THINGS were shaping up nicely.
There I was, at the launch party for Coast’s new Alberni Street location. The restaurant was chic and packed with attractive guests, the seafood fresh and fine, the servers smooth, the drinks instantly replaced. Could the evening get any better?
And then came the cherry on top. A relatively young man hailed me in a friendly fashion, something that only comes to me now courtesy of panhandlers and shamelessly tip-hungry bellhops. I sat down at a table for two with this fellow, whom I had apparently met before. Since I had evidently so impressed "Herman" that he remembered me -- “And who wouldn’t?” I asked myself hopefully -- I was eager to chat. We had both loaded our plates with sushi and other treats, so I initiated a conversation by asking Herman which he liked best.
Too late. He was already fully engaged, taking pictures of each roe-covered, nori-wrapped whatzit like he was Annie Leibovitz and the sushi was Hollywood’s foxiest ingénue. Instantly silenced, I slugged back another cocktail as Herman deftly zoomed in for extreme close-ups of the spicy tuna sushi roll and crisp calamari served in a paper cone. In this 100% seafood environment, where even the wallpaper glimmered with underwater creatures, I’d never felt more like chopped liver.
Between photos, Herman pecked away feverishly on his gadget -- whether it was a Crackberry or a Me-Myself-and-iPhone, I have no idea. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was sending a tweet to his flicker or some such. It was then that I realized that experiencing a party in the moment was, for Herman, no longer the point. It was “reporting” on it -- applying to his analysis of the seafood buffet the intensity of Christiane Amanpour grilling Osama bin Laden -- that was the focus of this blogger’s evening.
I had to wonder about the recipients of Herman's news flash. Who could possibly be waiting so raptly for an account of the vittles at a bash they weren’t attending that they couldn’t even hold out until the party was over?
This was certainly not the first time I’d seen people take pictures of their food. I’ve done it myself, for travel stories that were being printed by actual newspapers or magazines. But in this new world, where everybody who’s ever licked gravy off a knife considers him- or herself a “food blogger,” it’s apparently de rigueur to move your plate into the most flattering light before digging in -- with a digital camera and flash.
My husband Stanley is certainly an offender. He has several blogs, one of them about barbecue, and he’s littered Facebook with innumerable shots of glistening black pork butts. Since Stanley takes far more pictures of the food he cooks than he does of his wife or children, this Hallowe’en, we plan to put on lumpy, greasy, soot-coloured papier-mache masks and go as his dream family.
He’s got plenty of company, however. Stanley recently led a barbecue workshop for a group of 35 foodies, many of whom took photos and blogged during the presentation. By the time he got home, more than 350 photographs -- most of them of pieces of meat -- had been posted by participants in the workshop on Flickr, which I’ve now learned is an online photo sharing site.
When Stanley proudly announced this to our daughter and me, we were baffled. “Dad, you know you’re not Michael Jackson, right?” Petunia asked.
Were there really readers waiting breathlessly for these Internet posts about what kind of drizzle coated the lamb popsicles, I enquired. He gave me that look he always gives me when I question the “wonders” of modern technology, the look that says I must have been quite a firecracker back in the Boer War.
I once again told Stanley that there’s an awful lot of broadcast in the social networking universe, but I doubt there’s much reception. He’s so enamored of this new form of communication -- which some employers call “social not-working” -- that he teaches workshops on it.
He explained to me that there’s a phenomenon known as the “long tail.” It’s exemplified by the Internet music site iTunes, where people purchase songs or albums, downloading them directly onto their computers. A large proportion of the songs sold on iTunes are by the top 100 or so artists, he said, but trailing away from that bulk like a long tail are more obscure musicians, whose recordings are purchased by small pockets of cultish fans.
Individually, Stanley continued, these lesser-known artists may not be top-sellers, but cumulatively they make up a huge proportion of online music sales. They also gain more customers and prestige from being readily available on iTunes. Likewise, Stanley feels that with all the twittering and blogging about his BBQ workshop, his new cookbook and barbecue sauces will get increasing exposure. This buzz is sure to fan out until he becomes King of the World -- or whatever it is he’s got planned.
As always, I scoffed.
We have this argument frequently. Other couples fight about money or in-laws -- we fight about social networking. I accuse most bloggers of writing stuff that nobody wants to read. Stanley accuses me of turning my back on the pre-eminent way to market oneself in the new millennium.
According to him, I’m a weird troll who lives under a bridge, hiding out from humanity. In the throes of this recent debate, Stanley suggested that if I had my own barbecue sauces, I would market them under the brand Trolls ‘R’ Us. He claimed that if anybody wanted to buy my sauce, I would tell them it wasn’t for sale. If they asked if it were good, I’d say, “Well, you’ll certainly never find out.”
Petunia chimed in with her impression of the attitude that might be encountered by any caller wishing to order my sauces by phone. She felt the Trolls‘R’Us recording would say, “If you’d like to get lost, press one. If you’d like to bite me, press two. If you’d like to speak to a real Trolls’R’Us salesperson, press three.” If they did press three, the recorded voice would say “Kidding!” and then hang up.
It’s all true. I’m a useless self-promoter, and a tearer-down of other people’s marketing efforts. When I was growing up, self-aggrandizement was seen as a crime. I thought that was the Canadian way. But now there’s the World Wide Web, and anything goes.