Over at Medium, Matt Locke has a fascinating post on "emerging patterns of digital attention." Taken from a talk he gave last week at London's Digital Shoreditch festival, it explores the relationship between stories and audiences—a relationship that has shifted quite a bit over the years and is shifting again now. Speaking at a Victorian assembly hall in the East End, he challenged some of the assumptions that have grown up around audiences in the past few years. For people (including myself) who like to talk about "those formerly known as the audience," the post is enlightening in surprising ways.
Matt is an expert at detecting and decoding new patterns of audience behavior. Formerly head of multi-platform commissioning at the UK's Channel 4, he now leads a consultancy called Storythings that focuses on developing new types of stories. (Among its projects is Pepys Road, a Web companion to John Lanchester's Capital that I blogged about last year.) Having worked both in broadcasting and in digital, he's been struck by the differing ways the two groups regarded the people they were trying to reach. To broadcasters, they were passive consumers; to the digital crowd, they were fans, users, participants, and—ultimately—data points. In fact, he came to realize,
Audiences are not passive — they make choices about what stories they want to listen to, turn up to listen (which is not a passive act), and fold the emotional impact of good stories back into their lives. Many years ago, audiences were as noisy as Twitter is now, and the call and response between the stage and the crowd was an integral part of the show. It’s only been in the last few 50 years or so that audiences have been quiet. So quiet, that they became almost invisible to the people telling the stories.
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