What does it take for a media tool to go mainstream? Lately, I have taken to referring to Facebook as “mainstream” and Twitter as “not there yet.” Why? Who am I to declare what’s “mainstream” and what’s not? Nobody, that’s who, so here I go:
A few months ago, high school classmates started finding me on Facebook. I still haven’t figured out what feature or promotion unleashed this beast of personal history, but so be it. I have reconnected with people, and introduced them to what I do on social media. If you ever see my Facebook/Twitter stream, you know that’s a lot for newbies to handle. Bravo to these folks for sticking around. More to the point, they are people from all walks of life- neighbors and fellow school parents are there too- and to me, that’s mainstream.
Twitter gets bigger and bigger every time I turn around; celebrities are on it (including my favorite actors from “Heroes”), broadcast and print journalists are there; even members of Congress are there, doing it badly. Mainstream media has even given Twitter a number of goings-over, including a piece on “Nightline” and a hilarious bit recently on “The Daily Show.”
In a true sign of the times though, the Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts comes out in true grumpy old man style, writing an article very similar to a blog post I wrote when I first got in Twitter, claiming not to understand it, and that he’ll never Twitter, dagnabit. The Heavy Twitter users reading this will scoff at Mr. Pitts, but the only time Twitter comes up in my non-social media circles is to say “I heard of it but I don’t get it.” All these people, even Mr. Pitts, will be Twittering once Twitter is mainstream. Which it is not. Yet.
The neighborhood kids like to fool around with video cameras and put their silly- and sometimes funny- results on YouTube. That’s mainstream; what more proof do you need?
Older Media Technologies
Many media were dependent on technology to hold up to the standards of every day use; broadband Internet access and inexpensive video cameras, for example, made the popularity of YouTube possible, when that would not have happened in 1999. FCC and other government regulations were frequently a stumbling block to mass acceptance of media tools as well, and the cell phone is a prime example. Once the technology was available, it took decades for the FCC to approve a system that would adequately handle cell traffic in the US. Even then, affordability remained a factor into the late 1990s (dirty secret- I finally got my first cell phone in 2005. Don’t tell anyone, it’ll destroy my technology street cred).
Television is a prime example of not only needing frequency bandwidth, but the content to spark demand. Fortunately, in the US we had the networks ramming popular entertainment down our throats and begging us to buy sets, starting with the exodus of radio stars like Jack Benny to television in the 1940s and 50s, and the loud proclamation that “Gilligan’s Island and “The Rat Patrol” were presented “In Color!” in the 1960s. Sometimes it takes The Man to tell us when it’s okay to embrace a communications medium.
Will Twitter go mainstream? I think it will. When it is, I’ll know. Trust me. In the meantime I have to decide if I like the idea of my neighbors Twittering incessantly. I’m doing my part to prime the pump–they all see my Twitter stream in Facebook. That’s just me, doing my part to bring Twitter to the mainstream. John Stewart, want to shake your fist at me?