Last night I was waiting for Stargate SG1 to come on and watched an entertainment news program (or parts of it). On it, they described the internet phenomenon that is the YouTube Divorce, wherein some famous person’s wife recorded a video of complaints about her soon-to-be ex-husband and uploaded it to youtube. The entertainment news host indicated that everyone had seen it. I had not seen it, and had not ever heard of either of the two players involved. What struck me about it was this; there was a time that I heard about internet memes on the internet exclusively, and suddenly I learn about them on tv.
I didn’t catch this broadcast (October 8th, 1993), but didn’t hear much else about “internet” in popular media until much later. I remember the first time I heard someone talk about the internet on tv on a local news program. It wasn’t cable, just basic free tv from a pair of bunny ears, and the year was 1999. It was a mention of some businesses web site, which you could visit for more information, with a url given. I had been spending lots of quality time on the internets in the 90s, and hearing the web talked about so openly on tv made me think: well, that was a fun ride. Now everyone and their dog is about to appear. This is it: it’s over. It’s not ours anymore.
The lag time between hearing about something online, seeing it/using it/adopting it, and then hearing about it in the mainstream media seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I used to be able to count on hearing about something via friends or Metafilter or some other random web browsing months if not years before mainstream media would “discover” it. Watching blogging come into the mainstream has been fascinating; I thought it hit the mainstream in 2001 when I finally decided to get on board, but it seems that every year thereafter blogging was a new relevation and just got bigger and bigger. Now, no one even blinks in the mainstream media when they reference someone’s blog. They all have blogs of their own, and no one need to define the term anymore. Everyone’s heard of wikipedia. The basic level of internet literacy is going up.
So that’s why yesterday seemed to be such a turning point for me; the internet now has a few killer apps that have finally taken such hold of mainstream North America that I am hearing about internet memes on tv before they reach me on the internet. In fact, perhaps there’s only one killer app that brings the rest of the culture online: it’s YouTube. As with any growing community, there are no more universal “big internet memes”; what’s big in your world isn’t so big in mine, and I may never hear about your internet celebrities until something strange or radical puts them in the media spotlight. The internet has long been fractured into interest groups, but there will be fewer and fewer “all your base” moments as the user group grows, things that everyone on the internet hears about at one time or another. In my internet universe, the youtube divorce didn’t merit a mention; it was clearly huge for the mainstream entertainment media’s audience.
Next up: Entertainment Tonight finds cool social software/web 2.0 apps and reports on them before I hear about them from my networks. Scary!