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Taste-Making in the Social Media Age

Posted in New Media and Tech, and Podcasting

I’m not here to offer advice to marketers about how to alter the tastes an culture consumption habits of social media users. That sort of thing makes my skin crawl, frankly. I have noticed, though, as I talk to fewer people IRL on a daily basis, and listen to less broadcast media, that my opinions, and certainly the opinions of people who consume way more media than I do, are influenced much more by the online world than they would have been even a few short years ago.

As a non-regular TV watcher who reads a lot of tech blogs, I know that many people consume shows via Hulu, Netflix, and their DVRs. Given a lack of channel-surfing or exposure to a network’s show promos, how does one decide what TV shows to check out and follow? Same goes for music. If you’re not geeky enough about your tunes to read music blogs, and you don’t spend your nights at live shows, how do you come across and choose the stuff you want to download from Amazon, iTunes, and “other” sources?

The answer, as SM aficionados will gleefully tell you, is the kind of online word of mouth that social networks facilitate.

I guess.

What has me wondering about this theory is the multiple circles I tend to inhabit. Many of my online friends are self-described “geeks” and they talk about series like “Heroes” and “Big Bang Theory”. Based on their descriptions of these shows, I’ve never been inspired to check them out. The ironic hipsters of my acquaintance, many of whom are gay or “gay adjacent” (I so love that phrase) find joy in campy reality shows like “America’s Next Top Model” or “Real Housewives…” Nothing will ever convince me to watch. Fashion and shallow women are two of my least favorite things. And finally, my “NPR intellectual” friends, and the blogs and periodicals I favor, can’t stop talking about shows like “The Wire” and “Mad Men”. Well finally! I did check out the latter, mostly because of the “period” gimmick of setting the show in the past. And because “Mad Men” works pretty well as a soap opera, and partly as history adjacent, I kept watching.

It’s striking to me how little overlap there is. My geek/podcast friends have never mentioned “Mad Men”. And I don’t think Slate has any ongoing discussion threads about “Heroes”. It’s almost as if you need to choose, just as you might feel compelled to choose a political party, a clique in high school, or a neighborhood in which to live. The negative spin on that would be Balkanization. The positive might be “the long tail”. To me, it’s a mite weird.

So why, aside from a conscious intent to severely limit my TV consumption, do the passions of my friends leave me utterly cold? Am I more resistant than most people to peer influence? Am I so invested in my iconoclast self-image that I won’t succumb? The truth could be in there somewhere, but I also wonder if I simply require more and better evidence than word of mouth provides. I guess I don’t find links or two-minute YouTube clips very compelling. “What’s in it for me?” I wonder, when presented with an opportunity to engage myself with a continuing series? And the answer tends to come back that what’s in it for me would not extend very far beyond shared experience. And I can get that any day of the week by simply loading up Twitter, turning on a podcast, or god forbid, walking outside my house.

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