Wednesday, October 3, 2018

SuperListenMode: On being a fan and Parasocial Relationships

SuperListenMode: On being a fan and Parasocial Relationships

My definition of a Parasocial Relationship is when it's a one way bond with between someone's public persona and professional brand [or a fictional one] versus the consumer, audience and individual. It becomes complicated, harmful and nuanced when boundaries are not clear and established. 

Yes I'm fascinated with how we portray & express authenticity over social media :0 I'm trying to be more aware when I post things myself!

I recommend what's released by Shannon Strucci so far on this topic:
Fake Friends Part 1 [20min] and Part 2 [2hr] of eventually 4 parts. I watched this at the end of August/start of September. Ooh also check out Lindsay Ellis' Manufacturing Authenticity video essay too!

Super thought provoking video essays, especially if you spend time consuming media from personalities/personas/celebrities/actors/friends/people! And this is many of us at different points in our lives! As we know, what we see on the internet is not 100% authentic...it's what the content creator/poster wants you to see. 

How sincere and honest they are is up to interpretation. And this is out of the original creator's control once their content is out there. It potentially gets out of hand in the mess of internet drama, many interpretations and miscommunication. 

Parasocial relationships are not inherently bad or harmful, just something to be managed and to be aware of in healthy ways. Hey if all parties generally have boundaries, know what to expect and get out of it, then it's happening out of awareness and intention! (: 

As an artist who posts on the internet...

...these blog posts, comics and art that I do - they are personal parts of me I’m happy to share and express myself for fun, feelings and for learning. And when I'm reflecting upon the positive, negative and neutral sides of things, I'm encouraging and being real with myself too. 

But I don't show everything about my private life. I don’t really know you either. And I'm sure you are also careful about your private life on social media too. We're not friends, kind internet peep! And that's fine! I'm just some silly lady rambling to herself on the internet who's super grateful you're reading this. Psst, thank you for reading and commenting! :0

It's tricky when online I'm fine with expressing myself blogging and making art. Always figuring out my boundaries with that. Usually it's my art and my rambly blog posts. Occasionally I might reach out for help, ask a question or share photos in the moment (:

I was told that I'm authentic and honest online. 
Mostly yes because I'm expressing my internal dialogue in this blog at the least...and only a rare few read them. With social media I'm more selective in how I respond, I remain positive & curious as my online persona, showing more of my silly kid self but I'm not that smart to completely pretend to be somebody I'm not for too long. 

Constantly performing through online posts, interacting and sharing heaps about your life online to get social validation, maintain online friendships and checking notifications is too exhausting for me. I felt stuck acting out a perfect, positive, generous, popular persona. I got emotionally drained, depressed, that I didn't give enough, didn't think I needed help and I felt empty.

I've tried to reply to everything early in the past to uphold that personal standard & to get along and support people I come across but it usually ends up me doing another long social media break to recover - it's a super energy drain for me. I can't keep up with everything and how people are publicly doing on social media!! Tried things, learned things and now I'm done with that. 

Nowadays I post things and hide. I keep to myself most of the time in person anyway. If I'm not feeling up to interacting online, I take breaks from social media until I am - hence my many breaks in recent years. I will read and perhaps reply when I check in again. 

At the moment, I don't really plan or worry what my personal brand is and I don't like being pigeon holed into something - I'm just learning and trying things out in stride and flow. I agree that I need to figure what my brand is when I feel confident with where I'm going one day. 

Anyhoo I say "mostly" authentic because I as much as I do desire connection, get annoyed, frustrated, resentful, upset, hurt, sad, emotionally intense and afraid, I don't want to focus and intentionally put out negativity into the world when I post things. Instead I acknowledge, manage and embrace my mixed feelings at the risk of being too sentimental, emotionally naive and immature. And I don't talk about things I don't know about because I need to shut my mouth, learn and listen instead! Most of the time, I just don't know enough to have an informed opinion in the first place. I'm not perfect and I'm open to learn from others (:

Meanwhile in person, I prefer to be reserved, quiet, learn and listen as an introvert with most people. 
I have many other sides too like when I'm grumpy, apathetic or low on energy so I give minimal answers. Or when I'm intense and/or excited and actually talk more than listen. And another side of me where I'm rambly and silly with close friends on an activity where I don't mind how long we've spent together. It depends on the connection. I don't think it's any less authentic. All sides equally valid and real parts of me. We all have different sides. Plus I'm always learning! 

