Social Media and Social Proof

Arts and Culture

Modern culture as we know it is the end result of ceaseless, overlapping marketing campaigns. That sounds cynical and a touch Orwellian, but it’s true nonetheless. Our opinions are shaped by the media messages we’re bombarded with. We want to deny it. We hate admitting that we’re all products of outside forces, and not beings of pure free will. It’s all behavioral psychology, ultimately. The most obvious, and insidious, of these psychological forces is social proof.

The core concept is this: we accept things appear to be validated by others. It has been proven to be good, or useful, or true, based on social acceptance. When 4 our of 5 dentists recommend a toothpaste, that’s social proof in the form of expertise. Endorsement by some dentistry group or another certifies that authority figures approve. An attractive celebrity with perfect teeth endorsing said toothpaste creates an impression that we can look like them if we use that product.

Social Media and Social Proof

Social proof, of course, has nothing to do with facts. In the current social media environment, social proof seems to come down to “mob rules”. People brigade a movie on Rotten Tomatoes to give it bad reviews, because they have an ideological problem with what the movie represents. They’re trying to manipulate social proof. If they can force a low score on the film, it “proves” that it’s bad, and people won’t go to see it. The same logic applies to trending hashtags on Twitter, and stories that get liked and shared thousands of times on Facebook.

There’s an element of critical thinking involved, of course. I think that people need to be schooled on the concept of social proof, so they can recognize when they’re being manipulated. Being able to see how you’re being led to a conclusion, how expertise and populism are leveraged to create an illusion of benefit, ought to be a basic life skill. At the end of the day, though, humans are social animals. As long as going along with our friends, our peers, and the social norms seems relatively harmless, we’re going to do it so we can fit in.

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What To Do with Opinions

self-care

An opinion is a judgment, full stop. It doesn’t necessarily come with the weight of knowledge, lived experience, or even thoughtful consideration to back it up. You know what to do with opinions, and it isn’t “take them to heart”.

We listen because we’re externalizing our own fears and doubts. No one wants to be rejected, or made fun of. The most savvy opinion-spewers know this, and leverage it. They take what you’re already feeling and convince you that it’s true. It’s called gaslighting.

They also understand that we all compare ourselves to other people. At best, we have role models and mentors that we seek to emulate. At worst, we beat ourselves up because we don’t recognize that our own path is unique. We have to be finding our own way, not trying to replicate someone else’s journey. Any opinions that compare you unfavorably to other people are therefore invalid at a root level.

You haven’t received the type of success as they other person because, shocker, you’re not that person. You haven’t suffered their struggles and setbacks, either. The opinion-spewers don’t know all of your journey. What you need to do is respect your own strengths and talents and focus on those.

What To Do with Opinions

My self-worth is innate. So is yours. It’s not based on what other people think of you. That’s madness, because you can’t please everyone. It’s also not your job to please anyone.

For the sake of my time, my productivity, and my mental health, I have set boundaries.

If you ignore them, they go away. When bullies don’t get a rise out of you, they find someone else to hassle. That doesn’t stop them from being awful, and that’s annoying. You can worry about that once you’re got your feet under you.

This is your life. You make the decisions, and you reap the consequences and rewards for that. The only person accountable for your success or failure is you. The only person who has to live with the decisions you make is you. When you follow other peoples’ opinions they may step up to take credit when you win, but they rarely stick around to help you up when you stumble.

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Orthodoxy in a New Art Form

worldbuilding

There is no place for orthodoxy in a creative field. Once you have erected barriers as to what is or isn’t allowable, or decreed that things must be done in a certain way, you have begun to stifle the imagination. Orthodoxy in a new art form is beyond tragic. It’s practically blasphemous. That’s why I have such a love/hate relationship with the tabletop roleplaying games industry.

Let me pause for a moment to recognize that yes, there are market forces and practical business considerations. Customers want what they want, so creators have to make things to suit the market. The types of products that people buy drives what gets created, how it gets packaged and promoted, and the ways that it gets sold. Absolutely. All of that is true.

That’s also an expletive deleted cop out.

Roleplaying is less than 50 years old. Less than five decades ago, this industry did not exist. Someone — you all know his name — created something that no one had ever seen before. There was no market. While there was a customer base for wargames, there was no specific base for roleplaying. Since then there have been numerous firsts. The first game in this genre, the first game with these sorts of mechanics, and so on. All expressions of someone’s unfettered creative imagination.

The business side of things makes me nuts. Like most creative fields, it’s driven largely by people who have artistic skills but no business sense. They know how to write, to design task resolution systems, to craft engaging worldbuilding. They have no clue about production, supply chains, costs, any of it. A lot of what people seem to know comes from trial and error. Most of it seems to come from creative people sharing their successes and failures with one another. Which is great, it’s camaraderie, it’s the sort of thing I want to see more of. But it’s no way to run a railroad.

Orthodoxy in a New Art Form

This is where the orthodoxy fails them. I see people going all in on doing things the way they have always been done. You have to have a big, full-color hardcover book, because that’s what people want. Everyone is running a Kickstarter, so you’ve got to run a campaign there. Nothing sells other than fantasy, so if you want a big hit you need to tap that genre.

All of that stuff is expensive. After raising a ton of money, or diving into their personal savings, or both, people then complain that there’s no profits. Either they go into a financial hole, or they barely break even. If they’re lucky, they make a little money, and can make some more off of the long tail if their game is popular enough.

