I recently did an interview on ESPN2’s Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable. Dan is a Miami-based sportswriter and radio host, and I’ve had a great time doing his radio show in the past. So, when he asked me to join him as the first non-sports guest on the new, entertaining TV show he does with his father, I was happy to oblige. And, indeed it was great fun, and, as you can see here, it was a very amusing and entertaining seven minutes or so.
We taped the segment a few days ahead of time, and I was flying across the country when it aired on January 24. That evening, I went to YouTube to watch the interview, and I noticed that a couple of hundred people had also watched it. Among the things they saw was a story I had told at least fifty times before about having margaritas at a Mexican restaurant across from NBC when Wheel of Fortune was a daytime show about 30 years ago. We had very long dinner breaks, and I joked that, by the time we got back to work, we had trouble recognizing the alphabet.
In the morning, I decided to send the link to the YouTube clip to some friends so they could see the piece, when I noticed that a couple of hundred views had turned into many thousands. What I didn’t realize at that moment was that I had fallen into the Social Media Vortex. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it goes like this: a couple of websites link to the clip with headlines like “Pat Sajak Drunk While Doing Wheel,” and the number of “hits”—or views—spikes to levels that gain the attention of those who monitor such things, such as all the wacky morning radio crews around the country.
They all talk about it, and then you start “trending” on Twitter, further driving the hits into the hundreds of thousands, thereby gaining the attention of the so-called mainstream press. Before it subsides almost as quickly as it began, you find the “story” on ABC, CBS, CNN, and even featured on the NBC Nightly News. That’s right. A major national news organization decided that two guys laughing about having margaritas three decades ago was one of the items that should be featured on its nightly roundup of the top stories in the nation and the world.
The whole experience drove home a great irony of the Internet Age: while we are now provided with an almost infinite variety of voices and perspectives, we are also herded toward the same stories. Nearly all media outlets are now drinking from the same trough. Somewhere in a small town in the Midwest, a little girl’s parents will record her as she pedals her tricycle over a cat’s tail, causing the cat to jump up on her head. The video will become a YouTube sensation, and the little girl and her cat will be flown to New York to appear on Good Morning, America and The Late Show with David Letterman. If she’s lucky, she might even make the NBC Nightly News.
Welcome to the future. It’s a very weird place.