Millions of us watched Donald Trump's inauguration a week ago.
Millions more watched NFL playoff games Sunday.
And even millions more than that will watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 5.
Interesting, isn't it, that these are among the few true shared experiences we have anymore?
Our unprecedented access to information today is invaluable. The more we can realize the human experience is largely universal, the better we're able to realize that despite our differences, the majority of the world is remarkably alike.
But even the way we access and process our shared experiences now is totally different from the way that was handled for older members of the planet, say middle-age forward.
In that world, the shared experience was universally shared because it came from one source. Maybe it wasn't one media source delivering the information, but it might as well have been. Most households, certainly at least through the 1970s, had one network they watched for news, one radio station they listened to, and one newspaper they read. And they were thrilled with the variety of media selections they had.
The developments that changed the communication world are shared and well-documented. The societal experience differences are slightly more elusive.
Even as recently as the end of the 20th century, our experiences were shared enough that we still generally heard news and pop culture through one general voice. There were thousands of voices, sure, but they were all still saying just about the same thing. Cable television expanded what we could see of the world, and the internet gave us a chance to interact with it directly.
The clever and crafty with foresight saw a potential in this new frontier that most either couldn't see or ignored. The voices began to diversify, and in diversity there was difference.
The internet gave more and more people megaphones. The right megaphone pointed in the right direction sounds pleasantly deafening to the right audience. We often think our events are the most important because of amplification.
When the Big Ten Network started, it wasnt available on all cable systems. Some sports fans were furious about the idea. A caller to “Sporttalk,” the Thursday night radio program on WSOY-AM (1340) hosted by H&R executive sports editor Mark Tupper and myself, was aghast his cable provider wasn't offering the network. “It would immediately be their most-watched channel,” he said.
I laughed and said that was the wrong argument, because there was no way it was true. The immediate reponse was “What is their most-watched channel then.” As I listed the networks I knew were more popular on cable than ESPN (and would be more generally popular than an even-more-niche network), the argument went in a different direction.
Whether sports fan, entertainmnet fan or news junkie, it's dangerous to assume the megaphone of your world has more reach than it really does. Just because it's loud to you doesn't even mean your neighbor or co-worker care.
So we can't have those shared moments anymore. We've lost the feeling of the realization of meeting a stranger and becoming friendlier because you saw The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” or heard “Saturday in the Park” on WLS-AM radio even though you were 500 miles apart.
Maybe we don't want that shared experience anymore. Maybe it's enough to listen to people who tell us exactly what we want to hear and no more.
But if we do want that shared experience, it's important to seek out something we dislike or with which we disagree. It's important to be exposed to views and experiences outside ours.
That's really the only way we can build toward having shared experiences again.