The Millennial Media Landscape

Today, the media landscape has two very prominent but overlooked characteristics. First, it is all about end consumers (and consumer behavior). Second, it is based on a belief in something referred to as the “network effect”. These two characteristics are strongly intertwined, and together they act as a sort of foundation upon which the landscape is built. Therefore, if these codependent characteristics were to be questioned (if it became clear, for example, that they are actually myths, hoaxes or anything other than undeniable facts), then the media landscape we currently have might collapse and crumble into little itty bitty pieces of worthless rubble.

I call this the Millennial Media Landscape because the so-called “millennials” — a generation that has grown up with “the Internet” — were sold this story lock, stock and barrel. Let me start with the story about the so-called “network effect”, because this is a more specific and therefore more simple story.

The basic idea of the network effect is that you get more utility (roughly, utility = “happiness”) out of something whenever that something becomes more widespread. The classic example is a telephone network: If more people are “online” (on the telephone network), then you can call more people and more people can call you (both of which are assumed to increase the utility gained from the telephone system).

Consumers, consumer behavior and consumption in general is a far more complex animal. One way to look at it is to view people as being relatively uneducated and standing in front of vending machines to get whatever they want (and are unable to do on their own). The vending machines are provided by various networks of industry — and their goods and services can be acquired by simply dropping a coin into a slot (which is assumed to be something uneducated consumers are able to do). It used to be that consumers were also assumed to be capable of making choices, but that is so “last millennium” now. Today, computer networks are being configured with all sorts of sensors that will make it possible for computers to detect and make choices for the consumer (therefore eliminating the need for consumers to be able to think and/or make choices for themselves).

When you think of a consumer, you may be accustomed to thinking of them as a human being with eyes, ears, a mouth, a face, hands, arms and legs and the whole 9 yards. That is also old-fashioned. In the new millennium, you should think of consumers as resembling slugs — no discernable eyes, ears, face or whatever… but nonetheless able to move through time and space… and most importantly: able to consume. The role of network providers is very focused on enabling and facilitating consumption.

Now let me try to explain how these two threads have been intertwined to act as a foundation for the Millennial Media Landscape. I don’t mean or intend to try to explain how it happened historically — I don’t know that one. All I want to describe is the how these two functionally work together in concert today.

Sometimes — quite often even — millennials will say something like “do you have Facebook?” or “do you have Snapchat?” What they mean when they ask such questions is: Have you set up an account on those websites to represent you — in other words, to present yourself to those networks, to “act” on your own behalf?

Rarely do people post anything on such websites — they primarily press “like” buttons, “favorite” buttons, they “add”, “friend”, “invite”, etc. (if they do anything at all). Quite often, they simply walk into some location with their phones in their pockets and then the phone “checks in” on their behalf. Thereby they broadcast to the world what a swell consumer they are.

Since they rarely express themselves directly, they do not have great expectations of such websites. They are perfectly fine and happy if they simply have an account that lists their name and perhaps a profile photo. If they have a “slug” (a unique link / URL which identifies them on that website), everything is hunky dory.

In this scheme of things, consumers come to expect that a multitude of websites exist — but not too many. It is a royal pain to have to “sign up” for accounts over and over again, and usually checking in everywhere is really also not all that exciting. How many times can you bear to read that someone has just consumed something?

As I expect you might have realized, the Millennial Media Landscape is quite simple — it more or less simply documents the activity of people according to one basic metric: consumption. “Liking” (for example — or for that matter the so-called “checkin”) is an activity of consuming something. Even a relationship status (or a change in a relationship status) can be seen in this way: Being in a relationship means one person is important to another person (usually in an exclusive way).

Perhaps the reason why the Millennial Media Landscape is so focused on consumption is because the people who ultimately pay the bills — the so-called “advertisers” are keen to have people consume more of their products and services. That seems to make sense to me.

I just think there must be more to life, there must be more to social activity, there must be something more meaningful than mere consumption. What do you think?

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