Dilution of Shared Culture: Is Crowdsourcing the Solution?

As a culture, we have become increasingly more fragmented. We can look at Television, Film, Music, and even the News to see this happening. In a time where a shared experience has become seeing more than one of your friends post the same article on Facebook, is it possible that Crowdsourcing projects such as the Library of Congress entering Flickr are attempts by our society to get back some of that shared experience?

If you look at Television, you can see the experience change from a few channels, where everyone who owned a TV would have seen most of the same shows begin to slowly shift over decades away from that shared entertainment. Cable came, and soon viewers had a few dozens of channels to choose from, but still remained united by staple viewing events like TGIF and Saturday Morning Cartoons. After satellite entered the mainstream, people had multiple feeds of channels, small niche channels, and international channels available to them. They no longer had to watch Boy Meets World simply because it was the only thing on. Shortly after that, DVR made it possible for people to record shows at the same quality that they were originally broadcast in, allowing yet a further step away from shared experience. Now, streaming sources such as Netflix and Hulu allow for a viewer to watch shows years after they have ended their run. I personally only have Netflix and Hulu+, and so cannot really share the live experience of television with my peers anymore. It has changed from a completely shared experience to one that is mostly personal. I’m only on season 4 of Walking Dead, and so cannot talk to people that have AMC about the show, because they are a season ahead of me.

Movies have had a different path but with many of the same results. Movies went to being a very short term event in a town, where you might only have a few showings before that particular movie moved on to the next theater, so everyone would watch it collectively in one town in just a few showings.  Soon more copies of movies allowed for longer stays in each town, spreading that shared experience out over weeks instead of days. When VHS arrived, people no longer had to go to the theater at all. They could buy or rent a movie on their own time, and watch it alone, in their own home. Today, Netflix gives you access to a huge database of online movies, some you may have never heard of yet. Additionally, YouTube allows you to watch clips from nearly every movie, which could help you understand an “in joke” from a movie without ever having to sit through it.

I don't need to watch it.
I don’t need to watch it.

Music has probably taken the biggest hit. When you had a radio, you could only listen to a song when the station played it, and you shared that playlist with everyone in your area. Records allowed you to choose only certain artists to listen to. Cassettes brought portability, and the Walkman. Your media now existed only for your ears only. CDs introduced the ability to listen to specific tracks, over and over with no effort. Music’s final steps were to move online, where iTunes allowed you to only buy single songs, instead of paying for a whole album. Pandora, Songza, and other “music curators” give us unlimited streaming music designed to our unique tastes. If you don’t like a song, simply hit the “thumbs down” and you’ll never hear it again. Finally YouTube once again, allows us to search for nearly any song in existence and listen to it for free. It has also brought to our lives many artists who were discovered on YouTube. Justin Bieber, Lana Del Ray, and Psy are just a few artist who owe their fame to YouTube.

Thanks, Internet.

Even the news has stopped being a shared cultural experience. We’ve come through local newspapers, radio, and television reporting on national events to several stations, all of which are accused of some bias or another. Online, you can get only the news you want, if you choose to get any at all. You can get your news from the networks’ sites, or sites of varying integrity and talent. Gawker, Huffington Post, 5 Things You Should At Least Pretend To Know Today, and the Onion are all sources citizens get their news from online.


So my argument is this: Is crowdsourcing an attempt to get back this shared experience? Is Mr Lick This trying desperately to prove he is a part of the conversation, like that friend in the 90s who could simply say, “Rachel’s hot. I’d do her,” While the rest of you were discussing The One Where Rachel Finds Out?


One thought on “Dilution of Shared Culture: Is Crowdsourcing the Solution?

  1. I like this idea of the shared experience. It seems to me that these technologies are used to support old patterns of human interaction. However, these technologies are expensive and rely on expensive infrastructure. This would limit drastically who is a part of the conversation or shared experience. I went through all the institutions that are a part of the FlickR Commons and they all come from North America, Western and Northern Europe, will except Iceland. This concerns me because then this shared experience and conversation is only involving the Western world. Where are the other perspectives? I’ve noticed throughout this course that the institution involved in digital history in general are for the most part in the West. Questions of digitization, crowdsourcing, etc. seem to be only being answered by Western thinkers, but maybe this is just my limited experience of the field.


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