Has the Water Cooler Become Virtual Now?
In one of my first jobs, in a newspaper, we had a very busy watercooler in a small break area. The issues of the day would be discussed there. The gossip would be exchanged, stealthily. The sports teams' performances would be dissected. The hot TV show or movie of the moment would be analyzed. Typically a senior person walking by would disperse the crowd, which would reassemble later to continue the chatter. Break rooms and water coolers still exist, but you are just as likely to see people chatting as to see people individually checking their mobile devices for email or texting or tweeting. They may be doing the multi-tasking that my grown children have perfected -- i.e. talking with the people around them while simultaneously texting and virtually communicating with at least 2-3 others in remote locations.
The availability of the wider audience of potential conversation partners, via all of the great channels we have at our disposal now, has not replaced the water cooler discussion, but it has changed its purpose and, I would warrant, reduced some of its usage. The tendency for people to consume pop culture on their own schedule, using time shifting and downloads to keep up with programs, is another inhibitor to the next day dissection of a series finale. A case in point: After this week's "Mad Men" finale, I didn't talk with anyone live about it. I instead checked "Tom and Lorenzo's" blog for their always insightful recap and analysis, including the active comments section. I read the Wall Street Journal's supposed analysis by two professors which, as a commenter noted, was really more of a recap than an analysis. I know that if I asked people who watch "Mad Men," I'd likely hear, "Don't tell me. I haven't watched that one yet." more often than I'd hear, "Yes, I didn't get that one either. What did you think?"
So, for discussion of events that can be time-shifted, the virtual water cooler of the web works better and it's an individual sport, not a team event. But for time sensitive events such as the NBA semi-finals last week when our beloved Celtics finally could not overcome the hated Miami Heat, it was fair game to join the live water cooler discussion. Everyone knew the outcome and had an opinion.
It's been a fascinating process to watch and to participate in. Part of me misses the communal nature of talking through a favorite series with fellow fans or discussing a new movie. But I also enjoy my ability to pin-point sites online frequented by fans of the specific pop culture items that I love. Hopefully the hybrid world continues and we don't lose the personal conversation piece of this all important communication and bonding opportunity.