Has our ability to choose and create content redefined what’s important or made a mockery of it?

March 14, 2011

Turmoil in the Libya!
Catastrophe in Japan!
Tiger’s Blood & Adonis DNA!

Remember the bit from Sesame Street where they assembled a group of items and sang that song asking viewers to guess which item(s) didn’t belong? It was a catchy, fun way to teach youngsters about numbers and groupings. By design, choosing correctly was not difficult.

Consider the above headlines, all of them dominating the media and competing for coverage. How would you group them? If you’re like me, then chances are you break them into two camps: frivolous and serious. Obviously, the horrifying situations in Libya and Japan put them into the serious camp. By comparison Sheen Land, NCAA basketball and SXSW must be placed into the more frivolous bucket.

But is that the only way to categorize these events? In terms of popularity one could argue that Sheen belongs in the same group as Libya and Japan. If one aggregated stories about all three (allowing for time differences), Sheen’s metrics would dominate. In the coming days, countless stories about the crisis in Japan will no doubt surpass discussions of anything else. In fact it already has. According to Adweek, “Yahoo News served more pages than in any other hour in its history.”

But not by every metric. Not by mine. Most of the Tweets I’m receiving are about and from the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. What am I consuming most in terms of mass media? The NCAA Tournament. Bracketology.

So, if “serious” equals “important” then how come I’m not consuming important content more? Easy answer: it’s less fun to consume. Like broccoli.

Nothing new about that. When given a choice, People have always preferred to be entertained than informed. Back in the day, the Beverly Hillbillies regularly outperformed even the powerhouse news program, 60 minutes.

The more things change… Even though the Internet and social media allow individuals to customize their content, we still choose entertainment. And while we could debate and discuss this ad nauseam, I’m taking another tack.

What’s new is the changing definition of importance. In the new world importance is more and more defined by numbers. How many “followers?” How many “Likes?” How many “Views?” For example, The Huffington Post claims, perhaps rightfully, to be more “important” than the New York Times. They justify this because of views. Therefore, if the categories game (serious vs. frivolous) is now a numbers game Charlie Sheen is as “important” as Muammar Gaddafi. Call it “virtual importance.”

Don’t read me wrong. Social media has unarguably done tons for positive change, driving the overthrow of Egypt’s government, helping to elect America’s first black President and so on.

But with consumers driving content, as opposed to mass media, the choices we make have become criteria for determining importance. And not just financially but culturally. By that measure, the line between crap and quality is more than blurring, it’s inverting.


4 Responses to “Has our ability to choose and create content redefined what’s important or made a mockery of it?”

  1. Tracy said

    Democratization is great, mob rule not so much. On one hand, I love the smorgasbord of information and that anyone can provide it. On the other…
    It’s a sped-up world with a mainstream media catering ever more frantically to the entertainment-preferring audience. There’s an even greater onus on that audience to make sense of what’s out there.
    They/we have to exercise critical thinking skills when being bombarded with posts and tweets and feeds. And that’s less and less of a societal strong suit these days.

    Anymore, there’s no one to make us eat our broccoli let alone explain why it’s important to do so (that was the world in which not everybody got a trophy). Which means we’re a few short years from trying to water our crops with Red Bull.

    • SRP said

      The new wrinkle is the notion of what’s important. Views and Likes and Followers are currency and criteria. Before it was just ratings, which drove economics but nothing deeper. Thanks for your thoughtful reply -Steff

  2. Patrick said

    Look at the places in mass media where news and entertainment are meshed into one. The Daily Show or Glenn Beck, where a transparent agenda brings mass viewers and informs them while entertaining. Ultimately you have half news and half entertainment. It’s easier to eat broccoli smothered in cheese.

    It’s dangerous (it may result in polarizing a political spectrum), but this is where news will go to keep up with the social media juggernaut. Either way, web 2.0 or news, we will observe only what we find pleasing. No hope.

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