And I don't mean relationship-wise.
By Kimberly Lew (Playwright/Blogger)
I wanted to hate 40 Days of Dating. It's not that it's not an intriguing concept, but one has to wonder why on earth two people would subject themselves to making their private lives so public. Is it a publicity stunt? People seeking attention? What did they hope to gain from this whole experience of pushing a friendship into an artificial mold, much less making it public for everyone's viewing?
One of the things that won me over and made me a regular reader, however, was that these concerns were voiced early-on in the experiment itself. Voluntary relationship guinea pigs Jessie and Tim regularly voiced the concerns of their friends and therapists, making it clear they are fully aware of the implications of this social experiment. This candidness mixed with the romantic concept is a driving force behind what makes 40 Days of Dating compelling, and I'm finding myself regularly checking back to find out what happens with Jessie and Tim-- and I'm not the only one.
People working in entertainment and media industries are already examining 40 Days of Dating and questioning how to replicate its audience-engaging platform. And while I certainly believe that there is a certain amount of magic that comes from these particular subjects, there are certainly some takeaways we can glean from what Tim and Jessie have built:
- Sincerity and curiosity is key. Had Tim and Jessie been more guarded about their personal details, the audience would be a lot less invested in their success as a couple and as individual people. These two share a lot about their romantic pasts, their feelings for one another, and even their childhoods-- that's a lot to put out there into the cyberverse (or as my one friend said, "Awkwaaaard"). Their candidness seems to stem from an honest pursuit of self-realization, and it keeps them relatable throughout. It helps that both of them are self-employed, but it also represents an important thing: the most compelling narratives can't just be a carefully crafted pieces that only reveal what you are willing to. There needs to be some wiggle room for unexpected discoveries.
- Clear rules should be set to help build tension within set confines. While the emotional perils of this experiment were unexpected, there were a lot of rules and structures put in place at the beginning of the experiment that have offered consistency and support in times of doubt. From the get-go, they agreed to see one another everyday and timed the experiment to a set 40 days. They also agreed to see a therapist, which has helped them with communication on more than one occasion, and they have a consistent questionnaire they filled out daily that serves as a control for daily outcomes.
- Utilize multimedia as often as you can, where appropriate. In addition to being a social experiment, 40 Days of Dating has become an art project, as well. Featuring the designs of Jessie and Tim, in addition to a bunch of their designer friends, it's become an experiment in expressing feeling as much as it's become about the feelings themselves. There's also a video component for some of their other mini-experiments, and it just helps to put human faces to the personas that are being built before our very eyes.
- Not everything needs to be an interactive experience. Jessie and Tim decided to start posting their experiment after the whole thing had already been completed. This gives them time to gather the visual materials for the project and to have the hindsight when reviewing the project as a whole. There's no space for comments on the posts or the website; instead, the focus remains on the narrative because the narrative is put first. (They even have a copyeditor, you guys!) We live in an age that is constantly telling us that we need to make everything into a social/crowd-minded platform, but this proves that things that happen within the realm of real life can still translate to the internet without all the bells, whistles, and (let's face it) pressure of having to deal with real-time fans/commentators.
- Tell human stories to create intrigue, without hard sells. Yes, this project is giving visibility to Tim and Jessie as designers, and it certainly is getting their name out to the public. However, there are no links to their companies' websites prominently displayed, and there are no references to the companies outside of the occasional mention when they're germane to the answers in the questionnaire. The reason why people become invested in Tim and Jessie as designers are because it's so integral to who they are as people. While I think that people can recreate a similar narrative to this as a promotional stunt, it certainly will lose a lot if there are constant reminders that the whole thing is in service of consumerism.
I don't know to what extent something like 40 Days of Dating is replicable, but I understand the interest in trying. Jessie and Tim's story is a very compelling one and achieves a level of storytelling that many hope to achieve. It will be interesting to see how everything pans out in the end-- for Jessie and Tim, but also for what their experiment can mean for multimedia experiences.
KIMBERLY LEW is a playwright with two published one-act plays for high schools, as well as full-length Searching for Candi (co-written with Gabriella Miyares), which debuted at Mt. Holyoke college. Her play, Other People's Children, was featured as a part of The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective's new works reading series and was a semi-finalist for the 2012 O'Neill Playwrights Conference and Ashland New Play Festival. Her latest play, The Memory Queen, received a reading at The New Ohio in January 2013. She also created/manages the Emerging Musical Theatre blog. www.kimberlylew.com
EMAIL HER | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | OTHER POSTS BY THIS AUTHOR