It has occourred to me recently that we have an amazing opportunity to communicate and share ideas – unparalled in history.
I’m talking about a new cultural revolution that is possible with people who rarely, if at all, meet in person, yet follow each others lives and endeavors with interest. This is not another dribbling plug of Twitter, though that is certainly involved.
I studied media in college, and back then, we were still struggling with ideas about media theory and hegemony, and how mass communication was a tool of governments to deliver a message like a ‘magic bullet’ to citizens in the homestead, who were supposed to sit there and lap it up like fat subdued sheep.
The closeness of the relationship of powerful stakeholders in society, again in this case government and big business, led to broadcast, print and mass media being termed the ‘fourth estate’, as it was a cosy love-in between these stakeholders and the audience, or you and me, who were communicated to in a top-down manner, and the flow of information was one way. Occasionally feedback was taken to be measurable by audience figures, which were estimated by the use of set top boxes in a cluster sample of homes that were supposed to be endemic of what the nation at large thought. In short, if they were watching, it was good enough. This was largely used to exploit advertising sales to big business in reality. I’ve never seen anybody with one of these measuring boxes, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.
Where am I going, you rightly ask. Well, that’s a short synopsis of some of the theory that was leading thought on how to understand the audience 15 years ago. Since that, we all know that the web has turned this model on its head. Remember that YouTube has only been around for 3 years now. The audience is talking back, in fact the audience has left the building altogether and nobody knows quite how to herd them back in front of an ad. And consumers have become producers, and have really given broadcasters something to worry about.
Even the most arbitary surfing of the web will reveal that there are communities with active forums and their own norms and tribal elders emerging for every interest imaginable, and all of these groups will have members who will produce content for the benefit and kudos of their peers and interest groups. I’ve been reading a lot of marketing books on how web 2.0 is supposed to affect us, and how marketeers can supposedly cash in on the new frontier. I’ve not seen much recent media theory yet, so I don’t know what the authorities there have to say about it all. Maybe William Gibson was closer than anyone else got to how it will go soon enough.
Here’s my problem with it all. I remember the first time I was shown the world wide web, in Deej’s apartment late one night.
This was about 1994 and everything was ASCII. My mind was literally blown with the implications and possibilities offered by this new medium. Everything you could ever want to know but were afraid to ask was there for the downloading. Crunchy, but effective.
Suddenly, I began tripping over this idea that a new peer to peer meritocracy was going to be the inevitable consequence of this, and that there would be no race, class or political differences in cyberspace, as it was fondly called. How wrong I was.
We have watched that opportunity become twisted into a highly policed and patrolled space, whereby we are hit with more marketing messages than would ever be possible to achieve with physical hoarding. So what, I feel you say. Well, the effect of allowing more monetising of any of these frontiers effectively erodes the purity of thought and communication that can exist thereafter. Look at Google. Try finding a song you like on YouTube in the UK. We’re back with a head in the sand approach until it can all be nicely controlled again by the big players. In the meantime, you can look at this sponsored link, that banner ad or this weeks free download from some Pop Idol runner up.
But there are other opportunities. While Facebook/Twitter/Myspace/Omegle/Bebo and everyone else fall over themselves to try to store every waking moment of our existences on a data farm somewhere, we, the people, should probably find something constructive to do with all the new communication potential. I’m in the morally difficult position of selling digital marketing tools to brands who are fighting for mindshare in this market, but also wanting to see it become something MUCH more USER GENERATED.
In simple terms, I would rather make the programming and content that I want to see than wait for a client or broadcaster to take a moderated version of a pitch and distill it into a crass interruption marketing infomercial.
So, I’m suggesting that we use the possibilities offered by all these new media to communicate something of value and share ideas and culutre across boundaries, time and space. I’ve noticed that Facebook gets pretty snotty about trying to randomly befriend people outside your network, even if you don’t tell them exactly where that may be geographically. But we’ll persevere.
There has never been a better time to tell 100 strangers about your next gig, your fashion ideas, a podcast you’re produced on your favorite game, whatever. Get producing, get talking, and get them to pass it on. Do it because you love it. Make those strangers laugh, cry, curse you, whatever. Remember that the money is just a smokescreen (though I plan to make plenty of it somehow) and do it before they find a way to make it stop and return to a top-down model of communication and human interaction. Tell us when you’ve got something to share, and we’ll do the same, if it’s any good!