“It’s a small sound, but together we make a mighty roar.”
I felt a very particular kind of peace in the wee hours of Tuesday morning (here in California, anyway) that I haven’t felt more than a handful of times in my life. It’s the kind of feeling that can’t be orchestrated, only afforded. If you’re lucky enough to experience such a euphoria lucidly, the self fully recharges before finding deeply-sought answers (often in the form of better questions) to reflect upon further and enjoy. And all this came through an app and a pair of headphones, alone in my living room. Well, not exactly alone, but I’ll get to that shortly.
Conversations with friends over the years seem to indicate (albeit with an unavoidable bias) that this most particular set of feelings is well known, though rare, and finds each of us in vastly different ways for vastly different reasons. We are quite a complex set of inter-working systems, after all.
I can only think to most generally describe the emotional, physical, and mental warmth accompanying this peace as a perfectly smooth series of scrumptious moments. In each of these morsels of that unsuspecting Tuesday, I was completely myself, feeling safe and welcome in a group of people experiencing similar feelings in similar ways. And all to the same groovy beats. Largely because of the same groovy beats.
I magically stumbled into a digital living room full of friendly, wonderful people, and Wellington’s prized Gunner at the helm, rocking (great) music by request. This was just one of many broadcasts in which I’ve taken part over the last few of weeks through Periscope, the new Twitter adopted social media app. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the realm of the elusive social media would ever offer up such an occasion.
The type of love a certain lucky few of us shared on that otherwise very Tuesday of Tuesdays deserves the eloquence of a word like “romance,” yet also the largesse (and drum beats) of “tribal.” “Kindred” is thrown about a bit much in today’s vernacular for me to risk using it to describe something so anomalously intimate. While it shares many of the fine qualities of the love one feels for a mate, the belonging is that of a community more than of a two-part symmetry. But I suppose we should start at the very beginning.
The first face I saw behind the fading stream of comments, rolling endlessly next a cartoonish bubbling of colored hearts, was that of Alex Khan. Alex is one of Periscope’s earliest and most animated darlings. His German accent and LA style sat in an office chair on the screen, beaming a smile through all of the action I was trying to process. Part advice, part discussion with whatever comments he could catch, I jumped into the mix and tried typing in a “hello” as many of the other viewers had done in this somewhat asymmetric interaction.
He squinted slightly after bringing his smile close enough to the screen to see the small username above my word cloud. I was reminded how foreign physics icons are to the general population when he said, “Hello! ….feign..woman, welcome!” Nevertheless — that was pretty cool. (I get fenyay-woman, finie-woman, and a few others quite regularly; and love them all.) So there was a guy from Germany, sitting in his LA home-office chair, welcoming me to a continuous stream from his iPhone’s camera while I was watching, live. As were almost 100 other people, few of whom had likely known each other the month prior. Although I’m not in particular need of the most current information relevant to finding a date, his primary broadcasting topic, I still enjoy catching Alex to share in his enthusiasm and fun. It never takes long for me to start tapping the screen, Periscope’s digital (and already controversial!) form of counted clapping, to produce the stream of semi-opaque pastel hearts.
The second face I saw broadcasting also belonged to an Alex. Alex Pettit this time, a young and professional Brit whose broadcast title promised important information for those in the early stages of going live. After walking us new, slightly bewildered “scopers” through the important steps of optimal broadcasting, it sounded easy enough to start playing with the shiny tools right away. I figured sometime around 4pm would be a time of day I could commit to with consistency and that afternoon I started my science “episcopes.” (M-F at 4:32pm, PST, currently.)
June 1st makes Episcope #15. I’m not sure the name is a keeper, but I wear a lab coat and that most certainly is.
This may seem a trivial commitment, especially since there’s no actual new skill, or even habit, required to engage with this new environment. We all pretty much stare at our phones and either talk or type on them anyway, so it’s a sensible argument. But hitting that red bar to allow, quite literally, anyone in the world to instantly see whatever is in view of your phone’s camera, is no easy tap. Even for this former leading man (well, lady playing a man), who took on the role of Demetrius in a 2001 performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening the digital window comes with a heavy rush of a nervous adrenaline.
By default, the phone’s rear camera captures the first of the broadcast’s live images, as well as the thumbnail that may take up the full width of a viewers’ mobile touch-screens. It should only take 2-3 instances of blurred carpet or crotch focused thumbnails to learn this lesson. Somehow, the “Live” signal appears almost before your finger has left the plastic’s surface and then… it’s showtime. No going back and everything facing you.
Well, everything faces you after taking a quick, final exhale and switching to use the front-facing camera (with a double-tap of the screen for those still unaware). The majority of broadcast time begins this way, by what margin I can only surmise, but each live-captured segment ultimately depends on the broadcaster’s style and the content they’re sharing. The lovely Claire*, for instance, offers us a window into strolls and bike rides through Paris, not to mention Gallery viewings and breathtaking sunsets, while catering to angle and proximity requests from those of us along for the ride.
