Wisdom of Mobs: the feedback loop

It’s that eerily calm pause between Christmas and New Year frenzy.  There’s a number of half-formed posts in my head, but we’ll go with a swirling scarcely-formed one about crowds, audiences and mobs. Desirable audiences and undesirable ones.

Thought one: the way that the internet has caused unknown mass audiences to become active participants.  I’m thinking of the people who complained to the Press Complaints Commission about Jan Moir’s piece on Stephen Gately; and on a lighter note, the people persuaded to download Rage Against the Machine in preference to this year’s reality TV winner.  The public are kicking back, in ways never seen before.   We have become a fine bunch of complainers, in particular.   We’re able to express ourselves easily now, in ways that used to be difficult.

Thought two: TV’s nervous courting of fans while striving to maintain distance and control.   Russell T. Davies’ famous characterisation of diehard Doctor Who fans as ‘ming-mongs’.   On a fresher note, the BBC Three series Being Human has dished up lots of interesting extras for fans of the show; still, if you apply for tickets to a preview screening, the BBC asks you for your age and gender so that it can, errr, shape the studio audience appropriately.  As you move to tick the box for your age, you think: am I the fan this show is actually looking for? Would I be better off presenting as male and twenty-something?

Thought three: danah boyd’s unpleasant experience of presenting against an increasingly hostile Twitter backstream. danah boyd is a greatly-respected internet researcher with a private dread of speaking in public.   She gave her presentation against a large-screen backdrop of live Twitter updates, which the Twittering audience then used to criticise her.  Up front and behind her back, all at the same time.

The internet allows us to feed back our enjoyment, our heartfelt disapproval and even our bitchy private comments. But on the other side, what do we (as receivers of the feedback) do with it?  Is all of it The Truth ™? Do we throw it out because the feedback is not representative (they’re not Daily Mail readers, they’re not true fans)?  Do we congratulate ourselves on the upswing in page views?

The thing about feedback of this kind is that it’s really not a conversation.  It can be a tennis match, or out-and-out war, but there’s typically little conversation.   The danah boyd example shows what happens when feedback is so close and unregulated that it changes the very nature of the act.

Thought four: One of the oddest reactions to the danah boyd was that ‘Live Tweeting is the way of the future, she’d better just get used to it.’   Really?  Really?

I don’t think we yet know what feedback means, or what to do with it.

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