Still I don't want to feel uncomfortable or imposed to act more like the rambly Leonie you see in my comics and blog posts. I'm not that rambly and expressive in person because by nature I'm conserving my introverted levels of energy. Especially in groups. Low social stamina over here -.-;

When I'm with people, it feels like I'm playing a role at improv actually...I can say that since I've done improv classes earlier this year! Where I'm learning, mimicking, listening and processing what others' intentions, micro expressions, posture, eye movements, where they're facing me, feelings, mood are. It gets super intense as I notice or focus on one thing at at time. Then I need time to process...and sometimes people just move on before I can respond or answer their question. 

Even if I'm just listening, it's draining for me to process and choose one person to focus on out of the group. So naturally I need solitary space to recover, I don't socialise all the time and I desire human bonding that doesn't mandate constantly hanging out. A loose regular basis would be my sweet spot! Just knowing that we're there for each other means a lot as it is. Admittedly my fickle emotions means I feel left out when I don't go to things :<

I don't want to be friends with everyone and probably not right off the bat. I need to slowly build genuine friendships based on common ground, trust, respect, comfort level, time spent together and interests. And that's a rare thing for me. And I'm sure for most of us too. 

SLM comics, blogging & my art is how I learn and express myself because I don't want to ramble people's ears off about what I'm struggling with or am interested in. It's a valid fear I have, since it's happened before ;P It's my outlet to put it out there, then I move on and forget about it until the next time it comes up again. It's my internal dialogue for a reason. I'm not expecting responses, interaction or anything but it's sweet and heart warming when I do!!

In person I would rather be quiet, save energy and listen to others. Hey I might break out of my comfort zone when I feel like it haha

Thanks to my personal comics, a few people attempted to mind read my internal dialogue and assumed things about me with varying results. 
It's also weird when people know a lot about you but you know nothing about them...it's flattering but also feels super uneven, puts me on the defensive and a tad creeped out and uncomfortable. Especially how people assume and know things about my personality. I'd need some personal space. Still genuine connection takes time, whether I'm feeling mutual and in turn I need to organically learn more about you too.

What I cannot stand is if people explicitly lie and pretend they don't know me or read my comics, in order to get close or befriend me. I value honesty highly and I don't want to find out afterwards that you know a lot about me already through my comics/posts but you're misleading me otherwise. Ultra creepy, insincere and I cannot trust you anymore. Not the kind of connection or friendship I'd want to have. I'm glad it hasn't happened yet as I don't really have a large audience and kind people are usually upfront with me even though most ghost and don't really interact with the posts themselves. ;P

Hey I'm already second guessing on whether people in general even read my comics! I usually assume people don't [aforementioned ghosting and lurking] and so in person I talk about things I might have already covered in my comics or my rambly blog posts. I don't want to bore people if they know already....I do get carried away rambling~! :( 

Digressing. As long as it's not creepy, disrespectful, weird and invasive, I won't worry ;P I have no control over that! It's cool! Sometimes people do understand me better thanks to my comics and I'm humbled by it. Thank you. <3 

As a consumer of media myself...
I usually have no desire to meet or invest too much money or time into online personalities of creatives, YouTubers, streamers, artists, experts, podcasters, entertainers, musicians, public figures, actors, game developers, writers and even teachers unless I really want to support them...at a respectable distance. I don't really want to pressure and impose on anyone to do what they don't really want to do.

I don't really have heroes of my own I can actually name. It's all mixed up and not really on the forefront of my mind so I can't really recall individual people and sources on the spot. There's countless inspiring people and I hope they keep doing what they do though! <3 

I enjoy videos, streams and podcasts because it's a brief imaginary friend session or I'm learning things about people or games. And then I move on. 

