Holden Caulfield and the Phonies of #PCWM

Yesterday, I drove up to Westfield State College for PodCampWesternMass2. Podcamps are open space unconferences where people interested in podcasting and often related topics like other social media, gather to talk about their interests. At PCWM, there was not an awful lot of talk about actual podcasting, and the sessions tended to be much closer to traditional speakers or panels than true open space unconference meetings, but it was a good group of people.

I’ve been doing so much with so many forms of social media for so long, that I typically don’t expect to learn a lot at these conferences, but I always hope for some good pointers here and there. More importantly, I like to share some of my own experiences and meet interesting people.

As I drove up from Connecticut, I listened to Studio 360 on public radio. For those interested, you can listen to Studio 360 as a podcast. One of the articles this week as about Joanna Smith Rakoff’s interactions with JD Salinger when she worked for the literary agency that represented him.

It seems like everyone has been talking about how JD Salinger has affected their lives. One of the best articles I found was Reflections on J.D. Salinger...Goddard College, Franny and Zoey and what an artist really is…. Nettie Hartsock wrote about how Franny and Zoey changed her life when she was starting at Goddard College.

I’ll commit heresy and admit that while I enjoyed reading Catcher In The Rye, and I’m sure I got something valuable out of it, it really didn’t have any great affect on my life, and I haven’t read any of his other books, at least as far as I can remember, although I have vague recollections of starting to read one or two of them and never finishing them.

The one word that I hear more often than any other in reflections about JD Salinger is Holden Caulfield frequent use of the word “Phony”. Greg Palast has a great essay, Kvetcher in the Rye which explores this in the political context. Ms. Rakoff talked about phonies in her show, and there was a lot of talk about Salinger’s reclusiveness.

Podcamps and social media are the other end of the spectrum from Salinger’s reclusiveness and concern about phonies. I don’t think I’ve ever met Mr. Salinger at a Podcamp or social media gathering nor have I met people channeling Mr. Caulfield. Too often, it seems, such gatherings, besides being the polar opposite of reclusive, tend to attract social media experts and other snake oil salesmen like those who talk about search engine optimization.

As I drove up, the words of Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog rang in my ears, “Everyone’s a hero in their own way…” Perhaps Holden Caulfield is right, we are all phonies in our own way. Yet we are also all catchers in the rye in our own ways as well.

We can look at the phony social media experts and search engine optimization snake oil salesmen as phonies living their lives of quiet desperation. Or, we can recognize that it is precisely this quiet desperation that can make even the most fake phonies fascinating catchers in the rye, and that is where some of the real power of social media and podcasting can come in.

When people bring a little bit of their authentic lives into their social media, they become a little less phony and a lot more interesting. Many of the people at PCWM understand that, and tried to communicate it to people learning their way around social media. It is, perhaps, the most important message that anyone can come away with from a podcamp.

With this as my framework, I was fortunate not to meet any phonies at PCWM. Instead, I reconnected with some fascinating old friends from previous podcamps and met some fascinating new friends as well. I hope others had similar experiences at PCWM.

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