For those unfamiliar with the PBS show Downton Abbey, you may have been mystified at the eruption of Twitter and Facebook commentary and the escalated trending of the #DowntonPBS hashtag beginning at about 11 pm eastern time Sunday time. Not to mention references to a member of the British aristocracy named "Shrimpy."
In the show's finale, Matthew, heir to Downton, was unexpectly killed in a car accident on the heels of the birth of his son and long-anticipated heir (the fate of many a character on soap-operaish shows who decide not to extend their contracts). Facebook and Twitter instantly erupted with wails of anquish -- and, I must say, some pretty clever commentary. Among my favorites (paraphrased)...
- Carson will now star in a new spin-off, "May I Have a Word?" #downtonPBS
- PBS should have stopped the show right before the crash and said, "The fate of Matthew Crawley is in YOUR hands. Pledge now and he can live…" #downtonPBS
- It wasn't Matthew. It was his long-lost evil twin Marc, who has had amnesia. #downtonPBS
- If I were Edith, I'd steer clear of having any babies. #downtonPBS
- Anna just won Highland Dancing With the Stars #downtonPBS
We live in an era in which we assume that information is distributed unversally and instantly the moment it hits the web or is distributed in our organization. The thing that struck me after the "shock" wore off from this radical plot twist was that it came as a surprise to perhaps 99% of those watching the show, judging from the commentary. And this is despite the fact that the episode aired 2 months ago on Christmas Day in the UK, to equal howls of Twitter commentary and outrage.
So in an era of universal and ubiquitous information, how on earth was this possible? I haven't EVER been able to watch a Washington Redskins game on DVR delay, even when the delay is only a few hours, never mind two months.
A couple of theories.
- The usual tendency of Americans to think that we always see things first, and hence it never even occured to anyone to check whether the episode had already aired.
- An unspoken agreement not to be a spoiler.
- The fact that the timing of the Twitter outrage in the UK would likely not be at a time when US fans were monitoring the hashtag.
- This little bit of spolier information was lost in the sheer volume of social flow that streams by us at breakneck speed.
One aspect of Extreme Information is that in the absence of conventions and filters for its distribution, Extreme Information does not always distribute evenly in the organization. [Make sure you register now for #AIIM13 -- Extreme Information. We are nearing a sell out.] We see this all the time in our organizations. One part of the organization does not know what another is doing, despite the fact that the information has been freely posted on internal social networks. One part of an organization chooses to keep information close, despite the fact that it would have value to other parts of the organization.
I think we also specifically ignore information from outside our immediate frame of reference, or it gets lost in the vast flow of information. I spoke with the Western Michigan chapter of ARMA about this "volume" question last week.