This week more than 20 million people watched on YouTube and other video sharing sites a single performance from the ITV show Britain’s Got Talent in which a frumpy spinster from Scotland sang like an angel.You can see her astonishing performance here.
It’s not the singing that makes me write this, though the singing was good.I lived as a boy in the north of England and knew ladies like this Susan Boyle.What makes me write about it is the effect she and her singing had on the Internet and the Internet in turn had on the performance and its aftermath.
The video file as presented on YouTube is just over seven minutes and 26 megabytes long.Twenty million (and counting!) times 26 megabytes is 520 terabytes or approximately half the size of the Internet Archive.That’s 520,000 gigabytes or the equivalent of maxing-out in a single week the monthly bandwidth allotment of 260 co-lo servers at Rackspace.com.Running at top speed for a week would require 1040 such servers to do the job and we haven’t even made it to a week yet.That’s 520 million-million bytes.
Okay, so it was a nice lady singing a nice song, but what’s astounding is the performance had been round the earth twice or three times before the broadcast in the UK was even over.It was one of those seminal moments of mass-communication that showed the world was different than it used to be and thank God it didn’t require a wardrobe malfunction to do so.
What resonated with audiences about this performance was that it hit everyone – everyone – the same, as a long-coming reward for a life of good cheer and choir practice.I make documentary films from time to time and this performance is one of those emotional moments that every documentary director dreams of.It’s not the facts, you see, or even the stories that matter, it’s the emotional state of the people on-screen and how the viewer relates to them that matters.Real feelings count.
And thanks to the Internet in this instance such feelings count everywhere, it seems.For one happy moment we’re drawn together as a single audience to share a single emotional high that involves, for a change, no losers at all.
Think how rare that is, which explains its power.
Marshall McLuhan, who seems smarter every day, called it The Global Village.He said communication technology would link us together in ways we couldn’t imagine and those ways would lead to common experiences and shared values. McLuhan didn’t know about the Internet when he wrote that and he sure as Hell didn’t know about Twitter. But his prediction came true.
This Susan Boyle experience doesn’t come along very often, but with the growth of broadband technology it can’t help but happen more and more.It’s not the Super Bowl or the World Cup — it’s better. That’s because it is personal – a moment we all can share, well so far 20 million of us, one at a time.
Now the folks at Google are no doubt scratching their heads, as are the TV producers back in the UK, trying to figure how to put this effect in a bottle and make a living from it.But it can’t be done.
This is an event that was created for TV but not really anticipated by its creators, I’m guessing.They couldn’t reliably repeat it if they tried.
If they did try, it wouldn’t work.
That’s the beauty, because every time this happens, every time our Global Village comes together in this way, it’s because of a shared delight that makes us feel more alike and less apart.
We could all use more of that.
And the next time it happens, now we all know what to do.