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Time's person of the year isn't "you"

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Thursday, Dec 21, 2006

I hate to burst your bubble but before you start celebrating and bragging about it, you actually weren’t selected as Time Magazine’s person of the year. Yes, that’s what their cover told you and they even provided a cheesy little reflective object so that you could see yourself (you’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you).  But the sad fact of the matter is that the “you” which they’re toasting is a select group, which you yourself are probably not included in.
  
Don’t get weepy now… Let me explain.


First off, just to state the obvious, the ploy of making “you” the top dog this year is pretty weak.  A cop-out?  Sure, it is.  A way to pat readers and potential readers on the back? Of course.  As my girlfriend pointed out, by dodging a particular person to number one this year, a publication that’s proudly been flaunting its Red-State values can avoid saying anything nasty about Dubya or giving his opposition too much credit with making him a lame(r) duck and effectively ending (or at least dampening) his militaristic, moralistic insane revolution.  This has obviously been a terrible year for Dubya and the GOP so Time would no more rub it in now than Fox News would.


But is there any legitimacy to saying that the average people have the power of the Net now?  Yes and no.  Let’s try to understand the “you” that they’re celebrating on the cover.  “You” means their audience (or potential audience) and not “everyone” per se.  “You” doesn’t include for instance Larry King (who claims that he’s never gone online) or my grandma (who’s also not online) or the millions of people in America and around the world who are left on the wrong side of the digital divide because of economics.


But even if we cut out most of humanity from the equation, we’re still left with a tiny component that still make up Time’s person of the year.  Once we get down to the people with a computer and who are online, it’s still a small fraction of that group which is doing anything interactive besides trading e-mail’s and home photos with friends.  While blogs are still popping up everywhere, the number of blogs that disappear (through neglect and not having enough time) is estimated to be in the millions.  Some estimates put the figure at 10 percent or less as the total portion of Net users who even read blogs.  Even if you add in all of people uploading video to YouTube and other sites and downloading songs at will, you’re still talking about a fraction of the Net audience, which is likely also a fraction of the Time magazine readers out there.  In other words, their version of “you” is really “just some of you out there…”


And if anything, what does this supposed power mean to the few of “you”?  There are a handful of Net celebrities who are able to cunningly parlay their online notoriety into offline gains (note that most of them aren’t just staying online exclusively to make money) but even that’s a tiny slice of the already small group of “you” out there who are supposedly changed the world.  Or at least the online world.  Or are at least making a name for yourself for 15 minutes or less.  I have no problem with these instant Net celebrities but let’s not fool ourselves about their reach or true influence as of now.


If anything, the real people to toast would be (as CBS Marketwatch’s Jon Friedman suggested) the Net entrepreneurs who enabled Net nerds to utilise it to personalize their media according to their taste: YouTube, MySpace, etc..  But let’s face it- that’s not as sexy as claiming that “you” are the top dog this year.  That is, actually just some of you or relatively a few of you…

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