As Nelson Mandela’s funeral became the kind of geopolitical media circus cynics expected it would, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama seized headlines by taking a photograph of themselves with a smartphone; this is, of course, the “selfie”, Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2013.
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Aside from the resulting news and Twitter storm questioning the appropriateness of taking a selfie at a funeral, at least one web infrastructure expert thinks the photo is a perfect metaphor for the evolving relationships between people and technology.
Infinera is one vendor that could be described as providing the internet’s ‘plumbing’ – often unglamorous but crucial tasks like quick, automated, switching and traffic management that are vital to information and data flow. Senior VP of sales EMEA, Chris Champion, told Forbes that Obama’s funeral selfie is a “perfect example” of the unpredictable nature of content, as we head into 2014.
“Content can come from anywhere,” Champion says. “The Danish PM decides to take a selfie, Cameron and Obama lean in, but there are so many elements to that picture.
“Obama is even holding a bit of the camera there – is he directing it at himself? Is he taking the photo for her?”
More important is the context.
“It says so many things to so many different people that all of a sudden, that one photo went viral,” Champion says. “If it were a video, it would have driven bandwidth needs to an even greater degree.”
Political implications notwithstanding, this one picture represents, according to Champion, the multifaceted, chaotic nature of virality and content. Meta-upon-meta, the viral picture itself was a candid snap of a candid snap. Photojournalist Roberto Schmidt, who was behind the camera, says that his photo suggests “a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself. Go figure.”
It is hard to say when and where one piece of content will make particular waves and even harder to pinpoint just why; that reaction is emotional. What is certain is the phenomena shows no signs of slowing.
“When does it happen?” Champion asks. “It happened at a certain point in time, but it could happen at any time, it could be long lasting, it could just disappear. And the volume of it, well, I’m sure that it was sent around millions of times. But it could just disappear and be replaced by something else. It’s the ephemeral nature of content.
“Where is this content going to emanate from, is it going to be South Africa with a selfie? It could be anywhere. How long’s it going to last? It could be an hour or it could be longer, then there’s the size of the content. We know it’s going to change, to go up and down, but overall it’s just going to increase.
“With [things like] citizen journalism, it’s increasing all the time, and it’s all driving traffic.”
Our own expectations about how content is consumed will be closely tied to that growth in traffic, and this will be true whether you are a head of state or a YouTube video blogger.We’re more impatient than ever and are increasingly insisting that our technology “just works”: to anyone who’s wasted hours fixing registry keys, the notion will have felt frustratingly distant. But now, users take the ability to create and consume content for granted, and with technologies like ultra high definition video streaming on the horizon, network operators will have to invest more capital, time and energy into delivering these seamless experiences.
“Consumers will switch based on whatever we’re doing, whether it’s working from home and being able to download that Powerpoint file, watching that video, or travelling by train and getting high definition over the next 18 months,” Champion says. “We will switch if it doesn’t meet our needs. To be a little facetious, companies could advertise themselves as having two tin cans and a piece of string: if that’s all you need that’ll work for you. We will switch to whoever has the best two tin cans and string to give us the experience that we need.
“Our expectations are just increasing,” Champion says. “It’s going full circle, from us thinking about the infrastructure and speed of our dialup, to content. Whether it’s M2M, enterprise cloud, or some guy checking his Facebook page and walking off a pier, the underlying infrastructure is again the most important thing.”
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