In 1967, Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the term, “the medium is the message,” to describe how the way that the media’s message is delivered to us (such as through the medium of television) shapes how we think about the information. One of my favorite activities reflects this thinking process. When taking breaks from working during the day, I enjoy listening to David’s song, “Somebody Out There,” at a high volume on our large stereo system. The music’s richness that physically surrounds me helps me reflect on life experiences invoked by the tender lyrics.
McLuhan died in 1980, and thus did not live through the computer age, but he left behind a partial manuscript that described the computer as a new medium that would impact people’s thinking and culture as a while. Focusing on the computer’s general impact on society is beyond the scope here, but we have certainly seen computer technology’s impact on the relationship between musicians and their fans.
When I avidly followed the pop band Air Supply in the early 1980s, I never imagined the user-friendly communications technology that would help me stay in touch with David’s daily activities. In fact, many music labels now require artists to stay connected with fans through regular voice messages, texts, vlogs and blogs, and more recently, Twitter. The artists’ electronic communication not only helps maintain positive relationships with their fans, but is also a cost-saving and convenient extension of the labels’ marketing efforts.
David is no exception. I learned last week that all American Idol contestants have MySpace pages set up by the show’s publicity staff. We initially followed David regularly through his blogs and vlogs that he regularly posted to his MySpace page during last summer’s tour.
As a child of Generation Y, David probably communicates with his fans and closest friends in the same ways. David comes from a generation of teens who are truly wired to the Internet. A May 25 report from the New York Times reported that American teens sent more than 80 text messages a day (or 2,272 messages a month) in 2008. The same article reported that some teens even go to bed with their phones to avoid feeling left out of their social circles.
When I enter my college classroom for a class session, my students who are David’s age are usually frantically texting on the phones, surfing the Internet on their laptops, or talking about their most recent fights with someone over Facebook. I now have policies prohibiting students from texting and using laptops after class has formally started because students could not stop using the devices during lectures.
During the American Idol tour stop in Cleveland last September, we saw David talking with one of his hometown friends on his cell phone while signing autographs with his free hand. He told fans waiting by the buses that he was talking to a hometown friend about his or her dating dramas. Unlike myself, who did not have a personal computer until 1990, neither David nor my students have known their personal relationships not to be shaped by computer and internet technology.
As David’s fans, we enjoy following his activities through his diligent blogs, vlobs, texts, voicemails, and most recently, Twitter. Coming back to McLuhan’s point out how the channel of communication shapes how we think about the information, I argue that David’s use of Twitter has especially changed how I perceive him. His Tweets give me a more informal and humanizing glimpse of his everyday life. Through his Tweets, I’ve learned that he recently almost put body lotion in his hair, hand washed one of his shirts at 2 a.m. because he couldn’t go to sleep, and was recently approached in the airport by a woman who said he looked an awful lot like David Archuleta.
This may sound strange, but the Tweets help me feel closer to David in several ways. The messages show me how hectic, demanding, exciting, and sometimes hilarious his promotional and recording schedules are. His schedule reminds me of the complex wonder and sometimes messiness of my own life.
Secondly, the Tweets provide a new avenue of communication between David and his fans. In a May 25 Newsweek interview, David said of Twitter: “It’s addicting.” During Friday’s concert in New York, “>David sent a Twitter message to fans about how the performance was going while on stage! His message: On stage in New York talking about lettuce with the fans haha. About to sing the last song now! Gotta go back to the performance now! I felt like I was present at his concert.
Last Tuesday, David personally responded to my question via Twitter about how he felt about an upcoming concert in Alaska. “I’m really excited! Never thought I’d get to perform in Alaska! Haha,” he told me.
Although it is delightful to communicate with David in these new ways, the use of this technology between musicians and fans raises important additional issues. The Twitters help me feel closer to David, and he clearly enjoys responding to fans’ Tweets, but I was struck by a comment David made recently in the Newsweek article mentioned above when asked about his relationship to fans. “I don’t think [fans] realize it’s a one-way thing going on. You’re not getting to know them,” he said.
After reflecting on his statement, I realized it was true. Sometimes I feel like I know David because of his communication, but I am a friendly stranger to him. No wonder Jordin Sparks said in the same Newsweek article: “[Fans] all feel like they know us, because they grew with us on the show. You have to be careful with what you say or how far you let people in.”
Additionally, I am concerned about some possible consequences when technology gives fans perceived feelings of access and familiarity with musicians. These feelings can take a negative turn in a troubled fan’s hands. David’s fans witnessed a potentially harmful situation several weeks ago, when a fan’s Twitter messages to David took on an increasingly delusional, demanding, and angry tone. We witnessed a second situation several days ago when someone apparently hacked into Jeff’s Twitter account and sent fake messages.
A separate situation this week reflected the results when these activities go entirely too far. This past week, an Australian woman was sentenced to 26 months in jail for cyber-stalking former American Idol runner-up Diana DeGarmo. She had hacked into DeGarmo’s MySpace account and intercepted e-mails between DeGarmo and her family.
David’s security helps protect him from such harmful situations. However, the impact of technology on music fan communities is undoubtedly powerful and complex. Therefore, I would like to hear your thoughts on these issues: How have vlogs, Twitter, and other channels of communication changed how you perceive David? How has technology changed your experience as a fan? What do you think are pros and cons of musicians’ use of technologies to keep in touch with their fans?
I look forward to our discussion on these issues! Please feel free to offer discussion on points not covered by the questions I listed above.