The personal website of Chris Coyier

Shared Experiences Make a Culture

I was out for cocktails with my friend Justin and somehow we were talking about podcasts. I mentioned that it seemed to me that podcasts were really just getting started as a medium. The more digitally connected all our entertainment devices get, the more fine-tuned we can get with how we curate our entertainment.

In music, we went from whatever was on the few radio stations we could get, to a proliferation of radio, to owning physical media of music so we could listen to what we wanted to when, to digital music where we listen to even the specific tracks we want to listen to.

In TV, went from whatever was on the public channels, to cable so we had more niche choices, to premium networks and physical media, to recordings and on-demand watching, and now to streaming where we choose exactly what to watch, when, and where.

The new ways start niche and then go norm. The old ways were the norm but become niche.

It seems highly likely to me that the norm for entertainment will be watching niche TV shows, niche movies, niche podcasts, listening to niche music, whatever fits your personality exactly.

Here’s a recent days worth of entertainment for me:

  1. Listening to some local rock band’s new record I downloaded from iTunes last night in the morning
  2. Watch a back episode of The Blacklist (trying to catch up) over lunch
  3. Listen to an episode of JavaScript Jabber while in the car (was in car twice, once to gym, once to grocery)
  4. Listen to some random bluegrass tracks (iTunes Genius Playlist) while I cook and eat dinner
  5. Listen to an episode of This American Life as I walk Digby
  6. Watch some gamecasts of competitive StarCraft on YouTube
  7. End the night watching a movie (a recommendation from a blog post) about a struggling mother and autistic daughter on Netflix.

I said I think that’s kind of awesome. A highly satisfying group of media, if you ask me. I was engaged in all that content. Engaged, I think, in a way that I wouldn’t have been if I was just flippin’ through whatever was on the ol’ boob tube. I would think if this becomes easier (and the norm) we’ll possibly even end up as better humans beings. Spending time engaged in things you like and are interested in must make you better, right?

Justin had an interesting disagreement with this premise. Justin was a sociology major, and he says from a sociology perspective this type of fragmentation may mean a breaking down of culture. At least geographic culture. Those come from shared experiences with those around us. Which breeds some understanding and empathy for those around us. If we’re all walking around in our own bubbles, whatever current cultures we have could break down. At least that’s how I understood it. Stands to reason to me, mostly.

But I wonder, we still all experience the same weather and have access to the same restaurants and same stores and roads and parks and apartments and stuff. I wonder if that’s enough, what we watch on TV doesn’t also have to be the same. But of course it’s not just TV. We buy clothes online from all over the world, we’re starting to do that with food more and more. Those are huge parts of local culture too.

Ah whatever, what do I know. The tech train keeps chugging and I’m not sure there is much we can do about it anyway.