“Mass media will be redefined by systems for transmitting and receiving personalized forms of news and entertainment.” – Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, 1996
SINCE THE DAWN of the Internet Age – and even before – we have bemoaned the wane of collective experience.
In his seminal work, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte talked about the “Daily Me,” a newspaper containing only the news the reader wanted, in the order he or she wanted and whenever he or she wanted to read. More than a decade later, this prescient prediction is not only reality but necessity for millions. Moreover, the Daily “We” – otherwise known as the metropolitan newspaper – is fading in readers and influence.
But Negroponte’s vision failed to encompass other factors that accelerated today’s Balkanized information flow. High-speed Internet connections, multimedia mobile devices, video games and mistrust of traditional institutions (including the mainstream press) have left our media “unbundled” at best, fragmented at worst.
We gather to watch the Super Bowl, yet we also tune to hundreds of other channels competing for our attention, urging us to participate and filling us with, yes, exactly what we want, when we want it and how we want it.
So although we watch the game with friends, we leave with different experiences. One memory of one event is now divided into many smaller “micro memories” – and when added up, they are a sum not necessarily greater than the parts. In fact, the sum of micro memories may not add up at all, or they may resemble something entirely different that the original experience.
Micro memory is neither good nor bad – it is what it is. But it raises important issues, such as how do we best communicate a communal experience when the commune is empty? How do you mobilize for large actions, like saving the environment? In today’s micro memory world, it’s far easier to mobilize support to save a specific tree than the entire forest. We’ve moved from reaching “far and wide” to influencing narrow and drilling deep.
Exploring the many micro memories available online is also revealing, and in fact lay proof to what we’ve always suspected about the human condition: That a single event is processed and recorded by individuals in different ways. The Internet – and simple tools that allow us to publish and share – now allow us to eavesdrop.
We can and should move to a model that looks beyond cold statistics like Nielsen ratings and 18-34 year old age targets. We have the ability to see what those numbers represent, to dissect millions of micro memories and, in the end, engage in communications practices that are more accurate, more personal – and dare I say, more human.