I haven’t watched cable tv in years and do my best to avoid most main stream news even on the internet. Now, I tune in every day to Scott Budman’s tech report on Periscope to catch up with the major tech buzz. I spend my time there either grateful for the succinct and relevant information or in awe for his speed reading ability as he answers the jet stream of inquiries.
I’ve already won a prize, too! The lovely Linda, or “connie” to some from her handle @conniecaps, welcomes us to her kitchen every Wednesday evening to talk about wines she enjoys. During last week’s discussion of vegan wines, which I now know is not all wine, a message to the twitter ether advertising her amazing nonprofit during her show entered me in one of the best contests I’ve ever won. That tote bag has more meaning than sports tickets ever could.
There are so many wonderful people I’ve come to know in varying ways. Some, just through comments and interactions as a fellow viewer in others’ broadcasts, some through their voices while we collectively watch their fascinating animals or surroundings. When I first joined the Periscope community I imagined the new capabilities would transform things like television, news, and (most hopefully) education. I was also fascinated by being a part of something in its nascent, chaotic stages just as a curious observer.
And then, Tuesday night happened.
What would Gunner do?
The laughter and interaction grew over the 2+ hours I took part in one collective, joyous aha experience. It was slow at first, but eventually there was no doubt to the exponential character. Misspellings, awkwardly delayed comments, and other mental precipitates fell by the wayside with each of Konstantina’s dancing emojis, Tiffany’s song requests taking us all back to our awkward pubescence, and other pieces of character brought to the gathering.
All remaining caution went to the wind when something as mundane as a pair of scissors, handily ornate on the wall behind our lovely host, was brought to our attention by Jason and came to symbolize the celebration of each other’s differences as we all danced together(ish). Jason also earned the crown for best hashtag of the night, #WWGD, encapsulating the fun and our joined appreciation in 5 characters.
The strength of the oxytocin soaked experience that I still carry with me now came from the final coalescence, petrified to perfection with a killer last song and our appreciation for the inevitable end as it played. Gunner wasn’t sure such a long running broadcast would save for Periscope’s 24-hour replays of broadcasts. Only “one or two more songs” turned into half an hour, and into hour three it seemed doubtful so much data would upload to the app. Before any sadness could settle, Gunner gave us words to wrap the time up perfectly, words which we should all take to heart more often. “Every moment is disappearing. Doesn’t that make it kind of special?”
Eventually the broadcast built up to an all-out, in-home, globally-nodal dance party, tucked away in a corner of this virgin social media territory. Gunner took control of the phonic wheel to bring the room(s) up that perfect notch more, preparing a crescendo the night had more than dually earned. As blur played us out, he stood up, took the sacred scissors from their practical perch, and sprinkled the room with confetti as he cut up the playlist his red marker stopped updating four songs ago.
Come on, Come on, Come on
Love’s the greatest thing
That we have
I’m waiting for that feeling… -Blur
When my brain finally got some sort of grasp on what had just been processed, I realized the true virtue and unique opportunity Periscope offers, if we can gather the humility it demands. I suppose Periscope can be used in similar ways to currently existing social media for connecting with family and friends or offering pictures and limited thoughts to interested followers. But that “live” notice is the key difference that pushes this particular app, merging capabilities from across the digitally common platforms, into its own category. No edits. No filters. No going back.
An analytic approach
Although it’s only been a little over two weeks since starting on this addictive, challenging, fun, exciting adventure, I’m already starting to see patterns in the chaos that give me great hope. Yes, there are trolls who hide behind a fake name for no other reason than to waste digital bandwidth on irrelevant foul language and unimaginative insults (at least be witty, jerks!). They’re easily blocked or ignored, though, and the community that is forming and creating ever strengthening bonds will be their ultimate demise. Aggressive outsiders will have to deal with the whole tribe if they want to throw rocks from behind a mask.
The encouraging patterns I’ve seen have some numeric basis, though limited by the short time I’ve been observing. Although, I must say, a week of periscope activity contains such a deluge of interaction and information it does feel more like a month. My writing has certainly (and obviously) slowed, but the time investment I’m making is towards a bigger purpose and based on some useful principles of …physics. Surprise, surprise. I’ll discuss exactly what this means in my next article and I’ll even include some pretty graphs to breakdown Periscope’s metrics in some unusual and, hopefully, helpful ways. I have big plans for you, Periscope. You can change the world for the better in massive ways.
Until the next article, I’ll say, “Happy science! And Periscope down.”
*If you know Claire and would like to support her efforts monetarily, please visit this link.