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Who would listen?

June 22, 2008 Blogging 11 Comments

I just heard about an interesting experiment. Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post journalist, and Joshua Bell, a young man decided to test people in the Washington D.C. subway. Read the entire story in the article in the Washington Post

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

After reading the article, one sentence stood out for me:


After an amazing conversation yesterday with Claudia Ceraso from FCE Blog in Buenos Aires, I am tempted to ask the following:

What if a great writer blogs, but no one knows that he/she is a great (famous) writer? Would they still think that he/she is writing good “stuff”? What about an unknown writer, who is writing amazing “stuff”, but no one will stop long enough to read/listen?

And what about the blogs, that come from the “top” gurus, the ones that everyone reads, quotes, comments on…? What about these bloggers? What would happen, if they would go incognito (not on and with their already branded and recognized blogger name/site)? Would a post, not on their customary website (vs. the concert hall for the violinist) ignite the same kind of response not directly attached to their recognized name and blog site (in a subway atmosphere) where no one would expect them? Would anyone listen to their great writing, idea, concept or observation? Would anyone take the time to read, think, reflect and comment on their ramblings?

Do we read and comment top bloggers because we truly enjoy and are inspired by their ideas, work and concepts?…Or do we read and comment, simply because they are already in the limelight and we want to be on the inside? Are we willing to put the time, effort, money to read and see “famous” ones, only because they come in the right package? What if we were to see a David Warlick, a Will Richardson, a Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, a Vicki Davis, a Wes Fryer in a “subway”, standing by themselves giving a presentation? Would you stop by an empty, off the main track, conference room where a presenter is pouring his/her heart out and feel the same way about the CONTENT than if you would have sat in the keynote presentation with the SAME CONTENT presented by the SAME person?

Are people listening or reading because of a name/blog/presenter attached or because of the content, concept or idea they truly represent?

Take the time to watch the video below and ask yourself:

Would you have taken the time to stop and listen to this world famous violinist in the subway, without knowing who he was….or would you have paid hundreds of Dollars for a ticket to see him in a concert hall?

Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Nadine N says:

    Your post is really thought provoking. Although I read all of the blogs you mentioned, I can honestly say that I feel more compelled to comment on blogs written by those other than the “heavy hitters”. The content written by those in the trenches: teachers and administrators is much more valuable to me in the long run, and I feel like a conversation with those “unfamous” is much more attainable. What do those consultants need with comments from little ‘ole me?

    Thanks for showing us the video – nice tie in!

  2. Ken Allan says:

    Tēnā koe Silvia

    This is an interesting concept. For me it comes down to ‘values’. Fashion, personality, art are other examples where human values can give rise to similar conundrums over preference.

    It is a very human thing to have a preference for something that can be identified as being accepted by others. Michele Martin spoke of homophily “the tendency for we humans to connect to and bond with people who share common backgrounds, interests and values.”

    This phenomenon is also exhibited when a person has a standing or following and use or abuse the leverage they have in just attending the right meeting or saying the words at the right occasion that are persuasive only because they said them.

    I visit art galleries from time to time because I enjoy art. I’m often astonished when, having walked the gallery making mental notes of my preferences I peep at the calalogue and view the prices that accompany the works. My preferences aren’t always among what are obviously the sought after pieces.

    Often I will review the pieces carrying the high price tags only to find that I still prefer the ones I first selected. My friends and advisors who know more of art will say to me, “Yes but look who the artist is. That’s why it carries the price tag”.

    Humans exhibit homophily in many ways.

    Ka kite

  3. Silvia
    What an interesting spin off our conversation last Saturday. I think I can recall something I said about Creative Commons that might have inspired this. The next thing we mentioned was the topics we seldom talk about in blogs. But you have found the most elegant way of putting it.
    Pleasure meeting you and look forward to a next time.

  4. Clay Burell says:

    Really interesting question. Like Nadine, I tend to comment more on the less crowded subway lines, but I get your drift.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard Stevie Wonder released a song as “Evits Rednow” or something back in the ’60s or ’70s to see if anyone would recognize him.

    For some reason, I believe if a person consistently writes, over a long period of time, items of quality, s/he will gain recognition.

    Shirky writes a section in _Here Comes Everybody_ about the “problem of fame,” though, that faces even the social media world. Popularity breeds more popularity, making breaking through the ceiling increasingly difficult as the ecology in any niche becomes more dense.

    Nice post, Silvia.

  5. Scott says:

    Interesting post.

    I started reading and enjoying the blog by Vicki Davis before I knew she was a ‘famous’ blogger. I read her work because I thought it was good. I still do.

    I try to read all blogs with an open mind. I think the majority of people try to do the same.


