Is social currency greater than live experience?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a few interesting stories relating to the use of smartphones and tablets at live events.

When we talk about convergence between the physical and digital worlds it’s normally in the context of changes to the retail industry, or new technology revolutionising the way we access a particular product or service (think taxi apps), but it seems there is an equally interesting dynamic playing out at gigs and football matches.

First was the news that Manchester United has banned fans from taking tablets and laptops into Old Trafford, citing “security intelligence”.

That was followed a couple of days later by the Premier League warning fans against posting videos of goals on social media, as they seek to protect the rights holders who paid billions for the privilege of showing the games exclusively.

It will be interesting to see whether the threat of breaking copyright law reduces the number of Vines being posted to Twitter every Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven fans have been protesting at the club’s plans to introduce Wi-Fi at their stadium, worrying that it will dampen the atmosphere.

The gloriously prosaic banner at PSV’s first match of the season simply said ‘FUCK WI-FI, SUPPORT THE TEAM’.

Musicians are also concerned about the effect that fans’ use of smartphones and tablets will have on the live experience.

Kate Bush has gone as far as to post a personal message on her website to fans who have bought tickets for her long-awaited forthcoming shows, specifically asking them to refrain from taking photos or filming during the performance.

“I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iphones, ipads or cameras. I know it’s a lot to ask but it would allow us to all share in the experience together.”

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So where does this leave us?  Well just to recap, using tablets and laptops at live events is potentially:

  • A security risk
  • In breach of copyright law
  • Damaging to the crowd atmosphere
  • Upsetting to the performer

Personally I’d add a fifth item to that list, which is ‘unwatchable’. 

That great concert footage you just have to record invariably ends up being shaky and out of focus, nothing more than a kaleidoscope of unrecognisable bright colours, with sound quality worse than the antiquated PA system at a non-league football ground.

So why is the sight of phones and tablets being held aloft such a familiar picture at every gig, and increasingly at football matches?

To many people, the chance to show off to all your friends just how close you were to the stage at that Beyonce gig, or being the first fan to post your team’s goal on Vine is worth more than the value of the experience itself.

The quality of the footage isn’t the issue.  It doesn’t really matter what it looks like, it’s just proof you were there.

Social currency > Live experience?

I find that concept quite dispiriting.

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The future starts today

In my first post I talked about the influences that persuaded me to start this blog.

The biggest hurdle was to stop thinking about creating a blog and actually begin writing one.

On reflection there was another guiding thought that also strongly influenced me – the idea that it’s not too late to get started. 

Part of my reticence to start a blog was my perception that I’d missed the boat.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of blogs about advertising, media and communication, most of which have now been going for years. 

Many of these are written by intimidatingly bright, very senior, highly influential industry figures offering their treatise on every communication model, every new campaign, every possible way of reaching and influencing people.

Has it all been said?  Is there anything new to say?  Will I just end up looking silly in comparison with the supersmart advertising bloggerati?

The answers, I think, are No, Yes, and Quite Possibly.  But I’m going to do it anyway.

Because I’m now convinced we’re still at the beginning of the internet revolution, not at the end of it.  And in my own small way I want to be part of that, not just a bystander.

Two recent articles I read made me think differently about the internet; the opportunities it affords us and its influence on our lives.

The first is The Internet’s Original Sin by Ethan Zuckerman.

Now a director at MIT Media Lab, Zuckerman was one of the original pioneers of online advertising. 

In this article he explains how, and why, advertising became the primary funding model for the web, and specifically why ever-increasing amounts of audience targeting are the only way online businesses are these days able to secure funding and generate revenue.

The Internet’s Original Sin is a fascinating read for a number of reasons – not least Zuckerman’s mea culpa for being the guy responsible for creating the pop up ad format!

The main thrust of his argument is that the ad-funded web is ‘bad, broken, and corrosive’. Which is pretty impactful in itself given who’s saying it, where he came from, and the questions it raises.

But the bit that struck me most when reading the article was this:

“The web is celebrating a 25th anniversary, but that celebrates the invention of the HTTP protocol by Tim Berners Lee. In practical terms, the web as we know it is less than 20 years old. Many of the services we rely on, like Twitter, are less than 10 years old.”

