Just to warn you up front, I'm not sure if this post will make much sense, I'm trying to make sense of a few thoughts kicking around in my head.
The catalyst for my half baked thoughts was this keynote presentation given by Deborah Schultz at the recent Web 2.0 conference in New York. In her talk, grandly titled "The Death of the Grand Gesture", she eloquently explained how social media is all about "whispers" and "conversations" (which you've obviously heard before), and how quiet, personal gestures are replacing "Grand Gestures".
A Grand Gesture is giving someone a huge bouquet of flowers on Valentine's Day, even though you've been a lousy spouse/lover/whatever all year. The metaphor works well for marketing. The Grand Gesture is the Super Bowl advertisement, whereas all the small, quiet gestures (the sum of all the small interactions, experiences and all that) are really what we're starting to pay more attention to. The Grand Gesture is the annual big advertising campaign, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Again, nothing really new for those of us documenting the evolution of social technologies and the impact to marketing and communications. In a word, unlike Grand Gestures, the social web is personal, real time (hello, Twitter) and small scale.
But Deborah stopped short of declaring the Grand Gesture dead, and this is where it gets interesting. Because while it's easy to get caught up in the world of social media and get excited seeing top down models of communications erode, and be replaced by networked, personal and many to many models (and all of those "conversations" and whispers), I still think that work needs to be done to construct a model of communication that may not include Grand Gestures. What will that look like? Whispers and small gestures work, or work differently, when they are contrasted with Grand Gestures. One type of gesture provides context and meaning for the other type of gesture. How are we going to balance the two?
Here is a great example she provides to illustrate the point, and I love it.
When I first watched this, the first thing that came to mind was DJ'ing and programming music. One of the hardest things about programming music for a crowd of people is to figure this part of it out, the pacing of the Grand Gestures and how they contrast and tell the story side by side with small gestures. That's the game right there (tension, release, basic building blocks of storytelling).
The most boring thing in the world is to listen to a DJ (or any other form of storytelling, for that matter) that is only made up of either small gestures or Grand Gestures. And in fact, you'd be surprised at how many DJs ignore one or the other of the gestures. It's either all hits (you may remember this years ago with all the drumrolls in club music), or all slow burn build up (in which case everyone falls asleep, not good). The same can probably said about comedians or musicians. In every case, it just leads to boredom.
Thinking about media, social media and the decline of Grand Gestures in this way, it occurred to me that as the small gestures multiply, and the Grand Gestures wane (either by sheer media fragmentation that will render it harder to achieve, or by people just ignoring Grand Gestures all together), what will the communications model look like? What, if anything, will replace the Grand Gestures?
Just a few months ago, Ed wrote about "attention spikes", which is one way of characterizing the effort to produce episodic events, or statements, that can serve as punctuations to the continuum of conversations (examples include the Bravia stuff, Gorilla). I'd argue that having these spikes at all is just as important to how "creative" they are. One of the main things that attention spikes accomplish is to provide that Grand Gesture in the first place. In other words, the sheer scale of it is what counts, even more than the creative. Which probably be used as a starting point to properly account for the real interplay between "media" and "creative" in the first place, but that's another post for another time.