Between countless annual events (i.e.: awards shows, season premieres, etc), weekly regularities (i.e. episodes of “RHOA” or “Basketball Wives”), and more “spontaneous” occurrences (i.e.: Whitney Houston’s funeral, Oprah’s interview with the Houston family, etc), we’ve reached a point in our culture where, for many of us, the collective consumption of a subject matters more than the subject itself. Basically, we care infinitely more about what’s said on our Twitter timelines about Jim and Chrissy’s relationship on “Love and Hip-Hop” than we do about Jim and Chrissy’s relationship. (You could also make the joke that we care infinitely more about Jim and Chrissy’s relationship than Jim does, but that’s another topic for another day.) I allowed myself to be engulfed by “The Game” because I just wanted to be involved with and on top of a conversation many were having.
As hundreds of millions of us prove each February when we gather to watch a football game where only maybe 10% of the viewers actually care about who wins, this --- the obsession with collective consumption --- isn’t a new concept. What makes what we do now so new is A) We gather on social media, not in person and B) We consume, reflect, comment, and assess in real-time.
The italicized text is from "Collective Consumerism: It Takes a Village to Watch a TV Show" --- a piece I published here a few months ago that looks at how social media has completely changed how we consume things. In the months since, there have been a few equally prominent examples of this phenomenon. I doubt that "Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta" would be anywhere near as popular as it currently is if not for Twitter and the enjoyment people tend to get from the collective real-time public discussion of it.
And, in Gabby Douglas' case, you had
1) the surreal phenomenon of watching an event on tape delay, already knowing the outcome of said event, and still doing the collective real-time commentary thing. And,
2) The equally surreal phenomenon of Gabby Douglas' hair becoming a story in itself. Basically, a news story based off of a few people's social media reactions to a news story.
Last night, though, I witnessed something that, in the three years that I've had a Twitter account, I've never seen before. During Michelle Obama's captivating speech at the Democratic National Convention, I checked my timeline to see how people were reacting to it. Predictably, the responses ranged from fawning ("Wow. Michelle Rocks!") to extremely fawning ("Can the Obamas adopt me?").
What I didn't predict, though, was how at that moment, every single response on my timeline was Michelle Obama-related. Every. single. one. No miscellaneous tweets about foamposites or Stevie J. No mundane tweets about going to work or what someone had just eaten. For an approximately five minute span, nothing else mattered in my corner of the Twitter universe.
Now, I realize this point I'm making has many easily disputable holes. I follow a little over 1,000 people, a very small snapshot of the tens of millions of people on Twitter. I'm sure the First Lady didn't dominate everybody's timelines. Also, as buggy as Twitter tends to be, there's a very likely chance that there were in fact some people on my timeline tweeting at that moment about something other than Michelle Obama's speech, and I just didn't see it.
Still, even after controlling for context, the feat the First Lady pulled off last night remains extremely impressive, and I wasn't alone in noticing this fact. According to a story from Yahoo News, Twitter's official blog noted that Michelle Obama's speech generated 28,003 tweets per minute, nearly double those created during Mitt Romney's acceptance speech at the RNC last Thursday. At the time, that was the most tweeted news event of 2012.
At this point, I can only wonder if her husband will be able to do the same thing Thursday night. If recent history is any indication, he probably will.