dramatically from what it was beforehand, just like law school. The “rules” about what you can or cannot do are largely thrown out the window. When I was asked about my five year plan, I just giggled-Podcasting and blogging are not that old, and change so fast- how can you plan that far in advance? And what’s happened in the past year has been so remarkable, it’s easy to give up planning for the seat of the pants, let’s see what happens approach. But does that make sense in the real world?

If I step back into the old world, or the legal world, the advice I would dole out to clients might involve things like “five year plans”, where you want to be and how to achieve those goals. I would never think of advising a client to wing it, not worry about revenue or ROI and just go for it, yet that’s exactly what I seem to accept and advocate on some level every day in new media.

My husband pointed out to me that lots of people still see life as being rule driven. They want tangible metrics. Support. Evidence. Case Studies. They want the water pre-tested and want safety. They are less than willing to put a lot on the line to make something happen, and are always concerned about blow-back. This is why they may bite at low-cost new media solutions, but may shiver a bit at larger financial commitments, because there’s little proof that this works, despite the fact that we all “know” how engaged our audience is, or how wonderful we all feel when our audience engages, writes, calls and participates in our experiments in new media.

But in New Media, we tend to swing for the fences, take chances, and not worry to much about what happens if it doesn’t work out. We simply brush ourselves off and try the next thing. People are investing themselves in many projects, not just one. They are patient in figuring out which ones will pan out and which ones won’t. All the eggs are not in one basket. But doesn’t this also mean we are all playing the game with a certain amount of clammy hands and lack of focus? Does it mean we are unable to commit to one thing and see it through to the end, but instead are trying to hang on to everything at once? The same concepts that leaves you holding nothing in the end in the Real World?

Since we are transparent, to different degrees, about almost everything, the investment we are asking people to make is in trust and in us. If something is going pear shaped, we want to collaborate to make it better. We tell people the good and the bad. We don’t paint a monochromatic picture of the world. We paint in bright colors, ugly colors- all the colors available to us. And what’s weird, is we don’t even think about the risk.

So many people I know in life are risk adverse. By contrast, people in new media tend to be risk takers, testers, experimenters. The Explorers on the Frontier, as one presenter put it at Podcasters Across Borders. They approach a problem asking what can they learn from this challenge, rather than “What can I milk from this project?” Sure, people are looking for economic gain as well, but I find a general lack of rapacious capitalism and more interest in connecting, communicating and education.

The clash of cultures is difficult. When people revert to the “play it safe” and “cautious” mode, I do understand, but I now tend to think that approach is ultimately silly and too conservative. I’m trying to play without a net as much as possible, and I’m gradually becoming comfortable with it, but I am also worried about the results if I fall, because it’s going to be a heck of a lot more painful than when the security measures were in place.

It’s like safety and success are on the same kind of continuum that time and money are on. The Time-money continuum says that you can “buy” time by outsourcing things you need to do, but it’s gonna cost you. Likewise, you can save money by doing it yourself, but it’s going take your time. We’ve decided to outsource mowing the lawn for example- it’s worth the $35 a week for the time and effort we save doing it ourselves. We don’t outsource the mulching, on the other hand, because we can do it way cheaper than it costs to have it done, and we kinda like it at this point, anyway.

The safety- success thing is similar. You can invest your money in a guaranteed, insured savings account, but you’ll never make much money at those interest rates. You can put your money into mutual funds- better return sometimes; returns aren’t guaranteed; or buy one stock with the same money- putting all your eggs in one basket. The benefits can be great with the greater risk you take; however, you are risking much more if it doesn’t pan out. If you’re not vigilant and watching, and know when to divest or move assets or the like, you can lose huge. But you can win huge, too. (We’ll leave the Stock Market is Las Vegas speech for another day.)

I am still conservative in many ways. I send my kids to normal schools. I am deeply concerned about the quality of their education. I invest my money conservatively and for growth. I’m married to a great man. I put my family first. We drive practical cars. We live in the suburbs. Boring. Safe. Conservative.

Yet, when it comes to my on-line life, I feel uninhibited by the same real world rules of caution. I engage in social networks. I have a podcast. I have friends all over the US, many of whom I would not hesitate to have over to the house for dinner on a moment’s notice. I go to conferences hundreds of miles from home, alone, with little fear that it will be anything other than wonderful. I am no longer my safe, conservative, suburban self.

Maybe this is what Chris Brogan and Chris Penn really mean by becoming a Super Hero. (Links are to their posts on SuperHero- go check ’em out) We end up with our private lives, where we can be our mild mannered selves, and then we have alter-egos in the online world, where we can do remarkable things and take risks that look positively insane to others.

I think the key to long term success, however, is merging these two world views. Let’s take risks, but decide that new does not always mean better. (Pownce is pretty, but is it fundamentally better than Twitter? The jury’s still out on this one.) Is it better to go it alone on a project, or team up with others? (Time-Money and safety-success)

I think we all need sidekicks; we all need Super Hero support (with apologies to Sky High). We can get a lot more done by pooling resources and connecting even divergent communities than going it alone in the wilderness. But it means being willing to share and to risk things, and even possibly risk not benefitting directly from “your ideas”. And I am surprisingly okay with that. Contributing to the overall success is as important to me as any potential financial gain- I can’t execute on all my ideas, and better to have my dreams come true, even if not compensated directly, than see them die on the vine.

In the end, I do feel like I have two identities, two shifting frames of reference or focus in my life. They still make me a whole person- I just have to be able to make sure I can have both selves live compatibly without diverging permanently from each other. That’s the Super Hero power we’ll all need for the next few years.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Shifting Frames of Reference

  1. This makes me think of the faces in the mandala, a Buddhist idea. We have different faces for different situations, different ideals and different energies, but fundamentally, we’re all one inside. The new media super hero is very much a part of you, but may just be expressing different characteristics of the same person as the situation demands, just like the parent aspect of your total self did not express itself until you became a parent. Taking on the archetype of Mom prior to being a parent would make no sense.

    Ultimately, your new media superpowers are very much a part of yourself, and not something separate, not even an alter ego.

  2. Pingback: Christopher S. Penn » Blog Archive » The Mother of All Pingbacks

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