Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Fads, a Free Internet, and Paying Attention

The Kony 2012 craze is a fad like a hula-hoop.  In the first half of March 2012 the Kony video was watched 80 million times, and in the late 1950's the hula-hoop sold 100 million units.  Both of them were heavily promoted with the best of modern technology, and both are pretty inconsequential in terms of content.  Kony, since his peak in the late 1990s, is mostly a spent force, and 'hula-hooping,' well, who cares?

The thing exists because it can.  If it wasn't Kony, and if it wasn't the hula-hoop, it would have been some other asshole and some other toy.  Darwin showed that given constant variation and a nourishing medium, natural selection happens.  Kony 2012 has celebrity endorsement, YouTube, and a shit-load of users demanding entertainment.  The hula-hoop had celebrity endorsement, TV, and a shit-load of viewers demanding entertainment.  If the medium is the message, then Kony and the hula-hoop are strictly message.

What's interesting is the medium, and if hindsight is 20/20 then let's start with the hula-hoop, which flourished in a semi-euphoric, post-war, televised, affluent, civil society.  In a similar fashion, what's interesting about Kony is not Kony, but rather the fact that a complex idea expressed by a small organization can 'go viral' in the medium of our internet connected society, and millions of people across nations can participate in the conversation in a matter of days.

Kony, the Arab Spring, WikiLeaks, Anonymous, Copyright, SOPA, ACTA, all these messages point to the incredibly interconnected medium in which our society exists, and how messages within that medium increasingly bypass governments and corporations.  They are now the old authorities--the old keyholders and the old gatekeepers--and they are not pleased, but neither are the people.

Now is an important time.  I'm going to be paying close attention.

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