(TL;DR—this one is kind of an experiment, scroll to the bottom for the punchline.)There’s a scene from the movie Network (1976), where TV news anchor Howard Beale has a series of epic on-air rants about the uncertain state of the world. He urges his viewers: “I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell…”
Then he says the line maybe you’ve heard—“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” He stands up, repeating the line with increasing intensity. The movie cuts to a shot of an apartment complex, and people start opening up their windows. It’s hard not to feel a sense of excitement when they start hollering out their windows, it almost feels like it’s really happening.
But I’m not so interested in Howard Beale, or the “mad as hell” speech itself—some of which is uncomfortably similar to the populism of a certain American political candidate. What’s really striking to me is how our use of broadcast technology has changed since the '70s. All those people hearing the same message from their TVs, all at once. And with the ethical weight of Watergate-era news journalism. It kinda feels like we’ve lost that capability with DVRs, social media, and Internet streaming.
I mean, we also have all this new stuff—so many new (relatively) inexpensive capabilities that let more of us reach many more people. Today’s Internet mega-viewerships surely outnumber 1970s TV, but it’s also interesting how many smaller in-between scales we have now. The Listserve is on that spectrum, somewhere between a receiving a postcard and browsing through trending hashtags.
I’m curious: what’s the present-day equivalent of sharing a common acoustic space, like those apartment-dwellers in Network? Who are we all? Where do we live? What could we achieve if we acted in concert somehow?
Instead of yelling a slogan out of our windows (basically a 1970s retweet), I have a couple other ideas.
- Let’s meet up IRL! We could select a handful of central locations and convene at a common time to build stuff/get weird/stare at each other awkwardly/make art/plan to overthrow the government/etc.
- What about a backchannel? I’ve been working on a new project that I’m eager to try out. It’s a group chat, kind of a pared-down, SMS-based Twitter.
(Insert here: the part where I pitch my project, Small Data. It’s a data cooperative I’m starting up with some friends, a collectively run alternative to cloud-based-advertising-ware.)
Just reply to this email and I'll let you know when I figure out how this meetup(s) thing will go. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try out the backchannel—that part is already working! Send an SMS message to (646) 846-4777 and you’ll be able to pseudonymously chat with other people who sign up.
And for my money, Ned Beatty’s boardroom speech in Network deserves to be every bit as famous as the “mad as hell” rant. Look it up if you haven’t seen it!