It’s incredible to think just how much the internet has completely transformed virtually every aspect of our lives in the space of just 20 years.

In a single generation it has gone from nothing to being absolutely central to our society.  Zuckerman’s argument is that the scale, influence and sheer ubiquity of the internet mean we no longer question how the internet works. It just is. 

We assume its structure is fixed and unchangeable.  But really we’re still at the beginning.  There is every opportunity to change and improve things.

This liberating and uplifting view is shared by another internet veteran, Kevin Kelly – one of the co-founders of Wired

A couple of weeks ago Kelly wrote a great piece for Medium entitled You Are Not Late, in which he argues that “nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning.”

Fast-forwarding to 2044 he imagines looking back on the present day from a position 30 years in the future, reflecting wistfully on how easy it would have been to be an internet entrepreneur in 2014 when there were “more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside”.

He asserts that all we’ve done so far is “created a marvellous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. However the coolest stuff has not been invented yet”.

It’s easy to imagine that we live in the most technologically advanced age.  That nothing new could possibly be invented to improve upon it.

But every generation in history has thought that.  And so far they’ve all been wrong.

The Coming Century

I don’t know about you, but I’m not banking on us being the first group to buck the trend.

In creating this blog I’m not seeking to change the world or revolutionise the internet.  I’m just looking for an outlet for my opinions, which hopefully some other people will find interesting.

Ultimately what I write may not be any good, and people may not want to read it. But I know one thing for certain.

I am not late.

Now is the time to do

I’ve decided to start a blog.

Yes, it is still 2014.  No, you haven’t suddenly gone time travelling and magically reappeared in 2003 like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap.

I realise that I’ve missed this particular bandwagon by several years – even the word blog is starting to sound slightly old fashioned compared to the new wave of social media – but I’m going to have a crack at it anyway.

I should have done it years ago, but it was one of those things that always slipped off the bottom of the To Do list.  Procrastination being the thief of time and all that.

Recently though various things have prompted me to stop thinking about it and just get on with it.

First was a post on Richard Branson’s blog about action breeding confidence

The last phrase in particular struck a chord with me: “just get out there and start: now is the time to do.”

It’s so simple; so obvious.  But how many of us really live our lives like that?

I’m a planner by trade, and by nature.  I spend my life analysing, interpreting, considering all the angles, weighing up the pros and cons.

Sometimes though I’d be better off just getting started and seeing where I end up.

I love reading, I love writing, and I have a strong opinion on absolutely everything.  But other than snarky comments on Twitter, I had no real outlet for my views.

And 140 characters grumbling about Grimsby Town’s perennial uselessness doesn’t quite cover the full range of my thoughts and emotions.  Except on Saturday afternoons.

So reading that Branson post gave me a little jolt.

Not enough to make me do anything about it, obviously (you can’t just rush into these things!), but enough that it started to play on my mind.

Then I saw a Twitter post by Paul Frampton (@Paul_Framp) along the very same lines (what a very wise man he is!).

But probably the biggest motivator for me to start this blog was an entirely unrelated incident.

Robin Williams died earlier this week.  And from nowhere I felt a rush of sadness completely out of proportion with my relationship with him. Because I didn’t have one.  I didn’t know him, never met him.

To be honest I didn’t even think Mork and Mindy was very funny.

But then people started posting their favourite Robin Williams movie clips on Facebook and Twitter, and I realised the common thread that made me, and thousands like me, have that strong feeling of loss when he died.

Many of his characters focused on drawing the best out of other people – getting beyond the front, the bullshit, the ephemera, to reveal the true self beneath.  It can’t purely be luck that Robin Williams was continually drawn to that kind of role.

If you have any feeling in your bones it’s impossible not to be moved by someone who champions the fragile strength of the human spirit in the face of overbearing societal pressures and conventions.

Whether it was as Sean Maguire forging a bond with Matt Damon’s tearaway genuis in Good Will Hunting, renegade DJ Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam, or Patch Adams, or most obviously as the inspirational teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ characters continually encourage others to express their true thoughts and feelings:

So, suitably inspired, I have in some small way decided to sound my own barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.

I certainly can’t promise I’ll deliver any poetry as a result.  In fact I’m not entirely sure yet what I’m going to write about, or how often.

I’m starting right now though, and that’s the important thing.