Points of Connection

imagesLately on Sunday mornings when I’ve been on my usual run through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean, I’ve passed by a group of about 40 elderly people dancing and singing with abandon in a concourse across the street from the De Young Museum. The music that has accompanied their activities  on several occasions is the hit K-Pop song “Gangnam Style” which can be heard blaring from boom box speakers.

Seeing this going on has made me think about how relatively rarely it is these days that a single song, dance or other cultural phenomenon carries such mass appeal. It used to be that everyone knew the words to the same songs that were sung everywhere. That’s certainly not the case any more.

It’s a funny paradox really: A few decades ago when there were only a few television stations and no Internet, there’s a case to be made that many more people experienced and talked about the same stuff. The Beatles, Star Trek etc. These days, we are deluged with so many possibilities of things to watch, read and otherwise engage with, that it can be argued that there’s much less opportunity for common points of cultural connection between masses of people.

On the other hand, the so-called “long tail” of today’s fragmented and diversified cultural landscape may have the potential to create a stronger bond between people than was possible in the past. When you find someone who shares the same point of cultural connection that you do (“It’s so great that you watch Portlandia! I love that show!” etc) it’s possible that the sense of community you feel around whatever it is that you collectively appreciate will be deeper and more passionate.


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  1. says

    I think that the new mass media technologies are largely subject to the same forces of capitalistic, cultural isomorphism as before. In the mid 90s, the web was much more diverse, it seems to me. Then came Facebook, Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Baidu (the Chinese search engine,) Amazon, Twitter, and the websites of the major media outlets. Web traffic is now incredibly centralized. Netflix, for example, comprises 32% of the web’s downstream traffic.

    Even though very diverse information passes through the sites I mention, it is still alarming that so much information is passing through so few nodes. It should also be noted that all of this information is digital and can be monitored and mined in great detail and used for what amounts to social engineering. The web is giving the corporate media more power than ever – a process that will continue to grow. If the adage that it is not the message but the medium that counts, then we might be just as uniform as ever, if not more so.

    On the other hand, the Internet seems to create a tribal diversification. We can indeed find and create communities on the web with close and even rarified common interests. Does this create more micro unity, while also creating more separation from the larger society? Will this increasingly leave a totalizing norm in the center as represented by the corporate sites I mention, while it removes those ghettoized in the Internet’s micro-communities from the avenues of integration? I just don’t know. Thank you for the interesting thoughts…made possible to my eyes by the web.