  6. Cathy Nelson says:

    Sylvia–while I won’t say I don’t read them, I can say I don’t read all the ones you’ve listed. I dropped one b/c this person is seemingly talking to self, and never seems to acknowledge comments form readers. All the others do get into the conversations that take place on their blogs. I would drop them if they did not. I may begin reading “popular” bloggers, but if I comment and don’t see interaction with them in their blog or other tools (twitter, ustream, f2f, etc.) I lose interst and drop them. I’ve also dropped some who either knowingly or unknowingly hurt me with words. They’ll never know for sure, but I don’t have to tolerate it in my reader or other networking tools I use. I select people to read or interact on based on friends recommendations or topics that strike my fancy. But one I sbscribe to them using the various tools, it is up to them to hold my attention. I don’t have time to waste on those who seem to be in it for themselves, are in it to entertain only a select few, or are bent on driving readers away in one way or another. This was indeed a great post that was timely and thought provoking. I’m going to share it with some friends.

  7. diane says:


    I skim hundreds of blog postings a week (day?) and am impatient with those who don’t provide insight, entertain, or stimulate discussion.

    It’s all about connecting for me, and I prefer dialog to soliloquy.

    I visit some of the “famous” bloggers, but I don’t stick around long where I’m not valued or at least acknowledged.


  8. Langwitches says:

    I agree with you, that sometimes the post from the people in the trenches are more valuable and “in time” for us who are in the classroom than the post of “gurus” that are dedicated in presenting the theory at conferences around the world.
    I love to read and benefit tremendously from the day to day experiences so many wonderful teacher/bloggers share so willingly with the rest of the world.

    The analogy to your experience in an art gallery is very fitting. Some people only will get interested in a certain piece AFTER they become aware of the artist OR how much it is worth. I can see the parallels.

    My f2f conversation with you was definitely an inspiration for this blog post. That is what I love about “TALKING” with someone. A conversation will twist and turn your thoughts in ways and directions that you would never have ended up in on your own. Thank you for taking me on a ride.

    I agree with you that it seems that popularity breeds popularity. We still should not forget that CONTENT should always be in the center of anything. We need to ask ourselves, if we are attracted to the “packaging” or who we will see and who will see us? I am not saying that you should not go to the crowded concert halls, but to be critical if it is really quality you are reading or listening to. Would you stop and listen to the same in the subway?

    I enjoy reading Vicki, aka coolcatteacher, tremendously, because she has a gift for writing and expressing what I was not able to put into worlds. I know, I would be listening to and reading her content no matter in which way it came packaged.

    While I agree with that there is so much content out there that readers can be very picky who and what to spend their time on, my thoughts turn to the reasons why so many of them choose to be or are drawn to the ones that come in the “right”package with the right label attached. Is it like Ken Allan mentions above?:

    For me it comes down to ‘values’. Fashion, personality, art are other examples where human values can give rise to similar conundrums over preference.

    Yes, that is exactly the point. It is all about connecting, whether that being to music, art, an idea or writing.
    My question continues to be though if you or others would “connect” and react the same way to someone’s content if it were not be coming from “a name” or in “a place” that is not the current “tone setter” of in an area, profession or industry.

    Are we as humans just predetermined to be attracted to the right “package deal”, the opinions of others and the majority current that dictates what is “in” at the moment?

    Are we paying more attention to the brand name, the presentation, the ones that hang around the same places and the need to catch some of the spot light than the actual content? Take away all of the above and would the same content generate the same interest, reflection, and ultimately change in others?

    All of this has nothing to do with the people presenting and producing the content> I am just wondering how important the “extra” things that surround the content really are for the rest of us?
    Content versus Packaging maybe?

  9. diane says:

    I keep education “leaders” in my Google Reader, but am more likely to leave comments where the blogger extends the discussion, no matter how well-known/unknown they are.

    My Twitter network ONLY contains people who will follow me back – I maintain a 1:1 ratio there.

  10. [...] recommend you all having a read of Silvia Tolisano’s recent post, ‘Who would listen’. She talks a bit about the types of things [...]

  11. Kim Caise says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this video with us. I like to think that I am a nonjudgmental person but I don’t know if I would have stopped to listen. It is hard to guage how I would truly have reacted since classical music is not one that I enjoy listening to but I hope I would have stopped and connected with the musician. When I played the video I also listened carefully to the music and was truly moved like never before although it was such a brief moment. I was doing other things but drawn back to the music so this musician touched my life via a virtual performance. We get busy and don’t stop to recognize the beauty and efforts of our students in the midst of testing, conferences, day to day tasks, discipline, etc. Students learn and perform at a higher level when a positive connection is made with their teacher yet it is up to us to recognize and draw upon the beauty of the teacher/student rapport and interactions.

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