Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Idiocentricity and the Internet

Terry L. Heaton has posted a fantastic new essay titled “The Power of Attraction,” part of his “TV News in a Postmodern World.” Heaton’s essay is worth reading and he covers many interesting topics, however, one paragraph in particular stuck out for me:

A case in point is the discussion currently underway regarding the influence of bloggers and the blogosphere — a remarkable Postmodern development. Attempts to assign rankings to various blogs to determine their influence are based on the hierarchical (and therefore Modernist), mass-marketing concepts of reach and frequency. Traditional journalists fear bloggers are whacking their fatted calf, and many bloggers are actually joining in this misdirected fear-cum-anger. The ensuing debates over credentialed versus uncredentialed, opinion versus objectivity, checks and balances, echo chambers, and — most importantly — who has the greater ability to influence the masses, all lock the debaters into purely Modernist arguments. In so doing, the point is missed entirely, and that is that influence in a Postmodern world is entirely the opposite of convention. Individuals now determine their own influences. Think about that for a minute. Do you ever wonder why nothing you try seems to be working anymore? There’s your answer.

An individual determining his or her own influences is something I decided to name idiocentricity (I’m not sure whether anyone has referred to it as this before or not). It is what makes the internet such a powerful medium, and what makes blogs and other social software such a great addition to the web’s landscape. We have now begun to shift away from messages being broadcast to us by traditional media, instead opting for the route of the internet. This allows us to sit at the center of our media universe and pick and choose what we receive. We are no longer held hostage by the television schedule, rather, we can just tune into an aggregator and receive all the news or entertainment that we’ve decided we want.

When we want to know something, we no longer look it up in the encyclopedia, instead we Google it, which gives us any number of answers ranked in order of how many other people thought those answers were good enough to link to. From there, we have to choose what information is reliable and what information is not and make a final decision on the answer to our original question. Answers hardly ever come from one source anymore. Now, thanks to search engines, we put together our own answers and explanations, we own the final product, it is an amalgamation of any number of sources. Rather than the traditional top-down mediation of old media, broadcasters decide what is and is not news, we are able to make the final decisions and create our own stories. Thanks to blogs, not only is more information being reported on than ever before, but also now everyone has a chance to add the debate by publishing their own opinions. It is a truly democratic medium.

Heaton ends his essay with a discussion of viral marketing. What the internet has taught people is that they should be able to access information directly. This is why traditional advertising is less effective and why viral marketing has proven to be such a powerful tool. People want to communicate directly with their products, not have their meanings mediated to them by the company through advertisements. This is especially true in young people who have been influenced by postmodernism in so many aspects of their lives, from hip-hop music to the internet. I will conclude with two paragraphs from an article I wrote for the June issue of American Demographics about Obey Giant and viral marketing titled “Buzz Giant Poster Boy.” [Subscription Required]

For Fairey, it’s about connecting with all these people. That’s why he says the ultimate goal of a brand “is to be the equivalent of the Beatles. You’ve got the dumbest guy and the smartest guy in the room singing your song.” Fairey continued, “I want something that resonates and affects people on different levels, but connects with everyone.” For this reason, most of the products that he designs for his Obey clothing line blur and break traditional cultural rules. “I intentionally make hybrid products,” he explained. “We’re always trying to flip stuff up.” Fairey then revealed his “truth”: “If Public Enemy can sample Slayer, I can do that [make hybrid products].” (For those not on top of late ’80s music, Public Enemy is the archetype for political hip-hop. On their 1988 album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, they sampled the heavy metal band Slayer, fusing two very different styles of music.) For Fairey, the crossing of those two genres symbolized the dissolution of boundaries, not just in music, but in all culture.)

Fairey grew up in a generation that has consistently rejected traditional limits. Turntables were no longer just tools to play music on, they became instruments with which to make music. Songs of the past became a giant database of samples and inspiration for reconfigured mixes. The Internet, phones and cable were not just means of talking or watching television, but parts of a complex network connecting telescoping groups of individuals, and cultures throughout the world. On top of it all, as Neisser notes, “The fact that kids watch TV, talk on the phone and IM all at the same time is a behavioral change that no marketer can afford to ignore.” With access to such a plethora of information, he says, “The mass market is crumbling before our eyes. As a result, you are talking about 280 million individuals.”

August 3, 2004