Blogging and that Fame Thing

blogfameStowe Boyd talks today about fame as a motivator for blogging. His piece originates from the recent gatekeeper debates and was inspired by an article in the New York Times exploring the general concept of fame as a motivator of human behavior.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, and I want to add my thoughts, specifically as it relates to fame as a motivator for bloggers in general and, because Stowe mentioned me is his post, me in particular.

Here’s the quote from the New York Times article I want to start with:

People with an overriding desire to be widely known to strangers are different from those who primarily covet wealth and influence. Their fame-seeking behavior appears rooted in a desire for social acceptance, a longing for the existential reassurance promised by wide renown.

I think that’s generally true. Paris Hilton seems to me to be the the poster child for this sort of motivation. Of course the financial rewards of fame, however undeserved, can lead some to hide one goal behind another.

The other thing that occurs to me is that to be “widely known to strangers” is the badge not only of fame for fame’s sake, but also of being a visible and valued part of a process. The postman in our neighborhood is widely known to and valued by many, but he’s not famous.

In other words, inclusion in a process can make you known to strangers but not necessarily famous.

Is fame a motivator for my blogging? It’s a fair question.

We must be careful, however, to remember that those of us who lament the gatekeeping issue all have our individual motivations. Fame, inclusion, jealousy, logic and just the love of a spirited debate probably all fall in the mix somewhere. The key is to sift through the collateral motivations and identify the emotive reaction that leads you to pound out a response whenever the issues arises.

By pound out, I hope to mean write a heartfelt, but thoughtful, rebuttal. Not just calling the other side assholes like Mike Arrington does. Or dismissing them out of hand, like Scoble sometime does. When I am arguing with someone in real life and they call me an asshole, I know I have them beat.

I don’t blog to be famous. In my mind that would be like playing jacks to get famous. As I pointed out in the post that got this last debate started, you can be the most read blogger in the world and nobody in the real world will ever hear or read your name.

And I certainly don’t blog for money. I am on record over and over again about the folly that is blogging for riches.

But, upon reflection, there is an element of recognition that, if I am to be honest, does come in to play, at least indirectly.

I rarely talk about my real job on this blog, because it is largely unrelated to what I write about and a lot of what I do is subject to rules and agreements regarding confidentiality. But the fact is that I am very well known in my industry. I’m not going to belabor the point, but I’ll give one small example. Not long ago, some of my partners and I went to another city to interview some lateral hire candidates. When we walked into the conference room to introduce ourselves, the senior partner of the group we were interviewing commented that they already knew me because “everybody knows Kent- he’s famous.” We all laughed, but the fact is that I work on a lot of high profile stuff, I do a lot of writing in old media and I speak at seminars and conventions across the country.

I also have written a bunch of songs, a few of which are on records and I was a major player in the internet message board space during Bubble 1.0.

None of this makes me truly famous, but it does result in being widely known to strangers. In the real world.

But very little of that pre-existing recognition translates into the blogosphere.

On the one hand, that is appealing to me, because it gives me a chance to earn my stripes again. But sometimes, deep in the back of my mind, I find myself getting a little irritated when people who would be very pleased to include me in any real world conversation ignore me in the blogosphere. That sounds petty even as I type it, but it’s true. I don’t dwell on those thoughts and I try to ignore them, but they happen.

I don’t think that’s about fame, though. I think it’s a matter of what you’re used to and your expectations, right or wrong, that you’re as smart and valuable in the blogosphere as you are in the real world. I joked in a post the other day that if I were starting over, I’d blow my vacation money on a few conferences so the people who currently link around my detailed analysis in favor of 10 word posts by their buddies would think I was one of their buddies and ignore other detailed analysis in favor of my 10 word posts. I was trying to be funny, but there’s an element of truth to that. A lot of these so-called A-Listers see and hear each other at these conferences and build friendships and mutual respect for each other.

I have no doubt that if I spent a few months going to these conferences, meeting these folks, having dinner with them and getting to know each other beyond the occasional email and cross-blog conversations, I’d get to the top of blogger’s hill in no time. But I can’t do that, so I have to take the harder trail. That’s not unfair. It’s just the way it is.

Blogging for me is not about fame and it’s not about fortune. Whatever I end up with in those regards will be determined by real life, not by what I blog about, who I link to and who links to me. Nor do I feel disconnected or alienated. I would hope my posts about family life and all the fun stuff we do with our friends would be evidence of that.

For me, the primary motivation in blogging is to converse with people who share interests of mine that aren’t generally shared by my real world friends; to learn about things that interest me; and, now that I have some readers, to be active in bringing new voices to the conversation.

I’ll repeat once more my recent slogan: the blogosphere is not an equal opportunity place. Life isn’t either. It’s OK that they aren’t, as long as you don’t try to pretend they are.

It sounds like I am disagreeing with Stowe, but I’m really not. I’m only saying that my motivations for blogging are different than those described in his post.

I’ll leave you with another of Stowe’s patented home run paragraphs, from the end of his post:

The crowd — occasionally wise, but always judging — collectively decides who to look at, to listen to, to pay attention to. And some play to the crowd, trying to grab that attention, and hold onto it. Some succeed. There is a scissors-like inner logic to this, and the outcomes are decidely not equal to merit, effort, or wants. But a statement that sounds like a poet explaining chaos theory is unlikely to comfort those that feel shorted by a capricious and uncaring law of the universe. And those that have achieved fame will always want to believe it is by their own merits, not because the whole lunchroom is rubbernecking at the guy with the loudest voice sitting with the cheerleaders.

That, friends, is a beautiful summation of the blogosphere- and life.