Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

Face-to-face vs. broadcast; or, Why The Internet is Killing the SCA

[x-Posted from the carolingia community, for those who aren't reading that community.]

Okay, it's a provocative title. But I do think there's a grain of truth in it.

I'm reacting to a syndrome I've seen a lot of lately. I am specifically not reacting to any one incident, or accusing anyone of anything. On the contrary, this is a mistake that I've seen most of the folks in the Barony make in recent years, and I'm as guilty of it as anyone. If you see yourself in this, you're probably right, but can comfort yourself in knowing that you're in good company. But it seems to be happening ever-more-often, so I think it's worth pointing out.

The question is this: how do you ask people to do something? Everyone seems to have latched onto the same basic approach, which gets used again and again, which I think of as "broadcast requests". That is, you write up a description of what you would like people to do -- perform in a play, help with an event, assist with moving, attend Council, whatever -- and you send it over the Internet. Just to be on the safe side, you send it *everywhere* on the Internet. You send it to the email lists (preferably to all of the Barony's dozen or so major lists), you post it to your personal LJ, you post it to the Baronial LJ community -- you make sure that everyone has seen this message, in many cases a bunch of times. And then you wait for people to respond. It's a lovely approach, except for one little thing:

It doesn't work.

Well, okay, that's an exaggeration. More precisely, it doesn't work very well. A few people who you are close to might come help. If the idea is *really* cool and inspiring, or your timing is just right, you might get enough people to get by. But in general, you don't get as many people as you wanted, or as many as you expected. "Surely," you think, "things used to work better than this." Well, in fact, they did, at least somewhat. And the reason, odd though it seems, is that it used to be a lot *harder* to ask for help.

The thing is, in the olden days before the Internet (way back in the pre-1995 Dark Ages, when you couldn't assume that everyone and their cat had reliable Internet access), you were forced into the primitive technique of actually *asking* people. Face-to-face, one-to-one. Oh, there were broadcast mechanisms -- announcements in Council, publishing in the Minuscule -- but they *clearly* were unreliable, so you couldn't depend on them. So you did the legwork of actually talking to the people you knew, and asking them personally to help, whether it be to act in your play, come to your party, assist with your event, or come be grunt labor. You worked hard at it -- not just asking people when you happened to run into them, but seeking them out to ask them to play.

And the thing is, asking someone personally makes a huge difference. Yes, it's much more work to ask all those individuals. And it's scary, because the odds are good that some of those people -- often a majority -- will say "no". (The SCA are, by and large, a shy bunch, and most of us don't react well to rejection. I think that part of what's driven the trend towards broadcast requests is that they're safe -- neither side of the request needs to look each other in the eye as they deal with that "no".) But the odds that any given person will say "yes" when asked personally are *dramatically* higher than if they read it in a broadcast.

The reasons for that are many and complex. Part of it is simply the sense of personal obligation, and part is honest gratitude. The thing is, a broadcast is fundamentally *impersonal*. Posting something in your LJ is like putting out a news report: no one feels like you're really talking about them. Even most email invites are impersonal to a substantial degree, because while you might only be asking a dozen people, if you're asking those dozen all with the same form letter, you're still not making a *personal* request. And most people *like* personal requests. Even if you're being asked for something that might be a little inconvenient, the notion that someone thought of you, personally, to ask really means something. It's a real sense of being bound into the community by those little personal contacts.

And that's where the "killing the SCA" thing comes in. Because I genuinely think that, for all that email and LJ have enabled us to know a lot more people in ways more intimate than we might ever have expected, it's been impeding those little one-to-one, face-to-face contacts that bind the community together. Oh, we still have enough that we're not suddenly imploding. But we've fallen somewhat out of the habit of making those little personal requests to come help, weakening the community. And Carolingia is nothing if it isn't a community.

So my advice to you, next time you need people for something, is to beat the bushes personally. Seek out opportunities to ask folks in person. Email is okay if you aren't going to get a face-to-face chance, but *personal* email is a lot better than group email. And there's nothing wrong with sending out broadcasts as a supplement, but don't fool yourself into thinking they're enough. Instead, take the chance and ask people individually. It'll give you a better chance of success with your project, and it's better for the community as a whole...
Tags: sca, technology
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