I enjoy, respect and appreciate what they do and their work. They've given me their service and entertainment. Perhaps some loose semblance of a community and connection in that moment. I might respond with a comment to appreciate them, spam some emotes in Twitch chat, do one-off fanart or donate a bit to support them but that's it. Personally I've moved onto more relaxed personalities and I'd rather watch recorded streams for games I don't want to miss nowadays. Sometimes I lurk around during live streams and try youtubers/streamers if I'm interested in a given game or topic.

Nowadays I usually don't follow their social media accounts because all I care about is their content and where they post it. I'd rather not know too much about their personal lives or get too emotionally attached to someone who doesn't care or know I exist as an individual. I tend to do that to a degree. That's out of my comfort zone, incredibly one way as a connection and potentially unhealthy for me. There's a difference between being a dedicated, intense fan and being someone who watches for the content + how the personality adds their own flavour into their work.

Many seek comfort, get emotionally attached and invest into a fictional, public version of somebody, virtual companion, subservient robot, inanimate object or someone in fiction. Especially to get through tough times and/or during childhood. Most are self aware, learn to respect boundaries and have fun with it as fans. I think that's the appeal that comes with games like Animal Crossing especially and some RPGs and story based games because players develop friendships and emotional bonds with characters in-game. And I have no problems with that! 

Increasingly more voices are heard and people are more accessible now over the internet too, building many kinds of connections through huge or niche communities. The internet is a mixed bag. Again, I agree with Shannon and Lindsay that parasocial bonds aren't evil and have been around for a long time.

I do feel weirded out sometimes. 
As I don't really know them. It kind of creeps me out when people care in extreme lengths for someone without knowing them as a person, in person in the first place. To win their approval. To know about their personal life constantly. To fully align with their opinions. To believe that there's some mutual emotional relationship with the person behind the persona. To live their live revolving around them. 

It can get out of hand, scary, manipulative, creepy, unhealthy and exploitative when branding, business, networking, sponsorship, selling products and marketing pushes the illusion of genuine, intimate, empathetic, emotional connection and relationship to unethical extremes.

For instance when fans cross boundaries, disrespecting privacy and engaging in scary, invasive, sexual, personal, intense, one sided interactions and harmful behaviour with the real person behind the persona and/or together with the fan community surrounding them. Or vice versa when the persona starts cracking because there's no personal space and privacy to take care of their mental health, loved ones and identity. Consequently the public figure lashes out of their perfect image and reputation and goes to extreme, harmful lengths to break out of it. 

It saddens me and makes me more self aware as an artist when people talk about their depression, struggles with privacy, boundaries, health, stress, constantly making content and striving for accolades and numbers like a hamster forever running in their wheel and completely lose their sense of identity. How their needs for freedom, fun, self care, experimentation, hobbies and personal expression are not nurtured and pushed aside. 

We need personal space away from performing, entertaining and putting out content and even our personal lives in front of an audience. Where we draw the line is up to us. I'm glad and are relieved for them when they invest in therapy, get emotional support from trusted friends and take care of their mental health and boundaries. 

Probably that's another reason why I've stopped being so active on social media. It was too exhausting to be "always present" persona and interact with people before they lose interest. To get those notifications! I don't want to perform and connect with people constantly that way and get too caught up within the social validation cycle. I'm very much the "post something and hide away for a while" remember? ;D I need small amounts of social media and lots of personal space to balance it out! It's at the point that it's mostly a few likes now but it makes me cherish people who take the time to respond much more (:

So I rarely actively engage as part of a passionate fanbase or community...because I don't want to fall into it and I don't want to care *too* deeply about an appealing, unattainable, curated persona if I can help it. 

