New Technologies Change the Way we Engage with Culture


We're so used to thinking of change with technology and the Web as fast, that we forget to remember its full impact and utility have a longer runway. The accepted time frame for significant changes in culture is about thirty years.

The reason, says Matt Locke, is that:

[…] cultural change is not just about technology or economics, but about
changes in behavior.

The important phase of cultural change is not the
adoption of new technologies, but about the way those new technologies
change the way we consume or engage with culture.

It's often the case
that the first cultural products for new technologies merely mimic old
forms, and it isn’t until the majority of audiences have changed to the
new technology that new behaviors emerge clearly enough to sustain new
forms of culture, and in turn new business models

Human behavior as the driving force

This means we're still by and large experimenting with digital products based on business model that harness the changes in attention patterns.

According to Locke, the bridge from old broadcasting media models to new patterns encouraged by digital is characterized and measured by "The Spike and the Like".

He defines the Spike as a huge rush in simultaneous attention, amplified by social media, and the Like as a single measure of attention that attempts to reduce the complexity of behaviors it sums up.Both are artifacts of an earlier era.

As the patterns of attention changed over the course of the last several years, the balance of power in the media and entertainment industry shifted.

Understanding audience behavior

I've been working on strategies to build tools and digital experiences around the four emerging patters Locke cited in his article.

While they are interesting studies of where we are in quasi real time (the content still needs creating), the very nature of these patterns suggests lack of sustainability over time.

(1.) The Binge

Watching a whole series of shows at once or over a few short sessions. This was mentioned by Josh Sapan of AMC in the context of understanding viewer needs in his keynote at MIPTV 2012. Binge watching redefines how a story is constructed along with how it is made available.

The audience has a relationship with the plot and the characters and wants to engage in the story at its own pace.

(2.) The Pledge

This second pattern is even more interesting to me. Because it flips the concepts of donating to support an existing program to offering to finance a concept to help make it a reality. This is possible through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

As Locke observes, the time-boxed nature of these projects raises a dilemma of what to do with the patrons-as-audience that gathers around a project once it is completed.

(3.) The Long Live Event

Being well suited for digital, blogs, Tumblr accounts and digital experiences that are updated regularly are all examples of this pattern. Embedded or sprinkled in an environment that houses the overall experience are moments or spikes of high interest.

Bloggers making strong or provocative statements to attract a spike in attention are the equivalent of reality show producers who set up context to create drama.

People hang on the digital sidelines until they once again make a stronger connection with the material. The stream format takes care of providing the variety of spikes needed to attract different audiences or different kinds of attention at different times.

(4.) The Report

When you receive a reminder or status emails about what your friends are doing in social networks, those are reports. Data-monitoring services like the Nike+ Fuel Band, and mobile apps like Run Keeper are forms of reports.

Making smart use of data and audience input are critical aspects of this attention pattern. Indeed, this format seems to have the most promising future.


Digital gives us the ability to see what people want to do, how they discover experiences, and choose to interact with stories and digital content, and (potentially) engage with these new patterns. 

The question of what is next goes beyond the immediate desire to figure out how to monetize a new distribution system to the very fabric of how we construct experiences with audience involvement — and sustain the evolution from real time to over time.


[image via KPCB Internet Trends]

[hat tip Neil Perkin]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a
speaking engagement click here.

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