I've been reading Joshua Ferris' much blogged-about debut novel, Then We Came to the End. I'm only half way through it, and so far it's a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining story. The novel centers around the downfall of a Chicago marketing firm in the wake of the dot-com bubble-burst. One of the quirky aspects of this book that has garnered so much buzz is that the story is told entirely in the 1st person plural voice, e.g. "We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise." It's an effective device that makes the reader acutely conscious of the group; but it also means that the narrator only knows what the group knows. The boundaries of the narrative are defined by the moments when one member of the "we" passes on the story to another. If an individual chose to keep an experience a secret from the rest of the group, then it can't be part of the novel's narrative.
Photo by Chad Nicholson
On Saturday, I participated in Improv Everywhere's MP3 Experiment 4. For this brilliant interactive public performance piece, 826 men, women, and children downloaded a 36 minute long MP3 file, loaded it onto their iPod, and without listening to it beforehand, gathered by the water in Lower Manhattan. At a carefully designated time, we simultaneously started the MP3 track and effectively checked out of the world of tourists and other random strangers and checked into another layer of connected consciousness. We were all listening to the same omniscient voice and becoming aware of the same bits of knowledge at the same time. Yet, we were simultaneously free to move and behave independently of each other. Like most Improv Everywhere missions, the event was especially joyous, and the atmosphere was celebratory. (If you'd like to hear the track yourself, you can download the MP3 file here)
These two experiences are interesting metaphors for how knowledge is manifested and shared through New Media. Like the narrative of Then We Came to the End, ideas are effectively unknown in a New Media environment until the story gets told by one person to another. A Brand's message is meaningless when it is passed from the Brand to its customers; it only becomes relevant when it is passed on from one member of the community to another.
The experience of the MP3 Experiment illustrates how access to and the exchange of information has become mobile. All 826 participants accessed the same public source of information and experienced it in the private spheres of our own iPods and headphones. It wasn't necessary for us to gather in some kind of theater and all listen to the same soundtrack through the theater's sound system. And as a result, this large group was able to play a huge game of twister, parade half a mile from one park to another, and spontaneously form a gigantic human dart board. The notion of a destination or controlled environment where individuals gather to receive their information, e.g. TV channels, newspapers, even specific websites, is obsolete. Individuals are accessing information that they find personally relevant on their own terms in their own environments - at the office, at home, in the park, etc. Information is as mobile as the technology we use to access it. This is why spreadability is the new stickiness. As Henry Jenkins explains:
We are moving from an era when stickiness was the highest virtue because the goal of pull media was to attract consumers to your site and hold them there as long as possible, not unlike, say, a roach hotel. Instead, we argue that in the era of convergence culture, what media producers need to develop spreadable media. Spreadable content is designed to be circulated by grassroots intermediaries who pass it along to their friends or circulate it through larger communities (whether a fandom or a brand tribe). It is through this process of spreading that the content gains greater resonance in the culture, taking on new meanings, finding new audiences, attracting new markets, and generating new values.
Spreadability liberates ideas and enables the experiences of those ideas to be created by the community in personally relevant environments. This is why every marketer should be focusing on how to make their clients' messages spreadable.