Followers

A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.

One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.

As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.

When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.

Darn, losing followers sucks.

As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.

“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?

“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”

It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.

We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.

On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.

Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.

It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.

We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.

Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.

With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.

Concept #7 Social Media lies to you!

day7

Digital Design by Daniel Prairie

If you have no idea what is going on, I recommend that you read this post first.

If you use social media for any length of time, you will notice a trend in personal profile updates. For the most part, people post the positive elements of their lives. Of course there are exceptions, as I recall one Wininpeger’s update over how the hardship of overcooking their pancake breakfast puts them on equal footing with the hardships endured by the veterans of World War II. These people are the minority however.

The majority of posts are about positive or at least interesting experiences, as people won’t post about the mundane experience of eating a bland breakfast…unless you are Ashton Kutcher and know that fans will flock to your cereal-centric stories. The result of being bombarded by interesting or positive stories from social media is that we begin to believe that everyone around us lives fascinating lives, forgetting that the post represents a small snapshot of a person’s total day.

This snapshot typically happens to be the highlight of their day, as people avoid highlighting the mundane act of say, filling out paperwork at their day job for two reasons:

a)      No one will follow them if this is what their posts constitute

b)      This doesn’t reflect the digital image they are looking to create

Social media gives the impression that everyone’s life is infinitely more interesting than your own. For this reason, relying on social media as your means of connecting with the outside world is worse than not connecting at all. At least if you are avoiding connections you don’t know what you are missing, but with social media, you are bombarded with the highlights of other’s lives.

So what is the alternative? As any academic worthy of his researcher title will tell you, go out and gather primary data! For the layman, this means going out and experiencing the world.

When we think of expanding our world view, people tend to jump to the globe-trotting, metaphysically-inclined, journeys of self-discovery (that always seem to include Tibet for some reason). If you are like me (i.e. from Winnipeg and thus cheap), there is a much cheaper and concrete alternatives to experiencing the world.

Applying the Concept

Find a local charity in something that you are totally inexperienced with and go volunteer with them. Using myself as an example, I experienced a thoroughly middle-class upbringing and despite being the son of a social-worker, had minimal exposure to the realities of poverty and the typically associated concerns of addiction, domestic violence, etc.

It is for this reason that while in University, I signed on as an inner-city mentor for a year. What do I have in common with a 12 year old boy whose daily routine is a literal struggle for survival with personal addiction and the violence of an abusive family? Very little. But after a year, I gained perspective and at least a partial understanding of the very real challenges this boy and others like him endured.

I went on to volunteer for Downtown Watch and Siloam Mission, further expanding my worldview in ways that the newspaper, social media, academic texts, and every other secondary source could not.

I learned to appreciate just how comfortable my life is and that the standard of living we enjoy is something that some would kill for…and sometimes do. Definitely puts overcooked pancakes in perspective.

Finally, the experience taught me the enjoyment and happiness that can be brought by helping others. It feels good to leverage the comfort and time of your own life to assist others. By focusing on the problems of others, our own problems melt away as we focus on the very concrete challenges that others are facing.

So there you have it, pick a volunteer organization and go join it. You won’t get paid and may even lose money depending on how often you have to park downtown illegally, but the perspective and happiness brought about by the experience will be worth all the parking tickets in the world.