What fascinates me about the event is the ways in which the relationships between audience and speaker are reconfigured. It’s tempting to think of the twitterwall behind boyd as heckling—a term which I’ve just learned emerged from the industrial politics of the Scottish textile trade. (Given its origin, I’m tempted to think of heckling as a byblow of flyting).
Unlike an interruption to request a favourite song or to adjust the volume, a heckle is inherently oppositional and disruptive. Part of the point of interrupting a speaker’s flow with a heckle is to change the direction of the flow, to point out that there is another, opposing, and often hostile point of view in the room. But in boyd’s case there’s a key difference: is it heckling if the object of the heckled criticism can’t hear (or in this case, see) it?
boyd’s flow was indeed disrupted—in the video it’s clear that she’s responding to the noises off and equally clear from her later comments that she was aware of sound, the aura, of attack but not the substance. Given the physical set-up of the stage, the twitterwall ended up being far less interactive than genuine heckling. Instead the twitterwall functioned more like a cluster of gossips whispering in the hallway rather than as a site of heckling. When you’re genuinely heckled, you get to shout back. And the more skilled you become (or the more Scottish family meals you sit through), the sharper and faster your responses can become. A heckle is a challenge; whispered (or invisible to you) comments are gossip.
What fascinates me most though is how the counterpoint between boyd’s performance and the audience’s performance enacted one of the key points she was making.
Power is about being able to command attention, influence others' attention, and otherwise traffic in information. We give power to people when we give them our attention and people gain power when they bridge between different worlds and determine what information can and will flow across the network. (source)
The performance(s) demonstrated exactly how contingent authority and power are in a networked space. Usually audiences grant some short-lived authority to the speaker on a stage. Here that authority was torn down with startling rapidity as boyd’s audience refused to grant her their power or to acknowledge any authority she might have that didn’t derive from the moment of performance. The twitterwall was ultimately a power grab. True heckling would have required engagement and attention.