When it comes to documenting the human experience, the focus has been shifting from Hollywood cameras to HD smartphone cams for a while now. There are so many reasons for this, not least of which is the cable companies’ prickly stance on outdated distribution methods. (They want to preserve traditional programming options, but they only seem to be ensuring their demise.) Meanwhile consumer devices, services and channels are becoming increasingly powerful, making it so easy for people to film, upload and share like crazy. It’s a perfect storm of variables that has come together, taking us from passive viewers to a nation of productive voyeurs.
But even this won’t stay the same forever. There’s a saying that the only constant is change, and as a tech culture writer, it’s second nature to wonder about what could be coming next. Well, when it comes to content, I realize that what’s next is already here.
I came across a Wired article called “Living on a Stream: The Rise of Real-Time Video.” As the snappy headline suggests, the story revolves around the advent of “lifecasting,” or real-time personal broadcasting. In fact, the writer lays bets that live content will account for the majority of his video viewing within 10 years. That’s kind of a sobering thought, especially for fans of scripted films and programming. But I have no doubt that this is where things are heading.
This reminds me of The Truman Show (1998), in which the life of Jim Carrey’s character was broadcasted 24/7 to a wide television viewing audience. It seemed creepy and unbelievable at the time, but in hindsight, it was actually pretty prophetic. The only difference was that Truman didn’t know his life was on public display. Fast-forward, and we have resources like Justin.TV, whose founder pulled a Truman Show on himself, broadcasting his own life. The site grew to include an array of channels for anyone who also wants to, as Justin coined, “lifecast.”
The idea of personal broadcasting, or lifecasting, didn’t really take off at first like proponents thought it would. But things are different now. Devices are getting more powerful. More customers are cutting the cable cord and looking for other content. And, frankly, more people are getting used to being on camera. In fact, many of us are already lifecasting whether we know it or not. You see, there’s this thing called video chat. If you’re in a Google+ Hangout or Skype group chat, the concept is similar — you’re broadcasting yourself out to one or a handful of friends in real-time. There’s not a massive difference between doing it for one person or doing it for a small group, or even thousands.
It’s also easier to push out live content than ever. While there are always new features that allow users to upload clips, it’s still a process to film, possibly edit, wait for the upload to finish, then share it with contacts. With Lifecasting, it’s all done in real time.
Wired writer Steven Levy believes in the inevitability of life casting. I can see that too, although I have some concerns with it: If we grow more at ease with broadcasting ourselves, could it someday replace scripted programming or even homespun video projects as our favorite form of content? What then would become of authenticity? Seems like it would be no problem in an unscripted broadcast, right? Wrong. If nothing else, reality TV has taught us that the things we may take for granted as real can be anything but sometimes. (For goodness’ sakes, even The Jersey Shore is an orchestrated affair.)
We know that people are very careful about the version of themselves they put out in public — it’s just human nature. So if the cultural tide shifts, and being in the spotlight 24/7 becomes the new normal, will people in general get used to a newfound fakeness and phoniness en masse? In other words, will people struggle to know who they are in those rare moments, when the cameras are off?
That brings us to another issue: Privacy. Not everyone will be interested in being on camera. Will they have a choice, if everyone around them is filming or broadcasting to someone (or thousands of someones)? As it is, ”30 million Americans are five feet away from a video camera 24 hours a day,” says CEO Michael Seibel of Socialcam (Justin.TV’s spinoff). “It’s never been that way before.”
Indeed. It’s both exciting and unsettling all at the same time. But ready or not, though, we’re halfway there now. Of course, certain things need ironing out before a broad societal lifecasting trend is even feasible — like broadband capacity and caps — but the seeds have been planted.
Could you see lifecasting becoming a huge trend, along the line of YouTube uploads and Facebook shares? Is there potential for it to even supplant traditional entertainment and online videos? Tell us where you see the future of content going.