Do you realize that Survivor, the television show that lit the fuse of the reality explosion, is older than You Tube and Facebook? By my count, there are 42 reality shows returning to the network or cable channel near you this summer plus an additional 38 new reality shows set to make their debut. This makes for a grand total of 80 reality shows airing this summer alone.
Some of the shows are already established hits (Jersey Shore, So You Think You Can Dance, The Bachelorette), but others will literally have to fight or eat their way to rise above the glut of programming. Here are just a few of the crazy new shows to air: Mall Cops: Mall of America, Half Pint Brawlers, Food Buddha, Cupcake Wars, and Battle of the Wedding Planners. I’m not making this stuff up.
An objective examination (is that possible?) of titles provide a clue to the continuing success of these shows. No matter how absurd, all contain an aspect of reality. Been to a mall lately, we do need mall cops; the small man complex—big problem; food—we all eat it; the cupcake fad; and who hasn’t experienced a disastrous wedding that some irrational planner thought was perfection. No matter how absurd, we somehow relate to these shows in some skewed way. (On a sidenote: Our local and national television news are becoming increasingly irrelevant for the opposite reason. The sensationalism and bias of current media exude a sense of unreality and surreal detachment.)
Donald Brown in his seminal study of the Human Universals provides an extraordinary benchmark for quantifying reality. “Human universals” is a term used to refer to behavioral traits common to all normal humans. Brown believes there is an overemphasis in the world on differences among human populations. While these differences are important to understand and should be appreciated for what they have to offer, he feels that more attention must be paid to the great many things that make all humans similar in order to foster a true sense of unity and oneness in the world.
An examination of this list of universals proves conclusively that Twitter (social networking) is VERY real. In fact, Twitter provides tools to more effectively realize the essence of humanity and her universals. Let’s take a quick look at just a few of the “Twitter” universals.
Socialization — My friend Spence has well documented our neighborhood camaraderie. We refer to our community as the “campus.” Starbucks is the campus coffee shop. Merridees is the student center. Landmark Booksellers is the library. You get the idea. We have weekly campus gatherings, impromptu parties, drinks and wine tastings. We share music, books, grocery items, laughter and tears. In short, we are a society. And this socialization was created by Twitter. I met all of these people first on social networks, which in turn brought us together in real life.
Cooperative Labor — One of my neighbors placed a plea for help on Facebook and Twitter for a neighbor whose house was devastated by our recent flood. When I responded to help, most of the neighborhood was already there tearing out insulation and drywall. My pastor Pete Wilson and his team mobilized thousands of people in Nashville to assist in the flood relief effort primarily through Twitter. Twitterers responding to a tweet for help were able to get a doctor to a woman about to deliver a baby who was stranded in her house surrounded by flood waters. In fact, not only an OB-GYN responded, but also another internist and several nurses.
World View — It doesn’t take long when following someone on a social network to obtain a fairly accurate grasp of their world view. For example, I must admit a guilty pleasure. I find it enjoyable, not to mention entertaining, to look at current photos of high school classmates on Facebook, especially ones that have not quit partying hard since high school, and thinking how much older they look. It is amazing to see how those who have chosen hedonism for their world view have paid such a dramatic physical toll. But, it is also distressing to see the ones who continue to act out their high-school days for the world to see.
On the flip-side of the coin, Twitter makes it easy to identify people that share your particular world view. What initiated and subsequently bonded the “campus” relationships were the tribal similarities, especially our shared philosophy of life.
Leadership — Just as leaders emerge in real life, so do they on Twitter. As in the real world, social networks provide delineation between alpha and collaborative leaders, between leaders and managers, and between creative and static leaders. An intriguing doctoral thesis could be written about the emergence and power of leaders in the various social networks.
Language — Twitter would not be possible were it not for a real system of words for communication. I continue to marvel at the creative ways 140 characters can be combined to create what is, essentially, a new form of language. The recent practice of creative utilizations of hashtags is only one example. If not for social networks, most of you “real people” would not be reading this post.
The reality show unfolds twenty-four hours a day about real life on social networks like Twitter and Facebook—raising money for children that need surgery, buying T-shirts for flood relief, prayer requests, the heroic drama of the plane that landed safely in the Hudson, the Presidential campaign, and the BP environmental travesty.
What has made Twitter and social networking real for you?