Apr 26, 2022 • 5M

Will Smith, Cultural Synchrony & A Climate Crisis

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Research and explanations of overlooked trends for the culturally curious. Seen in WSJ.
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Let’s zoom out to set the stage.

We’re heading full speed down the Long Tail of the Creator Economy. The cumulative 99% of Creators are competing with the traditional 1% (institutions). The niche is flourishing — winning even — and we’re beginning to finally find representation in our products and titles. There’s something for each of our tastes. Communities too. It’s never been easier to find your tribe. And with that, tribalism.

Meanwhile, each of our feeds have become hyper-personalized — one-in-a-trillion. We’re evidently in control of our view of culture. And with that, bespoke facts and realities.

But when it comes to belonging, what the Long Tail, A.I. and mass-customization offers on a personal scale, it erases in the macro sense.

As we spend more time in segmented bubbles and chambers, we stray farther away from the crowd. Specificity and personalization are invaluable, but not everything.

There remains a craving for the collective experience.

In an age where devastation is omnipresent, the headlines that bring us together are more grim than not. In 2022, it’s the negative that’s become our global rallying call: “Eat the rich. The world’s on fire. War?!” Just pick your crisis.

Meanwhile... Long gone are the days of dropping what you’re doing to watch that show at 9PM EST.

Today, there’s a scarcity of excuses to come back together to chat about that one thing again.

...That is until we get a slap.

The Will Smith event is representative of many of our cultural narratives today: the continued downfall of the unhinged elite, free speech and accountability, and the evolving (or devolving) norms of masculinity.

The slap is also a story about our lack of opportunities to get back on the same page. The yearn to sync up. The desire to share a moment. The extinct joy of watching and discussing something together in real-time again... and more specifically, something non-existential.

In a fragmented, asynchronous culture, Smith synced us back up again — even just for a moment, and even for the most ludicrous reason. There was no debate: that was fucking nuts. The unanimity was refreshing, giving us flashbacks to the moments of The Dress, Yanny vs. Laurel, and the Balloon Boy hoax, for those that recall that one. These weren’t just memes, but real-time internet milestones. Events.

Nostalgic for the early days of social media, Smith gave us back live-tweeting if only just for an hour.

As loneliness becomes another crisis (3-in-5 U.S. adults considered themselves lonely) it’s clear that accommodation and personalization, again, was not everything. On-demand replaced appointment viewing to solve for convenience, but at what cost? Similarly, recommendation algorithms solved for irrelevance. But again, at what cost?

Cultural Synchrony—being here, now, together—offers us cohesion and concurrence. Even in light of opposing viewpoints during said moment, at least we’re together once again.

While our media and online experiences have become so fractured and so isolating, there’s an unspoken longing for homecoming. With this, there’s no doubt that we’ll see a near-future of campaigns and products centered around digital reunions: Opportunities via apps, live broadcasts, meditations, classes, content programing, radio, and games, that can offer us that rare huddle, fixed to a certain point in time. Here, now, together.

Deal or No Deal → HQ Trivia → Wordle → ?

In a dark turn, looking forward, the only guaranteed moments of Cultural Synchrony — outside of the holidays — are natural disasters. Increases in deadly hurricanes every late summer. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Floods. It’s Mother Nature’s havoc that will unfortunately, consistently unify.

On the other hand though, it’s also moments of shared positive natural awe that can be our reunions. Eclipses, meteor showers, snapshots of black holes, and whatever the James Webb Space Telescope captures.

Nature syncs us. For better or worse.

But let’s not rely upon an earthquake or celeb misconduct to bring us together in real-time. We don’t have to wait for the stars to align either.

There are other opportunities for mass communal experiences waiting to be created.

And we sure are waiting.