2016 will be the year (more) lines disappear.
The line between content consumer and producer will blur as Snapchat gets better at taking individual stories and turning them into collective stories. The line between politician and entertainer will blur because Trump. The line between a flash-in-the-pan social media celebrity and sociopath will blur as terrorists and mass shooters use social media to tell their own stories in real time. The line between e-card humor site and news aggregation will blur as someecards.com looks for more reach by bolstering its news section.
You got me — these aren’t new trends worthy of an emerging prediction. They already happened in 2015. But there is a similar pattern behind them that will continue into 2016. News organizations are not the ones blurring these lines; new human systems are developing around social and mobile, and those systems are being created without many of the distinctions that once existed.
With any new technology, there’s a lag with how it is used. The first way a new technology is used is always by doing the old thing. Mapquest let us print turn-by-turn directions that were previously written by hand, but it took years before those maps turned into navigation and self-driving cars. Mobile phones let us make last minute plans without having to use a pay phone to check answering machine messages, but it took years before they became our gateway to the world. When electricity made its first appearances in homes, it replaced lanterns for light, but it took decades for appliances to come along. Successive waves of technical improvements and the evolving human systems and expectations around the technology changed the way all of these tools were used.
We’re past the first few waves of technical advancement with social and mobile, and onto the point where it is impacting society itself. On social media, we all started by sharing the moments that were already happening, then slowly drifted into creating moments so we could share them — come on, admit that you do it too. Journalists have gone through the same arc of initially sharing what they had always done, then evolved that into creating what will share well.
As new technologies are adopted to do the old thing, there is usually a boost as the old thing finds greater efficiency. Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns used social and mobile to do the old fundraising and organizing at an unprecedented level, but they were still following the same rules as to what constituted value. The new systems emerging around social are built around organizations that also live in this world of doing more of what is shareable, as opposed to sharing what is happening. ISIS does beheadings because they make for videos that appeal to their supporters and the people they’re trying to influence. Trump — and to a lesser extent other candidates — makes grandiose statements because they appeal to his supporters and the people he is trying to influence. Radically different ends of the spectrum, but similar approaches that leave journalism stuck in the middle.
How does journalism evolve to cover news that is fundamentally different not just in how we operate, but also in how the topics we’re covering operate? Who is a newsmaker? Why is this event happening? How is this information also being distributed directly from newsmaker to their audience. What it means to be part of an informed populace reading news is also changing. The very notion of “checking the headlines” sounds as distant as “surfing the web.”
2016 will be a year of continued creative destruction where forces impacting the world around us will drive changes in technology and society that will make it harder to distinguish between news events and attention-seeking behavior. And with the presidential election, it will be a year of great importance. History has its eyes on you, 2016 — and yes, that’s an homage to 2015’s great blurring of the line between hip-hop opera and history lesson.
Hassan Hodges is director and product manager for Beta Lab at Advance Digital.