Colbert’s live roast at the White House Press Conference was apparently among the most talked about events in the planet’s history. Could it be that it’s form, as video, played some role in this? I’ve been wondering whether or not the phenomenon of short-form video, of movies, clips, even TV on cel phones, of social networking by images and movies, might have some substantial differences with the “conversational” virality so oft noted about the blogosphere.
The thing is that a video is either sent as an attachment, or is linked to, and loses nothing through either. It is not an utterance, not a statement, declaration, promise, or any other thing linguistic. It’s not even a sign or symbol; it doesn’t communicate anything. Indeed, it’s the subject of communication, a topic, reference, It’s a token… To share a video with friends then, if it’s a social act, must be social for other reasons. Turning to biological metaphors (viruses and memes) doesn’t explain a thing, and doesn’t help us understand the social mechanism at work. Which there must be one.
The simplest explanation would be that a message sent about, or with, or pointing to video, can either be accepted or rejected. Either of those is communication to the sender. And so on to the next person. In this case then it’s the messaging medium still that makes it social.
Another explanation, is that there is cultural in-group construction achieved by the circulation of cultural references (and if this is true, then Youtube’s lack of programming oversight is its greatest asset!).
There are more engines of communication I’d like to explore: gifting, debt, obligations, promises, structured and formal cultures, exchange economies…
Reading Niklas Luhmann in aforementioned park today, came upon this:
“The more ‘that which is perceived,’ say, television, plays a role in this, the more communication is based on implicit knowledge which cannot even be communicated. Whereas the Enlightenment assumed that commonality consists in a communicable interest based on reason, and whereas transcendental theory even implied that self-reference could be extrapolated as a general a priori of subjectivity, communication today seems to be borne by a visual knowledge no longer capable of being controlled subjectively, whose commonality owes itself to the mass media and is carried along by their fashions.” (82, Reality of the Mass Media