In any other business, your project wouldn’t get greenlit if you couldn’t show it had the potential to be profitable. What people in any other business will do, what I do with my own publishing efforts, is figure out how to control costs. This leads to people clutching their pearls and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. There’s some expectation that you should do it for the love of the hobby, not for personal gain. It’s the same “starving artist” nonsense that all creatives have to listen to.

The reality is that publishers who have been the most successful are the ones that have ignored the orthodoxy. They may only have broken a small taboo, but in finding another way they’ve managed to make their business viable while creating something unique, interesting, and fulfilling. In the business world, entrepreneurs are encouraged to be disruptors. If you want to succeed, you need to shake things up. I wish there were more knowledgeable creative people in the roleplaying hobby that were willing to be disruptors, rather than clinging to an orthodoxy that only works for the corporations at the top of the industry.

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What is Useful Critique?

writing

One thing Katie and I have in common is that we both went to art school. Not the same place, or the same time; she went to the Herron School of Art and Design, I went to The Kubert School. There are some experiences that are universal, though. One of those is learning how to give and receive useful critique.

A lot of what bothers me about internet-driven modern culture is that people don’t know what critique is. They think it’s a license to be as rude as they feel like. It’s somehow become synonymous with shoot-from-the-hip opinion, rather than thoughtful and considered analysis. I could do a deep dive into why I think this is, but “instant gratification culture” and “a debauched definition of the freedom of speech” sums it up.

While a certain amount of opinion will always slip in, critique ought to be objective. That means that the person providing the feedback has to understand the standards for the thing they’re commenting on. If there are technical specification, they need to know what those are. When a creator is attempting to mimic a style, they need to be familiar with that style. This is why in art school, artists critique each other. It’s how writer’s groups work. It’s how we learn not only how to give and receive critique, but to look at our own work objectively.

What is Useful Critique?

The creator’s intention factors into it, so they can be critiqued on how well as message did or didn’t land. This will be a little more subjective, but it does require you to understand a lot about communication. You have to be able to explain why something worked for you, and why it didn’t.

Which leads to the next point: a useful critique has to give people information they can use. This brings us to the immature comments on the internet. Saying something is crap, or pointing out the creator’s ideological intentions, is meaningless. You need to state, objectively, why something is crap. Being dismissive because you disagree with the point the creator is trying to make isn’t useful; it doesn’t express why their message doesn’t land with you, or how they could have better expressed that idea.

The main reason that internet comments will never be useful critique, however, is that commenters almost never have any skin in the game. If someone leaves a snarky remark, nasty comment, or even a bad review, they’re rarely in a position where you can turn around and slam something they’ve created. When you learn how to give critique, you know you can only give as much as you’re willing to get. If you’re gentle and kind in your delivery, most people will treat you in kind. When you’re harsh and nasty, you’ll get that turned back at you. The feedback still needs to be objective and useful, but when it’s packaged in a form that’s palatable it’s more likely to be heard.

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Procrastination and Hyperproductivity

bullet journal

Early on in my life, I recognized that avoidance and procrastination were a downward spiral. Putting things off only leads to stress, which impacts the ability to do things that aren’t the thing you’re trying to dodge. Not doing a thing doesn’t make it miraculously go away. Doing it does. It wasn’t until someone made me think about how I managed to be so prolific in terms of how much I was able to get done that I made the conscious connection between procrastination and hyperproductivity.

For me, there are two specific pain points. These are the reasons I’m tempted to procrastinate. The first is not knowing what to do. This is why I outline everything. If I look at what I need to do and I’m still locked up, I break the tasks down even further until the chunks seem clear and manageable. Yes, this can take time, but it’s worth the investment. It beats sitting around, staring at the walls, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Procrastination and Hyperproductivity

This is also why I never outline a project on the same day I’m writing it. It’s why I set up my bullet journal for the coming week on Sunday. There’s no pressure that I’m supposed to be doing any of those things at that moment. Planning is the only task I need to accomplish, and I love planning. Outlining and making lists gives me time to process what has to be done. I have a chance to think before I dive into it, even if it’s just cycling through my subconscious. It’s also rewarding to check off the sections of the outline later as I complete them. In my mind that future satisfaction starts to build up enthusiasm.

The second is worrying about the outcome. What if I do this, and it fails? If you never start, you’ll never finish, and it you never finish you can’t fail. For me, this gets worse the more important the outcome is, and the less confident I am about my ability to succeed. That’s normal, but when you have an anxiety disorder, it’s sheer hell. If I’m being honest, one of the reasons I push myself to be hyperproductive is so if one thing doesn’t work out, there’s something else going. I mitigate my risk and hedge my bets.

Productivity as Anxiety Management

What I’ve learned to do is lean into my fear of anxiety. I am more afraid of having a panic attack than of failing at any given thing. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, it literally feels like you’re dying. The first time I had one, I thought it was a heart attack. I can remind myself of all of the thing I failed at, survived, and recovered from. That is less scary than the effects of anxiety. Doing things, even odious and frightening things, makes them go away. Getting things done gives me a sense of control and accomplishment.

Thank You for Your Support

This post is brought to you courtesy of my patrons on Patreon. Their encouragement keeps me blogging, and lets me know that this is worthwhile. For as little as $1 a month, you can get early access to posts and be part of the community. Check it out.