Years ago, I had a professor who was fairly young, and was around on campus as Facebook was popping up. About a year into Facebook infiltrating campus life (mid 2005, maybe?), I remember him observing that social media is a great tool, but it is hurting the way that young people interact with each other. I totally agreed. I’ll be honest, writing a funny one-liner on a friend’s wall was waaaay easier than a 45-minute phone call about whether they should break up with their boyfriend (if it’s someone I really don’t care about — I’m not completely callous).
Fast forward a few years later; 2009ish. My husband and I were talking about media consumption, and he says “We’re losing the water cooler in our society.” The grander society no longer shares collective experiences in everyday media.
And, for better or worse, it’s definitely true, along nearly all major forms of media: music, movies, television, web, and books.
Everything now is highly niched. As highlighted in the NPR series, Fractured Culture, nothing can be targeted toward the greater society. There are so many great scripted television shows on prime time right now, but only small fragments of America watch them. While you can say that’s partially because of cable, it goes beyond that. There are so many options. You don’t even have to have a television. You can just have DVDs and a Netflix account streaming to your TV, and maybe access to Hulu Plus. And then, of course, there’s YouTube. Right there is access to TONS (literally) of hours of nearly anything you could possibly want to watch. And music videos. So why sit in front of the television and watch the shows they are force-feeding down your throat, when you can watching a hilarious web show with a disgusting, crass sense of humor that you can’t find on television, but is so well targeted toward you?
Music may be the most emblematic of this — the first industry really hit hard by this shift in the way we consume media. People stopped paying money for music years ago, unless it was truly meaningful now. No one watches MTV for videos — firstly MTV hasn’t played music videos since the days of Jesse Camp, and secondly, music videos are basically an online-only venture (aside from BET, really). Why watch a bunch of random videos hoping they’ll play the one you want to watch, when you can just go online and play the one you want to watch at that moment? Also, do you notice that your favorite television shows and movies don’t use overwrought music that you’re already sick of because they play it on the radio constantly anymore — they play the “indie” stuff. It’s cheap, and it caters to an appreciation of the “underground.” It’s catering to the fact that people love to be the first of their friends to have heard of a band, and then be pleasantly surprised to hear it on Grey’s Anatomy.
And etc. and so-forth. But is this nichefying a completely bad thing? I don’t know. I think there is good to this, because, as the NPR series points out on many platforms, audiences who have not been engaged before on television can enjoy niche TV on cable (106 & Park and its teenage fan base); Asian people don’t really have soooo few images on television, but can find some well produced series’ online featuring people of Asian descent doing stuff other than being nerds or weird little businessmen.
So to me, as I’ve written about before, I don’t think it’s necessarily a terrible thing. In fact, I’m hoping to one day capitalize on it…