The Anti-Buzz: Internet Culture is about shared experience. (Sometimes this is strange and vulgar).
Popular culture isn’t popular anymore. People have said for a long time that we’ll never see another band like the Beatles. It isn’t because they rest on a pedestal of unobtanium, impossibly perfect, never to be outdone, it’s because we have too many channels drowning out all the would-bes. Nothing can ever again be so popular that it destroys all alternatives. The mechanisms for such singular popularity have long been gone. Arguably those mechanisms died with the rise of cable television, but the Internet has surely driven the nail further into the coffin.
It might seem odd, in world where Simon’s Cat has over 1 million subscribers and has generated almost 300 million views, to say that “things aren’t popular.” Two weeks after I discuss viral videos I come here and downplay the popular appeal of Internet culture? With media so plentiful and accessible, by many metrics there are a lot of things that are probably a good deal more popular than the Beatles ever were or will be, but only because your eyes and ears are a heavily inflated currency – a “view” doesn’t buy what is used to – sort of like how there are so many films that have outsold the original Star Wars, but only because they aren’t trying to earn 1977 dollars.
No, what I mean to say is popular culture is fractured, more so than ever. There isn’t really a mainstream so much as just a bunch of streams. There are so many things you will never be hip to, no matter your age, no matter how savvy you are. Somewhere on the Internet people are laughing at Roger Goodell’s head photoshopped onto Vince McMahon’s body and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, neither do I. Elsewhere on the Internet, people are laughing at math jokes. A lot of nostalgia for decades past comes down to the statement “and when that happened, everybody was talking about it the next day.” Everybody watched the moon landing. Everybody, (or so that generation insists). The nostalgia isn’t for the event, but for the feeling of unity.
Why is this important? Because with today’s pop culture, (or maybe un-pop culture), it is easy to feel alienated. A lot of the readership wants to “make sense of” social media and Internet culture in general and it can feel like there is an enormous barrier to entry. Yes, Internet pop culture, like all pop culture, is youth centric; but unlike yesteryear, we’re regularly cracking inside jokes about inside jokes about inside jokes. (To wit: wikipedia has a list of lists of lists). No, I’m not here to turn this into more advice on using social media for business gain, but instead to insist that if you think it’s just for the kids, reconsider: you might not be as far on the outside as you might think. You’re hipper than you realize.
There is pop music, popular film, and pop literature. There is also pop computing. We’ve all gotten lost in the Microsoft Word submenu maze, looking for that one cool feature that we know is there, but oh well. We’ve all made teh same typo with teh definite article. We’ve all waited anxiously for the printer to warm up when were already late. We all have a shared experience, and that really is the essence of popular culture: the unity. It really was an accident, I think, that bandwith was ever so narrow that we all watched the same television. That will never happen again. If the Internet has freed pop culture from the constraint of being popular, it has also elevated popular culture to be about the things we do rather than the things we watch. In other words: we have culture again. We don’t all have the same tastes, but we do have a common port of call. We’ve all waited for that bar to fill up. You may be a rock climber and I may be a poet but we both wish that Nigerian millionaire would leave us alone.
If computing is something you merely put up with because you’d rather not live in a cave, then it would be no wonder if you are baffled by how much people can enjoy click-trancing away an afternoon. But there really is no secret to it: It’s the moon landing. Not the actual landing itself, of course, but the yearning one has for the comforting unity that it brought. That’s the joy of the Internet, not what you are watching, but that you know other people are watching with you.