Everyone knows everything. At least that’s the way it seems any more. The connection between social media and knowledge is inarguable to anyone with a smartphone and the ability to hit the “@” key. When breaking news happens in the world, Twitter is now the place to be. When a severe thunderstorm rolls through, why watch the news when you can get by-the-second reports from people detailing what’s going on and exactly where they are? Keith Olbmermann remarked on a recent episode of the Jonah Keri podcast that his first major scoop (the Gretzsky trade) was kept quiet for SEVEN WHOLE HOURS until he reported it. If that trade happened today, the meme videos and HOT TAKES would already be around the world and back.
And it’s not just sports. Mark Cuban described his view of this year’s Presidential race as, “We don’t find the news. The news finds us.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with Cubes’ idea that the ‘majority’ of people get their political information from their social media feeds (Twitter also thought that Sharknado was this major cultural event, and the ratings didn’t play that out…the echo chamber is strong), but I agree that the number is much bigger than what most people think. The BIG change that Cuban nails is that information is dynamic. Back in the day, the newspaper would lay on your front stoop until you picked it up. Whether you read it or not was up to you. Today, information chases you. It buzzes and notifies and flashes. It’s relentless. You can’t get away from it.
I think this is why the concept of #lastman is so foreign, and at the same time so attractive. #lastman, in case you haven’t heard of it, is the attempt to be the last person on the face of the earth to know who won the Super Bowl. There is a short set of rules to the mental exercise, found here, but there are no prizes, no cash rewards, and no publicity to be gained. If you try to explain this to someone, they most likely won’t care or understand. When Jimmy Kimmel heard about it on his show recently, he thought it was ridiculous. And if he said it, most of his audience agreed. The Super Bowl is a cultural event. It’s a yearly JFK assassination without the tragedy. Everyone knows where they’ll be during the Super Bowl, who they’ll watch it with, and even what they’ll eat. So to divorce yourself from that is the definition of being countercultural, without the ironic beret and pocket watch.
I played #lastman for the first time this year. In past years, I was a neutral observer of the game because I couldn’t imagine not watching the Super Bowl. But a magic combination of things came together this year. Mrs. FDT was out of the country on business, so it was just me and Li’l FDT for the week. I knew I wouldn’t be back from the gym until right before kickoff, so there weren’t any parties. I also knew that Li’l FDT’s bedtime would fall right in the middle of the third quarter, so I would miss a substantial portion of the game. And finally, I didn’t care about either team or the result. I thought it would be great for Peyton to win his final game, but that’s it. So I went for it. Our evening was filled with pizza and Good Eats episodes on Netflix, and once the game was over, the running began. I turned off all of my notifications on my phone, edited my TweetDeck so I would only be able to do work and nothing else, and began.
The world did not end because I didn’t watch the Super Bowl.
In fact, it was fun. I learned how reflexive my finger is on my phone…stopping myself from hitting that Twitter button at least a hundred times in 24 hours. I learned that newspapers are not nearly as ubiquitous as they used to be…multiple planned trips to gas stations were harmless, and I’m not sure they sold papers inside at all. And, when I “died”, I learned that my health insurance website felt the need to post the final score of the game in their news, and last I checked the Super Bowl doesn’t have much to do with health insurance. I was proud that I made it almost 24 hours without finding out.
But I learned one other thing: sports will maintain its value even when news won’t stop chasing you.
It reminded me of when we got our first TiVo…the original DVR. It would record 15 hours of programming in standard definition, and we thought Christmas had come early. Of course, I thought this would be of immense value when it came to sports. All of those games that I didn’t have time to watch…well, now I could record them and watch them on the weekend whenever I wanted!
But…it didn’t work. It never has.
You can’t do that with sports. You can record anything else…sitcoms, movies, anything, and watch it later. But you can’t “forced ignorance” live sports and maintain the same sort of value. Much of why sports drives the “cord-cutting” discussion today is because of this value: you HAVE to watch the game WHILE IT HAPPENS, or else it loses value and becomes an event you read about rather than experience. And that’s the real difference. Sports is an EXPERIENCE. You can’t read about Disney World and decide that you don’t need to go: you have to walk down Main Street of the Magic Kingdom and BE there to understand. And, when you KNOW that the game you’re watching happened hours or days ago, the suspense is lost. There’s always part of your mind that reminds you that what you’re watching is somehow not real…that it’s not REALLY sports if it’s already over. So you have to be there, in your seat, in front of your TV, at the appointed time.
Sports waits for no one. You can run from it, but being there is different. And that’s why we like it so much.