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The Spirit of Awards

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 01:14 PM

I’ve never met so many wonderful people gathered together in one place. It was tribal in the true sense of the word (that would be the cool, fun-loving sense as opposed to the hippy-dippy sense). - Jeremy Keith

Jeremy Keith wrote that in 2005 about South by Southwest. He quoted it in a recent blog post about web award ceremonies. In it, he raises a warning to us, the community of the web industry, against web awards. The spirit of the web as it’s been created has always been one with a “great sense of openness and sharing.” I agree. But he doesn’t see that same spirit imbued by award ceremonies and questions where they could take the industry. I’m not so sure that web awards will ruin us or need be so bad.

Maybe he’s right, maybe right now all award ceremonies focus on putting the individual on the podium, pointing at him saying, “Look how great this person is! You aren’t up here! Don’t you want us all to be here telling you how great you are?” But that doesn’t mean that award ceremonies are inherently bad or evil.

The direction I’m going to take now is going to sound a little funny, but stick with me. If the world of web designers and developers is the tight-knit commune of professional industries, then Ultimate frisbee is its analogy in sports. I’ve played Ultimate about as long as I’ve worked on the web. When I first read Jeremy’s quote above, I thought that those words could have just as easily come from the mouth of an Utimate player. It reminds me of every friendly and competitive tournament I’ve attended.

Sports tournaments, you’ll recall, are specifically designed to put one team on top of all the others. In Ultimate, some of these tournaments even do awards that call out individual players. In other tournaments MVPs are selected every game and those players receive prizes (these are generally inexpensive, fun, and goofy).

And yet Ultimate is still able to retain its sense of community, joy, and celebration. I think that is because while individuals or teams are being called upon, it is what they represent that is being celebrated. The USA national tournaments (both college and club) give out an individual award to each division for the player that excels the most. But excels at more than just raw athletic prowess. “[P]ersonal responsibility, integrity, and fairness”, “giving back to the sport”, “infectious sense of humor; possess a long-term passion for the sport”, “commitment to fair play, integrity and respect for their opponent”, and “outstanding sportsmanship, leadership and dedication” are all quotes describing the qualities of an award recipient. A player who makes the sickest diving grabs does not mean they are the one awarded, but the player (and I see this a lot among elite level players) who takes time to show a newcomer how to throw correctly is.

I asked some people heavily involved in the sport and governing bodies to weigh in on if they’ve felt awards detract from the community by promoting the individual.

So award ceremonies aren’t the problem. The problem is what we are celebrating. Let’s stop celebrating Individual because this Cool Thing, let’s celebrate our values of dedication, hard work, integrity, as manifest by Individual through their work in Cool Thing because that is what is important, and (regardless of its coolness or who made it) Cool Thing makes the world a better place. And suddenly we’re a tribe again.


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