It is Friday afternoon on a lovely fall day in downtown Brooklyn. Like many other days in December, the 4th floor of the 370 Jay Street building is full of ITP students working intensively on their final projects. This time, however, was unique, as many students took a break from their creative work, gathered around the television, and watched the soccer game that determined whether the Netherlands or Argentina played in the World Cup final. Throughout almost two hours, the game took the crowd on an emotional rollercoaster. Then, as Argentina scored the goal that sent them to the final, I could feel how the excitement from this goal in Qatar was shared globally at the same time.
Just a few seconds after this goal, my family’s group chat was filled with celebratory messages. Despite the fact that they live on the other side of the world, I felt I was with them at this moment – which is not surprising. As Mike Leggett suggested in his article Presence, Interaction and ‘data space,’ “‘[u]sing the most pervasive technologies [...] ‘being there’ is not a complex emotion to summon.” Indeed, the game, which was mediated from Qatar through the internet, followed up by messages in a group chat, created an experience of togetherness. Soon later, however, I felt this short collective experience passing, and I thought: why don’t we see more moments like this?
When trying to answer this question, I realized how unique a shared experience on such a large scale is in today’s media environment. Because most of the media we consume is individualized and fragmented, it is almost impossible to find times when millions of people share the same experience simultaneously. In a time where technology can connect us globally, instantly, we use it in such a way that creates separation between people, driving us away from one another. Additionally, the social part of a live event on such a scale is not solely enabled by the technologies that distribute it globally. Instead, the more meaningful social experience happens off-screen, as people gather in bars, living rooms, or the ITP floor to consume the media together. It is the experience of cheering or crying together that creates a meaningful emotional experience.
The World Cup provides a wonderful example of how “live” media can create an opportunity for meaningful experiences that are lacking in today’s fragmented online environment. Yet, in itself, “live” might not be enough. Significant connectivity happens when people share experiences and can feel one another. Offline it might mean being at the same place at the same time. But when mediated by technology, we need to increase the quotient of meaningful presence in interactive models by creating a context or interface (Leggett 2004).
Leggett, Mike. Presence, Interaction and 'data space’. Academia, 2004.