I care enough to enjoy the content itself. At times I get emotionally moved and helped by it too. But as far as I know, I don't exist as an individual to them ;P 

If I realise that I'm overstepping boundaries, that it's one sided after all and I am starting to put someone on a pedestal, I'll keep away and learn to be better. If I'm crushing on somebody, I keep it private, keep it friendly and keep away out of fear of getting hurt - especially once I notice distancing happening on their end and how one sided it is. Or if I want to be friends but they don't feel the same. 

I'm afraid of being too direct, intense or assuming too much of the other person. I tend to do that sometimes because of my lack of social interaction and awareness so I keep to myself. I'd rather spend my emotional energy on people on a mutual level...and even that is tricky to discern. Sometimes I get anxious and fall into selfish self preservation/shutdown/freeze mode when things don't go to plan or someone I didn't expect talks to me. 

Gosh this is complex, fickle and messy and beyond what I am able to articulate. Please seek more perspectives; I'm only just a homebody person!! :')

Speaker BurpDoodles and Online Industry connections
Hey I've learned better to manage parasocial connections especially when I do Speaker BurpDoodles nowadays. The public connections I make with industry people over social media are usually a one way connection because they don't know me but I know more about them [especially if they're a Speaker]. 

Or the other way around, since I was a speaker last year. It's not really friendship but probably online acquaintance level at best? I think I kept things friendly and professional whilst I forgot names...I don't know everyone's twitter handle or full name. On super rare occasions, social media connections develop and become mutual wonderful friendship! All complex, amazing and confusing! 

I've learned to curate who I follow better in recent times at least! For people I am comfortable with, know and for people who inspire me in their posts. During rare moments I do follow back. There's peeps from way back who I follow out of courtesy but I'm keeping that minimal ;P 

Also there are many peeps who are inspiring, would like to know better and I'm pleasantly surprised, humbled and honoured if they happen to follow me but I'm not interested in their social media posts...probably Facebook since that's the platform I use the least? Outside of Facebook I don't know what to do... I would like to get to know them better as people but I don't want to develop an overwhelming social media feed I'm not interested in again. And people don't really want to connect through Facebook while I use it to remember who I've met and events haha

It bums me out :( 
I guess we're not friends anyway...being "friends" on social media without any genuine interaction and connection doesn't have much value to me.  
Yes, I know generally we don't have to be social media friends to be friends but it's so hard when we're usually sooo lazy and not interested to do real life catch ups!! Aaah!


As you know, I do Speaker Burpdoodles to cope with the in-person networking side [because industry things are overwhelming] by doing something I enjoy: drawing people! And talk about what I learned from them.

I have before but I usually don't go out of my way to talk to Speakers in person. I don't often have anything to say at all...especially if I don't know them beyond their talk! It would be great but I'm not "hustling" to be their friend...I'm drawing for me and to practice firstmost! And then share and credit them about what I've learned :D

When I finally post them online, they either say something lovely in gratitude [which I deeply appreciate that they even saw it at all] or they don't care. And it usually doesn't go further than that. It's all good. 

Ultimately I get to draw, learn and not worry about socialising! (: It hasn't happened yet but I'll happily and discreetly take the post down if a Speaker is not comfortable with their portrait and is respectful in letting me know about it. 

Parasocial Relationships and Me

Generally I don't put too much of my emotional energy into online personalities as if they are my friends. They're people I don't really know. I just know their persona.  

But I am fully aware that I'm using podcasts, let's plays, videos and streams for the feeling of having company while I do art. Instead of going out of my way to meet more people and make real life connections. I spend a lot of my time doing art in solitude. I enjoy my very narrow interests and conserve my energy by listening/watching people doing their thing. At the same time, I do my own thing with art or relax. 

I knew and was aware of this before watching these video essays. That I'm using these one way connection entertainment sources to deal with my low energy levels, to learn from others, get some company of pretend friends and not worry about loneliness. Learning towards growth and acceptance. Hello loneliness, my friend.

Aye, Leonie! I need to keep cherishing my few good friends in real life too!
It's not a super habit for me but even I agree that some degree of human connection and interaction outside of the internet is super valuable and important. <3

Still parasocial relationships are probably the norm now.
I can't imagine how this will evolve in the future as technology advances!