From Pop Culture to Peep Culture

What does the behavioural trend mean for marketing strategies?


We are moving from a pop culture to a peep culture. In pop culture, we turn on the TV and watch our celebrities entertain us with their performances. In peep culture, we turn on the computer, we move through people’s lives on blogs, face book and Youtube. Instead of getting our entertainment from scripted performances, we get our entertainment from unscripted, supposedly spontaneous peeping into other people’s lives. It can be friends and family. It’s just as likely to be people we have never met around the world.

Susan Boyle became an overnight celebrity because of peep culture. The entire world was staring at her after her transformation from a resident of a small town Scottish town to a global celebrity. We like the story and the peep into her life. In many ways, the breakdown and her struggle will keep her story going.

We have entered the age of “peep culture”: a tell-all, show-all, know-all digital phenomenon that is dramatically altering notions of privacy, individuality, security, and even humanity. Peep culture is reality TV, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, chat rooms, amateur porn, surveillance technology, cell phone and more. Can Facebook and Myspace be a cure for loneliness? It’s not the ultimate solution. That’s the irony. We are trying to look for community by moving in solitude into these technologies. You are more likely to see people in a social environment immersed in their PDAs instead of communicating with people in the room. The name of the game is the number of followers. It becomes a narcissistic obsession.

As a society we have become incredibly fast paced without really being aware of these seismic changes in our lives. Today’s generation is the most photographed generation. We are moving into a time where our virtual personality is going to be more important than our actual physical presence. It’s going to be more important what we have online vs. what we do offline. We are going to be judged by our virtual portfolios, socially and professionally. We are not having a substantive debate about this trend in society. What we need to think about is what privacy means to each individual – politically, ethically and socially. We are a highly atomized and fairly lonely society.

In the age of peep, core values and rights we once took for granted are rapidly being renegotiated, often without our even noticing. Author Hal Niedzviecki on his new project, the Peep Diaries says the more we reveal about ourselves, the more attention we seem to get. So what happens next? Does privacy matter anymore? Can we be too connected? Is there anything we won’t put out there? Suddenly we’re spending all of our time tracking other people. And we’re inviting them to watch us! People reveal themselves to get attention and to feel like they are part of a community.

Peep culture is intersecting with pop culture and is evolving it and coming to replace it. For example, we see reality TV as the primary entertainment mode on TV. The phenomenon continues to grow. Game shows from the 1950 are more like pop culture. Peep culture is more like Trading Spouses, John and Kate plus 8 which had 10 Million people watch the debut episode in North America. US Weekly had 5 covers in a row of John and Kate plus 8. That is peep culture.

This has never happened before, where we have turned the spot light on random regular people. It’s an ongoing fascination. It’s really about how underground cultures are changing people’s lives. The biggest problem is what happens when we turn our lives reflexively, without thinking about it, into entertainment product. We are seeing a clash of values of people who are facebooking, blogging, youtubing and being encouraged to do so by an overall entertainment culture that says more attention is better. In contrast, we see a traditional society that says that a very active online persona may not be a good fit with a job or university.

People are being turned into celebrity product. Popular culture is encouraging people to move forward with even less scrutiny with what they are doing. There aren’t any secrets anymore. The notion of private life has changed. First of all, people want private moments to reflect. But they have redefined the meaning of privacy. The problem is we are alone most of the time- in our houses, in front of our computers, in our cars, at work in our cubicles or offices. The fact is human beings are hard wired to be social. We are descendents of apes who spend 80% of their day picking nits out of each others hair.

There are two issues. We have moved in the spectrum of community all the way to the end of gated fences, SUVs and tinted windows, into the belief that the fantasy celebrity lifestyle of having your own limo, private island, bodyguard, and having every appointment vetted by your people is the way to live. That is the fantasy that we have, we think we want. But for most of us, the further we get along that spectrum the more alone we are. So then we move to the other spectrum which is constant flow of details about your life, your blog, and your status updates. That’s what community used to be. There is this flow of information from other human beings that connects us together, which makes us feel more intrinsically human and less like we need to constantly be proving ourselves.