Art, Action & Inspiration

Mind the Gap

For any of you who are sick of hearing about it, I promise this will be my last Olympics related post for the time being, but I thought the idea raised in the Weekly Writing Challenge of London being called the social Olympics was quite interesting.

I think the description of 2012 as having been the social Olympics was pretty apt, not as is suggested in the prompt because of Twitter or social networking, but because it brought the nation out in a fit of the good old-fashioned kind of socialising.

Twitter may have registered more Tweets in one day during the London Olympics than during the duration of Beijing 2012, but that’s hardly a surprising statistic when you consider that in 2008 it had just 6 million accounts. During this Games a significant proportion of its 140 million registered users were collectively live tweeting the events.

And yet London 2012 never felt like a social media affair to even the same degree as an episode of Question Time. It may be down to the sample of people who I’ve chosen to follow on Twitter, but there’s a definite sense of people settling down to debate, or just plain argue, during certain current affairs programmes. Tweets are crafted to interact with the content of the show and to form a part of the online conversation.

It wasn’t the same thing with the Games. For all the huge volume of Tweets that they generated the content was, perhaps necessarily, limited to commentary, updates and either praise or commiseration for favoured athletes. An extension really, of the massive, seemingly national, conversation that was taking place in real life. And most definitely secondary to the consumption of the traditional media, television and radio.

For me the Olympics demonstrated how wrong those who posited social media as the death of television, radio, print media and even local community were.

The Olympics were a very visual spectacle. From the magnificent opening ceremony, through seventeen days of fantastic sporting events, to the world’s biggest after-party which London put on last night, the only way to truly appreciate the Olympics was to park yourself in front of the nearest television screen and watch them.

Failing that you could listen to the commentary on the radio.

But the drama, the competition, the achievement, the disappointments, the gripping tight to the edge of your seats anticipation of the greatest sporting spectacle on earth could not be even semi-adequately conveyed through the medium of Twitter. Or Facebook, or any other website.

And this all comes from a woman who hadn’t used her TV to watch anything other than DVDs, Blu-rays or iTunes for well over a year before the Olympics came round.

Even newspapers did a better job of capturing the spirit of the Games with their daily medals tables and full page spreads of action shots and beaming winners.

And it was this traditional media consumption that the real ‘social Olympics’ centred around. For the last two and half weeks there has been a palpable vibe across the country. The Olympics seemed to have made us collectively happier. Reminded that it’s no bad thing to be British, and that we can actually be good at something when we put our mind to it.

Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, which I’ve mentioned before, remade proud Britains of people who hadn’t thought that we had anything to be proud of any more. Or had somehow thought that national pride was no longer allowed for us.

In addition to that it put us on a high that saw us all primed and ready- invested in the sporting drama that was to come, courtesy of Team GB.

And it got everybody talking.

And I mean everybody.

Something good was finally happening and we wanted to actually talk to each other about it.

People who I’ve never spoken to in three and a half years of working in the same office have, over the last fortnight, provided me with a full update on whatever events they’d just been watching every time I walked into the kitchen.

Strangers in queues have passed on news of new medal wins that their friends have just texted to them.

And I haven’t completed a single financial transaction that hasn’t involved someone asking if I’d seen Jess Ennis, Mo Farah or Bradley Wiggins’ wins.

It has generated loads of conversation amongst the people I actually know as well.

I can’t remember talking about much else at a friend’s birthday party on Super Saturday.

And I think it has been a first. Or, at the very least, the first in a long time. As I’ve mentioned before, the three previous Olympics barely registered with me. There was none of the big national conversation that’s made this Games so special.

Which is why I was pleased to see that the results of the word press survey are so far overwhelming supporting the view are that the Olympics was not a social media event. It would be a shame to reduce the magic to just another Twitter story.


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