Thursday, March 1, 2012

Even Charles Dickens started off with a readership of one ...

Charles Dickens started off with a readership of one ... it's true ... he did. You can't avoid that fact. There was a day in history when having laboured over his text, striving to construct stories about his society that would be compelling reading when the only people who had read his work would have been himself and one other ... in other words ... a readership of one. The Pickwick Papers published in 1837 marked that point when his readership would have started to grow from one to many to become one of the best known authors of western culture. By the time he died, his writings had reached a massive audience and have, since then, continued to grow, spured on now with the dramatisation on television of many of his much cherished texts. The man would have turned 200 this year. His commentaries on society continue to be read, consumed and applauded.

In 1954 Leon Festinger proposed the social comparison theory. According to Festinger, "the drive for self evaluation and the necessity for such evaluation being based on comparison with other persons" permits one to tie together conceptually both social influence processes and some kinds of competitive behavior.' Humans tend to attribute status and worth in comparison with others. Krayer, Ingledew and Ifophen explain that we tend to devalue ourselves against those we consider better and increase our sense of self worth when comparing ourselves with those where we perceive a more favourable comparison. The theory suggests that fundamental to humanity is a need to know the answer to 'Am I doing well?' The measures we use to establish this however, appear somewhat arbritary selected by the individual for reasons that may or may not be clearly understood by others. Conclusions drawn from these comparisons will also make assumptions about the person used as the bench mark and their actions.

Milestones are markers or progress. Whether they are milestones of 'my child talked today' or 'I posted my 100th post' or 'my site has been clicked on 3 million times', their importance as a milestone providing a sense of progress is important. The immersive nature of mmog's reflects this in their use of milestones to provide feedback to a gamer in answer to the question 'Am I doing well?' In WoW we see glimmers for completing quests, achievement announcements, level dings, and ilevels. Each in its own way informing the gamer where they are up to. They are not there in the game as a boast, they are there in the game because we humans respond to a measuring stick, a notch on the doorframe if you like. They take on a new life when we look at them in relation to Festinger's theory. Where the feedback keeps the gamer in the game and so is a benefit to the mmog's, they also act as a measuring tool for other gamers. Achieves and ilevels become used as measures to determine how effective a player is either downward; 'Wah ... I have better gear/more achieves/more whatevers that that player ... figjam' or 'hmmm .... what do I have to do to be half as good as that toon?'.They serve a purpose that is also part of our psyche where we undertake self evaluation based on comparison with other people.

Our blogs likewise serve similar roles. Like the feedback we gain from our mmog's, the feedback we gain from our weblog statistics serve an important role in our psychology as they provide a measure of our milestones. Karl Weigers   makes the point that it is important that people know that they have made progress and that this progress has been recognised. Now, I appreciate that with any data set there will be errors in the data set; Oestrus makes this point well in the responses to the Shameless post pointing out the spike caused by a phishing operation, however, I don't think that this necessarily devalues the importance of the milestones achieved by the writer as to do so then allows that event to have a disproportionate importance in interpreting the information our weblog statistics tell us. Nor does the potential errors in the data set mean that the writer should not be proud of their achievements. At this level, the feedback provided by the statitstics are personal, reporting to the writer about their eternal question of 'Am I doing well?' In the Sugar and Blood post, Numbers Game, Mataoka rebutted Oestrus pointing out that people should not use the achievements of others as an excuse to avoid attempting something themselves. Whether it is comparing your writing to Charles Dickens or your ability to climb mountains to Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the act of measuring yourself against other people in a negative way rather than against your own achievements is an act of devaluing self. The person doing the comparison is ultimately responsible for how they construct their sense of self in this instance rather than the person who is being used as the measuring stick as the later is not saying 'I am better than you because I have more posts/hits/comments/whatevers than you'. The comparison against others says more about the person doing the comparison than it does about their chosen attribute and measuring stick.

I don't know that we encourage people to write by not celebrating the milestones of our existing community. I would, however, say that it is a sad moment when we reach a time when one of our bloggers feels the need to appologise for having posted an achievement only to have their intentions interpreted in ways they did not intend. It is, therefore, always worth remembering that even Charles Dickens started off with a readership of one.

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