The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: V

Viral Culture

In these hyperconnected times, it’s hard to take yourself out of the loop. We’re living in a Facebook-IM-Twitter world, where news, gossip, amusing videos, favorite songs, and outrageous opinions are spread like wildfire, flaming up into popular consciousness and (often) dying out within weeks, if not days. Welcome to viral culture. “We used to have a mass media, dominated by large organizations that controlled the conversation,” says Bill Wasik, a senior editor at Harper’s and author of And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture, coming out from Viking in June. “Now, lots of people have control, and the stories, the trends, the fads—it all speeds through the culture so quickly. The ‘viral,’ whether an e-mail, a Web site, or a video, has emerged as a new genre of communication, even of art.”