What do we talk about when we talk about media?
Apparently the wrong stuff, according to this fantastic talk by Dave Trott.
Mr. Trott has been one of my idols these last couple years. I've read one of his books, "Creative Mischief", and can't wait to read the other one, "Predatory Thinking". The powerful simplicity behind his writing and thinking makes me constantly question if I'm sacrificing substance for fashion when I write and think.
In the above video, that same simplicity of thought made me forever see media as a whole different animal. Going through university and talking about media theory, mass media and more lately social media, we focus our attention on the technological side of the discussion. Media, we're taught, are means with which we communicate with others (fire, paper, telephones).
This is backed by further research. Dictionary.com defines media as "the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely". Wikipedia refers to mass media as "diversified media technologies."
Where does the research mention people?
Turns out, according to Trott, that we haven't been looking at media. We've been looking at channels. Television is a channel. Twitter is a channel. We preach "join the conversation" but channels don't start conversations, people do. People are what we should be looking at. People are the media.
Very, very biased media. And biased things, by definition, can be studied and understood.
Jonah Berger delivers some good insights about that in his book, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On". I became particularly interested in the concept of social currency, which is not new but sums up the idea that the things we share project our desired selves in a certain context. According to Berger:
Sharing extraordinary, novel, or entertaining stories or ads makes people seem more extraordinary, novel, and entertaining.
Or in short, "choices signal identity." Understanding those choices is the direct result of understanding what makes us tick in that constant pursue of projected identity. Studying media, therefore, is all about studying people.
McLuhan famously said that the medium is the message. If people are media, therefore, people are the message as well. We share things because they project our desired selves, not because there's an app for that. Sharing is psychological, not technical.
I usually joke that my job is understanding why Snapchat works. It's a simple way to explain an otherwise complex idea about what I do for a living. But actually, it's not about Snapchat. It's about why people use Snapchat in the first place.
Mastering a channel is easy. It's the nuances of human nature that are hard.
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