Authenticity Matters

I couldn’t find an article with a better title to kick off this first blog post.

Authenticity Matters” is an essay published in the Annals of Tourism Research in 2006*. It was written in response to another excellent article published in the same journal.

This article is a bit heavy on the scholarly theory. As the goal of this blog is to be accessible to everyone, I will not belabour or restate the many points of this article here. Rather, I will focus on the main take-away form this article from my perspective.

Take-Away
This article reinforces the position of previous articles: namely that the definition of authenticity (specifically objective authenticity) is in flux. Some researchers are saying that  this is problematic and therefore the term should stop being used. If there is not unanimous consensus on the definition of a word, if it continues to be used then someone is always using it wrong. Plus they argue (based on reasons stemming from philosophy) that it probably is not a valid concept anyway.

“Authenticity Matters” is an essay written in response to the above position. Hang on, it says, we cannot agree on a meaning; however that does not mean we should stop using the term objective authenticity. On the contrary, the discussions that arise while contemplating the term has value. Why shut those discussions down? Plus, people in industry (firms, customers, marketers) all use that word. So not discussing it will stifle our opportunity to shape what the word means beyond the scholarly realm**.

Applying the idea to 360da
So there is value in the term “objective authenticity”, and there is value in being part of the discourse shaping the meaning of the word. Authenticity, like most words in any living language, is subject to change based on how the majority of speakers use it. I acknowledge that it is problematic. I also acknowledge that I like discussing how problematic it is with other people. I like thinking that I might win them over to my definition and then my definition becomes the main one. Or maybe they will win me over and I will learn something. I acknowledge this does not seem like the best was to “do” science. But that is kind of how science is done.

Objective Authenticity is a cornerstone of 360da as per Wang’s killer 1999 article. We just have to use it carefully. That means when you are using it, explain what you mean.

An illustrative anecdote
I watch the TV show Catfish. I partly watch it because I like the hosts, Nev and Max and their interaction with each other. I love Max’s cynicism and Nev’s idealism. I also watch it because I have been with my husband since 1995, and therefore never internet dated, much less social-media dated. I watch with horror and delight.

On Catfish, people write in and request that Nev and Max bring them together with someone they have been dating (usually for years) who they have never met in person. All dates are over  Facebook, texting, the phone and other non-video technologies. The person writing in is thinking that the person they are dating is not what they seem (although they  hope they are what they seem).

Usually what happens is that the person who is evasive about meeting is not objectively authentic (although they may be authentic in other ways). Someone who is says they are playboy playmate online turns out not to be one. Boys turn out to be girls and so on. The climax of Catfish is the unmasking. Are you who you say you are? 

Not being the person you claim to be in your photos and bio is a deal breaker (romantically) on the show even if every other aspect of your relationship is authentic. For me, that is what objective authenticity is. On Catfish, as in marketing, lying about who you are is a dealbreaker.

(Objective) authenticity matters.

* Belhassen, Y., & Caton, K. (2006). Authenticity Matters. Annals of Tourism Research, 33(3), 853-856.

** I do not use the term “in the real world”. Why I don’t use that term will be explained in a blog post to come.

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