I was on MySpace. I’m on Facebook. I signed up for Twitter. But after that I instituted a moratorium on new social media. If you embraced every social media platform, eventually they’d consume your life. Your Instagram would show you pinning away on Pinterest, while your Tumblr would be mostly about Snapchat (or vice-versa!). I did join Vine, but only so I could post a video of a guy in Southie riding a wheelchair down a hill during a blizzard. The takeaway from all this, of course, is that you should definitely follow Gisele on Instagram.
And anyway, I don’t do much with the social media that I already have. The other day I thought about tweeting, “I am NOT in favor of sex offender registries. It’s bad enough that they’re sex offenders, and now they want us to buy them gifts?” If you want to use that, go ahead, because I never bothered to post it. That’s my social media strategy: I think, “I should post that,” and then don’t. I’ll bet Gilbert Gottfried wishes he’d taken that approach.
I figured I was set in my social media ways, but then my friend Neil called to tell me about his new show. Neil’s a TV producer in LA, so I’m accustomed to hearing about new projects. But in this case, he prefaced the conversation with the question, “Do you know what Periscope is?” I took a moment to consider whether I did, and I quickly concluded that Neil was probably not broadcasting from a submarine. I copped to my ignorance.
“It’s like Skype or FaceTime, except you’re broadcasting to an audience,” Neil explained. “Most people are like ‘Here I am walking my dog,’ and it’s pretty amateur. So I created an actual show that I do every day, where I have guests and we take calls from people who want to pitch TV ideas. I have 5,000 followers, which is huge for Periscope right now.” So Neil created a show where people give him ideas for a show. Brilliant.
I downloaded the app, and the next night my phone chirped when Neil went live. Almost immediately, the screen lit up with a scroll of comments. Some of the pitches were good, some were dumb and some were obvious goofs. “A show where dwarves ride dogs like they’re horses?” Neil said, “I don’t think I can sell that, but thanks. A show about a serial killer who finds his victims on Periscope… Uh, OK.” Perhaps the most salient comment read, “This is the show right here.”
I started checking out some of the other feeds, and Neil was right—it’s amateur hour. But there’s something fascinating about beaming into someone else’s life, even when the moment in question is completely anodyne. I clicked on a feed entitled “I am about to board my flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco,” and watched a German guy get in line at the airport. I wondered what the other passengers thought about him holding his phone up and narrating the experience. They seemed to be ignoring him, but they probably figured he was actually on the phone with someone. Once Periscope gets big, I have to think there’ll be a backlash against phone-wielding narcissists treating the general public like extras in their personal reality shows. That said, I was strangely enthralled—along with 125 other viewers, some of whom offered tips on what to do in San Francisco.
A few days later, I decided to try a broadcast myself. I was driving my Bronco on a stretch of empty highway, bored senseless, so I turned on the app. Periscoping while driving: Obviously not a great idea, but I wasn’t texting or responding to anyone. Almost immediately, I had six people doing a virtual ride-along. “Is that a Bronco?” someone asked. “No, it’s an Avalanche,” someone else replied. I wanted to shout “No, it’s not!” but I chose not to breach the fourth wall.
Who were these people? And why did they care about an activity that I barely cared about myself? There’s something about a live broadcast, the element of spontaneity and shared experience, that draws you in. I’d never go on YouTube to watch a video of someone walking down the street, but parachuting in as it’s actually happening is somehow different.
I mean, where else can you interact with car mechanics in Turkey as they work on a pink Honda Civic? I joined 966 people in watching the Backstreet Boys go duty-free shopping in some airport. Who will be the first athlete or politician to “accidentally” broadcast a live tour down his pants? There are so many possibilities. Right now it’s early, and we don’t know whether Periscope will end up in the MySpace junkyard or replace TV as we know it. All I know is that I’m definitely following Gisele.