Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Death of the Soundbite


And, again, not to hammer the point home part of what it's going to take to move past the current epoch in our society. The conservative machine has mastered the soundbite; is tailor made to gain advantage from the rapid-fire commerce of brief quips and quotes that broadcast media engages in. They're expert at taking their ideas and reducing them into talking points. Putting them out there en masse, in volume, in self-referential truisms that aren't easily refuted. At least, not in TV friendly ways. A world that revolves around talking heads screaming bon mots back and forth as they try to score points.

The rise of internet distribution, though, provides an alternative. One where people can watch not just the quote but the context. Share it, distribute it, comment upon it, and make up their own decisions without having to rely on editors and pundits to make up their minds for them. A world where discourse and debate ride on lightning fast steeds to an increasingly well-informed populace.

We're not there yet, of course. After all, the YouTube of Obama's speech has probably been watched by a million or so people. The highlights of it on the nightly news were probably seen by about twenty million (To say nothing of how they'll circle the globe, perhaps, to become the snippets seen by the people in other countries paying close attention to what's going on over here.). It'll take another generation or so, I'd imagine, before the stranglehold on the public's consciousness by the monolithic tube is released. We haven't had our Kennedy-Nixon debate yet, in other words. The moment that shifts the dialog from the television to the computer screen. Even though Obama might be tailor-made for that world. But we're getting closer to a world where substance might matter that crucial little bit more.

Because, here's the thing. Maybe 20 million people watched the broadcast news. And maybe only 1 million watched the YouTube clip. But those 20 million were passive. They watched a few minutes, if that, as part of a stream of stories and segments streamed to them. As only one small part of a tapestry as they settled down after dinner, over the evening paper, sliding into the couch and turning on their favorite anchor for the nightly news. To relax.

On the other hand, those million people who saw the streaming video were active. They chose to watch that clip, by seeking it out or deciding to click the proffered link they were passed. The controls right there to rewind, to skip forward, to control and examine and explore to their heart's content. It's a much more involved kind of viewership.

And the question to ask is how many of those million people left it at that? How many of them, instead, were energized, were involved? Did they pass on the clip to their friends? E-mail it around? Post it on message boards? Did they discuss it? Did they debate it? Are the messages, the phrasings from that speach now working their way into their daily lives, as they try to understand and influence?

Did they absorb it?

More people might be influenced by the news's version but by how much? Because I'm willing to bet there's a much higher percentage of people who were swayed through the narrowcast rather than the broadspectrum transmission. It involves them, it engages them, and it activates them. Instead of being one small tidbit floating along in a stream of others that might or not matter it becomes a spark that just might light them on fire.

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