Breaking news, fresh gossip, tiny scandals, trumped-up crises-every day we are distracted by a culture that rings our doorbell and runs away. Stories spread wildly and die out in mere days, to be replaced by still more stories with ever shorter life spans. Through the Internet the news cycle has been set spinning even faster now that all of us can join the fray: anyone on a computer can spread a story almost as easily as The New York Times, CNN, or People. As media amateurs grow their audience, they learn to think like the pros, using the abundant data that the Internet offers-hit counters, most e-mailed lists, YouTube views, download tallies-to hone their own experiments in viral blowup.
And Then There's This is Bill Wasik's journey along the unexplored frontier of the twenty-first century's rambunctious new-media culture. He covers this world in part as a journalist, following "buzz bands" as they rise and fall in the online music scene, visiting with viral marketers and political trendsetters and online provocateurs. But he also wades in as a participant, conducting his own hilarious experiments: an e-mail fad (which turned into the worldwide "flash mob" sensation), a viral website in a month-long competition, a fake blog that attempts to create "antibuzz," and more. He doesn't always get the results he expected, but he tries to make sense of his data by surveying what real social science experiments have taught us about the effects of distraction, stimulation, and crowd behavior on the human mind. Part report, part memoir, part manifesto, part deconstruction of a decade, And Then There's This captures better than any other book the way technology is changing our culture.
Focusing on the phenomenon of viral culture, Wasik, senior editor at Harper's magazine, reflects on his own Internet experiments, beginning with the creation of "flash mobs," a pop phenomena of 2003. Wasik asked hundreds of people to gather in public for no apparent reason, and news of these gatherings that mysteriously coalesced and disbanded spread rabidly through blogs and e-mails. The groups were created by Wasik to explore the growing world of "memes," ideas that spread through culture, "colonizing all as widely and ruthlessly as [they] can." He examines other Internet sensations-the meteoric rise and fall of pop bands, guerrilla marketing and political blogs-relating how such "nanostories" contribute to growing cynicism in a media-saturated and consumer-savvy public. He draws on the work of Steven Levitt and Malcolm Gladwell to demonstrate that the desire to interpret the analysis of culture has outstripped the desire to understand the culture itself. Wasik's examples are culled from the trivial-e.g., ephemeral indie bands and forgettable ad campaigns-but his deft style and provocative insights keep the book significant. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.