I've been thinking about the blogworld and how we support each other. In particular the seemingly "automatic support" we seem to celebrate here. In this sphere, support is often portrayed as something we're entitled to, a default position we should all hold with one another, not something to be earned, not something hard-won and deeply held.
This is sometimes played as a pro-women, pro-indie card. It's implied (with self-congratulatory overtones) that what marks our blogging and indie spheres as distinct from, for example, male-dominated politics or corporate culture is that we support rather than compete; that we're not adversarial or mean-spirited towards each other and our enterprises. Of course, that portrayal contains a fair amount of spin, but I'll get to that later. Let's first take it at face value and look at the very idea of automatic support...
The unexplored spectrum
This either/or model of criticism and support excludes nuanced, reflective reactions. It is precisely unreflective, because it asks us to swallow something whole without giving voice to any reservations, questions or intelligent reflection. By adopting such polarized attitudes; that we must either support or become adversaries, we're actually portraying our community as split between saccharine supporters or venomous critics, with no in-between options.
But these two options exclude what I feel are my own more genuine reactions. There's an unexplored spectrum here between (1) being bitchily negative, (2) being constructively critical, (3) being neutral, (4) being meaningfully supportive, and (5) being blindly supportive (and I think we could thrash out that spectrum even further). I'm not suggesting that we should all look at everything with a desire to pick holes in it and tear apart, (1). But I neither think support should be automatic (5). There are in-between options.
And I do believe that we're witnessing some dire consequences of this "automatic support". Bloggers who benefited from automatic support early on are adopting practices that go unquestioned, unchallenged. I've seen blogs I once admired become mostly advertorial or marketing platforms for other sites the blogger now represents. Some even publish content plagiarized from other sources. But this isn't only about blogs. Pinterest and other sites that so many automatically supported early on have begun to look unfavourable in certain light. I recently started to look more critically about Etsy too, and Instagram as well.
I sometimes feel many of us, myself included, are now caught backpedaling away from things we wholly supported at the outset. But indie magazines, social-networking sites, retailers are really made or broken by that early wave of support. After something hits a certain critical mass, detractors are easily out-numbered and out-voiced. And yet we (myself included) have thrown our support and weight behind things and later questioned whether they really were all that they purported to be. Meanwhile, the tone of detraction seems to be going to the other extreme, e.g. GOMI forums, where bitchy name-calling and bullying gossip seems to drown the space where more constructive criticism could be articulated.
Perhaps all of this is a consequence of giving away that early support too readily, trusting that because all these organizations and individuals made the right noises about authenticity and integrity, and because they're part of our community, that they'd be steadfast and true to those ideals. Any quietly conscientious objections come now as late arrivals to an already raucous party.
But there's another side to "automatic support" — it's not always wide-eyed and disinterested. There's a quid-pro-quo behind a lot of that mutual fawning and we can see that repaid multiple times as uber-bloggers only link to one other, as blogs become sponsored by sellers who magically get valuable editorial space. Support is sometimes the most cutthroat business-sense masquerading as something more innocent and friendly.
We've all sensed the transactions (not necessarily monetary) behind some of those posts and retweets. Yes, some of that can be very sincere. And some of it is very smart and strategic relationship-building, but let's understand what it is, what it's for. And let's not mistake it for something actually real when it's not.
I have hard policies on my own blog: I don't have ads or host giveaways, I don't accept samples or gifts and I unsubscribe from press releases in order to limit the grey areas in my blogging life. I admire the few bloggers who seem to juggle all of these competing interests while still maintaining editorial integrity. For me, it's easier to just avoid creating more grey areas in an already very grey community where bloggers, media, retailers, PR professionals et al seamlessly mingle.
But I do think these exchanges, gifts, quid-pro-quos are not always understood or represented honestly by many bloggers and retailers (despite guidelines). They drink their own Kool-Aid and congratulate themselves for being part of a big mutually-supportive community. But in many cases, that support has very little to do with real knowledge, authenticity or respect. And it can be fleeting and fickle unless that fire is constantly stoked on both sides, which makes it so much more insidious to me.
No doubt, there are exceptions; individuals and business we can confidently support. Knowledge and experience are critical too — getting to know people, using and living with their products, reading a blog over time - these create experiences that go a whole lot deeper than reblogging a press release.
And sometimes it does all turn out just as you hoped and people and businesses meet and exceed your expectations in ways that are wonderful and worth sharing. But it's too easy for a blogger or business to make all the right noises about integrity and authenticity. It's more difficult to embody those principles and to grow while keeping them intact. There are also blog posts that I feel, in retrospect, I threw out there too quickly, too eagerly.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately because I hate seeing myself flip on things I once supported openly and vocally. It makes me feel like I was gullible, but also that I was rash when I ought to have felt a responsibility to be cautious. And so I want to instead commit to a more open kind of neutrality... an approach right down the middle of the spectrum. This isn't about being negative or cynical, rather not wanting to be in a position where my support wanes as deeper layers are exposed.
I really aspire to be a person whose support and loyalty is meaningful, long-held and true. I know I'll make mistakes and I know that I can't account for how people and businesses change as they grow. At the outset, I too loved the default positivity of the blogworld, but I've long questioned the substance and motivation behind that attitude (especially since writing this post with Hila). So, I'm going to hold back my support for longer in the future. And when I do give it away it will be something much more meaningful, for me and the person I'm supporting, and for anybody who is still reading.