June 6, 2013

Surviving the Streaming Society

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I laugh every time a media platform tries to leverage breaking news as something of amazing value. Thanks to Twitter and other social media outlets, breaking news is coming my way… all the time.


Gone are the days that I have to rush home and turn on my television to get the local, national, or world news. Top stories up front, then weather, more news, sports, a special interest story perhaps, and then one more look at the weather. That was the standard format everyone followed for years.

And gone are the days that anyone having breaking news is a big deal.

Thanks to Twitter and other social media outlets, breaking news is coming my way…all the time.

And often the professionals are late to the party.

In May 2011, 45,000 baseball fans found out that Osama bin Laden had been killed 7,000 miles away. Here’s the ESPN Sportscenter report about the moment.

Notice how the fans knew the information before the players knew.  Even the announcers, the ones narrating the game, are slow to react.  Meanwhile, thousands of people in the stands are learning the news on their smartphones and sharing it with strangers.  There is almost a smart phone wave flowing around the stadium as people pull out their phones to show the folks next to them. Social media in its truest form.

A few minutes later, ESPN would put a “breaking news” bulletin on the bottom of the screen and after the game, President Obama addressed the nation.  By that point, though, it was old news.

A Streaming Society

I call this phenomena “living in a streaming society.”  Millennials are able to multi-task at a level Gen X and Baby Boomers can’t conceive.  And they don’t just give or receive information; they swim in a stream of it.  A few years ago it was a breakthrough to be able to search the web.  Now, a web search isn’t nearly enough.

When thinking of life and work, the Baby Boomers’ emphasis is on victory, whereas the Millennials’ emphasis is on movement.

The advertising community has marketed to boomers for decades on the currency of winning and performance. On the other hand, Millennials say, “We can change the way products are sold, services are given, etc.” Validation comes in changing the conversation, in creating or shifting the movement.

Or take college, for example.  A Baby Boomer would say, “You need college.  It’s the next step in a productive life.  How will you make something of yourself [read: win] in life?”  The Millenial says, “Why go to college? I can be productive right now.”

5 Impacts of a Streaming Society

1. Speed is more important than size

Speed is more important than ever. As Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton wrote, the big business eating the small has been replaced by the fast eating the slow.

This doesn’t mean that e-business will always defeat traditional business, but it does challenge traditional business to step into the stream of the digital age.

2. Information is now

Scouring the Internet can uncover mountains of information, trade secrets, best practices, anything. The length of time it takes to discover, to know, to experience, just doesn’t take very long.

Finding information is the easy part.  The hard part is sorting that big data into useful insights and actionable strategy.

3. Surprise is harder

It doesn’t matter what you’re selling me.  There’s so much information out there, I’ve probably seen it before, or at least some part of it. This makes marketing tougher than ever.  This is one of the reasons we keep sliding further and further into sensationalism marketing.

4. Amateurs are professionals

I’ve got a good buddy who’s been a local sports reporter for over twenty years.  A couple of years ago, he was having dinner with friends.  Luke, the 12 year old, looks down at his phone and then says, “Hey, did you hear about our running back? He’s out for the year.  Broken ankle.”  After a moment of shock, the seasoned paid reporter excuses himself, starts making some phone calls, and verifies the story.  You know what? The kid was right.

Application?  No longer is there a big gap between amateurs and professionals.  Insider knowledge is available to everyone. And this applies to almost every profession. I never go to the doctor uninformed. Like most folks I have scoured WebMD and other sites, getting some idea of my ailment ahead of time.

5.  Pause is elusive

I was recently surprised to hear from Dr. Kara Powell, in a recent Q LA talk, that both Millennials and their parents use technology at close to the same level. Eighty-three percentof kids are on social media, while their parents  trail at seventy-seven percent, ,and kids spend eleven  hours a day on social media while their parents are close to nine hours hour a day. This is not quite the big gap I was thinking.

It is up to me to hit the off button. I have to monitor the amount of online connectedness and accessibility to outgoing and incoming media. Dr. Powell went on to mention that often her brother and friends all stack their phones up in the middle of the table when they go out to eat. The first person who reaches for their phone has to pay the tab. Now that could provide a pause.

Sustainable farmers in our world let a plot of land lay silent for a season so the soil can replenish its nutrients. We humans need the same rhythm.  We must remind ourselves there is power and energy in silence.


Is this good or bad?

Baby Boomers might decry the deterioration of quality while Millennials would praise the speed and access of information.  The reality is, however, a streaming society is neither good nor bad.

I like what Tim Elmore says in this article about technology. He writes about the choice between saturation, isolation, and interpretation and suggests that the third option is the best. I’d agree.

Unless you’re cutting yourself off (and based on the fact that you’re reading a blog, you’re probably not cutting yourself off), the streaming society (aka the digital age) is reality.  But don’t just saturate yourself in it.  It is the stream we’re swimming in, and it’s our job to learn to navigate it.

Boomers need to be willing to take a swim.  Millennials need to keep their head above water.  And all of us have to make sure we don’t drown.

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