The Loss of Shared Experience
I have been thinking a lot lately about shared experiences. It stared with the video that I linked to the other day called “An anthropological introduction to YouTube.” The first few minutes of his talk about about the viral spread and near universal familiarity with “Numa Numa” and more specifically, “Numa Numa Guy.” I started thinking about that. Everyone knows who the Numa Numa Guy is. Just make reference to it sometime and people will giggle and know exactly what you are talking about right?
But in his speech Mike Wesch said that the video had been viewed over 600 million times. 600 million doesn’t even cover all of Europe. So, even something that we feel is so common sense, so obviously common actually…isn’t.
Chuck Klosterman, a pop-culture writer who I deeply enjoy talks about this in his essay, “Here’s Johnny.” He talks about growing up with the Tonight Show. He says that even the people who did not watch the Tonight Show knew all about it by the next day. Everyone knew about Johnny Carson. But now, there are 1,000 options (literally) to choose from in any given hour on television. And now in a post-television world we have an infinite amount of things to see and do at any given time online.
As Barry Schwartz points out in his book The Paradox of Choice all these options are making us sadder.
I think that is true. I like to think that so much of happiness depends on community–even a loose one. Years ago in Klosterman’s world there was a conversation every day that everyone could partake in: What Johnny Carson said last night. Today? There’s no one conversation that everyone can have. As far as television goes, you are left out of some conversation because you cannot talk about every show that was on last night impossible. While you get some of Friday’s references to the Office, you might not understand jokes about the show Community. Or you may really love the show Flipping Out but have no idea about Ultimate Fighting. You are left out somewhere.
With that you have a loss of community, you feel left out, with these options you feel alone and out side. Through shared experience you gain something. It is neat to say something about Numa Numa and people get it. It is fun to make a joke about a teacher that you and your friends had. You all feel closer through shared experience.
I think that our last shared experience was 9/11. No matter your stripe or gender, and no matter what channel you were watching, you experienced September 11th. After that you also experienced the surge of love for fellow men. We all felt that for a while. There was something shared after that and though there was fear and questioning, there was community.
So, how do we create greater shared experiences? Where can we find greater shared experience? Where can we become part of community? I think people fill those gaps in all sorts of ways. I have friends that have Office watch parties every week. I enjoyed having watch-parties on Primary nights during the election. I also have friends who have decided to get their shared experience in drugs. Others have gotten it in religion.
We are all searching for our shared experience. I hope that you find yours. I hope that it is something that leads to healthy community.