I have a new unit of measurement called the “caseyanthony.”
It is the minimum amount of media saturation required for me to be informed about something that I have no interest in.
I will click on just about every link I find on Breaking Bad, predator drones, Gene Wolfe or top shelf whiskey. Marginal developments in those fields leap into my field of view.
But I’ve never seen a news report, read an article or found a blog post about Casey Anthony. And yet! Through the sheer humidity of coverage and commentary, I’m aware that:
- She’s a woman.
- She was on trial for killing a person or persons.
- She was found not guilty of that charge yesterday.
But solely with the information above, I could write a decent Craig Ferguson monologue for The Late Late Show. Or at least a callback joke 3 weeks from now. And I could hold up the quieter end of a bar conversation (“Casey Anthony? I know, right?”). So the information I have about Casey Anthony renders me employable and sociable.
My ability to get “informed” (very loosely) even with a complete lack of curiosity testifies to the power of social media. Between the Facebook stati of a hundred contacts, the promotion of Huffington Post articles via thousands of “likes” and a slew of jokes on Twitter, I now know a very little bit about something. I surrounded myself with a permeable sphere of ignorance and the blogosphere squished through it.
How much buzz does it take to promote an event from total blank to a barely visible phenomenon? One caseyanthony’s worth.
My discovery of this new unit could revolutionize every social science (send MacArthur Fellowship nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org). But the first thing that came to mind was: damn, this is why kids keep failing classes! It’s the rare nerd who is genuinely curious about the cotton gin, Silas Marner or the quadratic formula. Some kids have parents at home who’ll supplement the rewards/punishments treadmill, so that helps. But the vast majority of kids show up at school not just unknowing, but uncaring, of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
I’ve spent the past six months living a productive life full of competing interests, wonderful friends and work that requires a lot of concentration. To breach those defenses to plant the seed of Casey Anthony awareness in my mind has taken (A) millions of dollars of media coverage and (B) the uncoordinated effort of dozens of unconnected friends. Not just deliberate effort, but order emergent from chaos. My bare minimum knowledge is a result of both immense planning and unplannable mass action.
Even that hasn’t inspired me to learn more. But if you asked me to write an essay about her, I could get a C-minus.
If it took that much effort just to instill awareness in me, what chance does Eli Whitney have?