Technology writer and commentator Helen Labun Jordan recalls that when
she was a kid, everyone had the same short list of radio stations to
listen to, and watched the three TV networks, or PBS, in prime time.
Now, there are limitless choices – and some people are wondering whether
that’s the end of shared popular culture.
(Labun Jordan) I’ve
started doing something I swore I’d never, ever do – walking around
town, running errands, while listening to my iPod.
It seems so
rude to plug into your own private sound track and turn the rest of the
world into background noise. The thing is, though, I’ve got all these
radio shows I want to hear . . . and I’d rather listen while moving
around outside than be stuck inside doing something like washing dishes.
So I’ve made an informed decision to be – well – rude. And to keep the
But it still drives me crazy to see other people
doing the same thing that I’m doing. Maybe it’s because I suspect that
what I’m listening to is more worthwhile than what they’re listening to,
but maybe it’s just that I can’t tell. That’s part of a real cultural
debate right now – what happens now that technology lets us take in
media content in complete isolation from each other?
hearing the same top ten hits on the car radio or watching the same TV
programs during prime time any more. We’re choosing when prime time is
for us and what content we want to put there. The risk is that we’ll
listen only to the opinions that fit our worldview, we’ll discover only
the music that our friends listen to, we’ll never step outside what’s
familiar. In the end our culture would be fragmented into millions of
different silos. I have an image of everyone wandering around town
listening to their earbuds and bumping into each other.
maybe, without anything forcing us into common cultural reference
points, we’ll start to invent our own frameworks for shared experiences.
We seem to be moving in that direction.
I recently sat in a
room of 300 people for two days of very, very dull lectures on federal
grants management. Occasionally, a murmur of excitement would ripple
through the crowd, then disappear, until finally the speaker at the
podium held up his smartphone and said "I can get the Radio Free Europe
feed too, should I just give the World Cup updates as they come in?" At
which point we looked sheepish, then paused to get a full-room update.
things become a common experience because they need to be seen in real
time. If you didn’t watch Felix Baumgartner taking his sky dive from the
stratosphere as it happened, then the drama was pretty much lost.
the opposite end we also make events that accommodate people watching
programs at a different pace, like the roaring twenties themed parties
attended by devoted Downton Abbey viewers.
We have an instinct
towards fellowship that can be as simple as Tweeting with other fans
during the Superbowl or being the billionth person to watch the same
cute cat video.
So yes, technology allows a future of plugging
into our own media world and ignoring the rest, but I don’t really
believe it’s the one we’re going to choose.