Gonna discuss the recent set-to re Rush Limbaugh but -- Surprise! Surprise! -- not from the political, feminist, or civility-in-public-discourse POVs.
Those hoping for red meat are advised to look elsewhere.
I think this is a much bigger story than people realize. It’s a major cultural turning point, but not because of the hot button topics mentioned above.
Rather it’s a perfect example of entrenched mass media running head-on into new social media and not having clue fracking uno on what they’re dealing with, much less how to deal with it.
Let’s start with the basics: All advertising-supported media exists for one reason and one reason only: To deliver an audience to advertisers.
There’s nothing wrong with this system but it’s highly inefficient. Lotsa waste involved, and you can never be 100% sure you’ve got the right ad aimed at the right demographic.
That’s where Facebook and Google and other InterWeb sites enjoy a distinct advantage.
They can parse down user info to pinpoint exactly the type of advertising we’re likely to respond to.
My wife and I can be on Facebook at the same time and get completely different sets of ads based on our activities and interests.
Nothing wrong with that; it’s a trade-off we as consumers are willing to make: Give up a modicum of privacy in return for all the cool free stuff the InterWebs can do for us.
But the user experiences between entrenched mass media and the new social media are diametric opposites.
The traditional mass media user experience is one of passive acceptance: We sit in front of a screen or speaker and just let the info wash over us.
Again, nothing wrong with that. If you want to enjoy a major league baseball game, the best way to do it is from the stands, not running around on the field.
But on the other hand, running around on the field is exactly the experience you want to have when playing a neighborhood pick-up softball game.
Two similar experiences, but experienced in two vastly dissimilar ways. You can’t get the full enjoyment out of either by switching the way you experience them.
Established mass media has very little use for interactivity.
Newer media -- particularly the new social media -- are all about the interactivity.
The only interactivity Rush seeks from his audience is their purchase of Rush Limbaugh-related products, followed by purchase of his advertisers’ products and services.
Yes, he takes callers, but he uses them only as straight-men to launch a talking point. By his own admission he has no desire to engage in a real debate or exchange of ideas; he is all about controlling the listeners’ experience.
Nothing sinister about this: Most people moderating public discourse -- be it a radio call-in show or a comic con panel -- want to keep on topic.
But social media avoids that straightjacket. Who here hasn’t seen a post on cute li’l kittehs suddenly veer off onto a discussion of 16th century Dutch painting?
Who here hasn’t helped the conversation veer off?
The great thing about social media is that it’s not constrained by timetables or agendas. Rush needs to be on at a certain time every day so his audience will get into the habit of listening.
You might be reading this at 2 a.m. the day I posted it, or a week or a month or a year later, depending on when you stumbled on it.
And the flipside of lacking constraint is that there’s nothing hindering spontaneity.
Literally within minutes of Rush’s initial statement, word was flyin’ ‘round the InterWebs.
People who normally ignore politics, people who never listen to Rush not because of personal beliefs but just because they aren’t interested, people who normally can’t be bothered to sign a petition or go to a rally or attend a meeting, suddenly they were either being contacted by people they knew or else were seeing references to Rush’s statements online at their social sites.
And the majority of them shrugged and went on with their lives.
But enough of them bounced it around some more, shared it, spread it…
…and now people who had seen it and ignored it the first time saw it again…
…and still ignored it.
But within hours they were suddenly seeing lots of people they knew talking about it, expressing their feelings on the matter.
So curiosity got the better of them, and they checked out the links.
And a lot of them still shrugged and went on their merry way.
But many of them began spreading the story around.
Here’s the funny thing about the InterWebs: It’s really democratic.
I don’t mean party-of-FDR Democratic; I mean everybody’s here. Everybody.
And everybody is an expert at something.
And somebody/ies somewhere were experts in radio advertising, at least to the degree of being able to provide links to Rush’s advertisers.
And then somebody said, “Hey, why don’t we send these guys e-mails telling them what we think about them supporting Rush’s show with their advertising!”
And millions of people said, “Yeah! That would be fun!”
Rush never knew what hit him.
Rush and his fellow generation of mass media mavens are used to playing the game while their audience watch as spectators.
Yeah, every now and then they’d lead ‘em in a wave, or have ‘em sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, or do a 7th inning stretch.
And once in a great while they’d let ‘em come to the edge of the field to buy autographed balls and caps.
And every once in an even greater while they might let one on the field briefly to wave at the camera but then they hustled ‘em back in the stands and played the game their way.
All of a sudden, people were pouring out of the stands, running out on the field, grabbing the ball and bats and playing their own games, a dozen different games, with players switching teams or merging together or dissolving then reassembling…
And nobody was organizing it.
See, that’s where mass media is trapped by its entrenched attitude. They decide, you consume.
You sit there and you take it.
Because that’s how they make their money. (They’re the experts, doncha know.)
They depend on you to sit in the stands and watch passively, your interactivity limited to buying the products they tell you to buy.
But the social media game is the interactivity.
For Rush to have gotten the same reaction out of his audience that the social networks got out of theirs would have required an elaborate campaign, fully strategized and funded, with days if not weeks of on-air promotion to arrive at a carefully scripted pre-selected conclusion.
The social media storm that hit Rush came out of nowhere, was lead by nobody, cost nothing, and took virtually no time.
There’s no one, nothing for Rush to push back against. Wherever he turns his attention, the target is gone, long since dissipated and moving on to the next social media meme, being it tap dancing frogs or a new holistic cure for hiccups.
They’re a ghost, a thing of the spirit, an unincorporated entity in the realm of the abstract.
You can’t lay a finger on ‘em.
This is why I think the Rush story is much, much bigger than people realize.
A genie has been let out of the bottle, and what it will do, nobody can guess.