10-4, Social Media – We Got Ourselves a Convoy!

Written by Tom Snyder | Posted on 9 August 2010

Topics: Blog

When I started my digital agency back in 1996, I constantly ran into critics who called the Web “The CB radio of the 90’s.”  Eventually, as the web demonstrated it was more than just a  flash in the pan, time has proven those critics wrong. But, I’m wondering where those same critics are today who would claim Social Media is the “CB radio of this decade?”

I ask because, unlike the criticism of the web, this time they could be right!

Friends in the Social Media universe know me as Triveraguy (my profile name on Twitter). But, back in the 70’s, another Social Media “community” knew me as Grouchy Bear.

The medium was CB, or “citizen’s band” radio.  The radios themselves had both a receive and transmit function, allowing anyone to engage in short blast broadcast conversations with other people who also had one.  Originally used almost exclusively by the over-the-road truck driving community, it spread to include just regular folks, some using mobile devices, others using desktop units.  The general communication happened on channel 19, where a constant cacophony of messages filled the airwaves… everything from truck drivers warning of speed traps or drunk drivers, stalled motorists asking for assistance, truck stops inviting drivers to their business or regular people just talking about such inane topics as where they were (your “10-20”) and what they were doing. As groups of friends and followers formed, other sideband channels  became the gathering places for those communities. “Lower Channel 15” was the hangout for me, Bird Lady, Lannon Rich and at least a  dozen others whose handles I’ve long forgotten.

The CB community used its own nomenclature…an almost secret code language…that longtimers helped create, and caused newbies to have to monitor for awhile before they dared to jump in and actively participate.

Community “leaders” emerged who organized meet lenders on line ups to allow all these people who had never met each other face to face to see the other folks behind the handles. Connections were made, and relationships were built.  I even met a great guy I ended up hiring and we are friends to this day.

Non CBers just thought we were all nuts, but we were convinced everyone needed to be using CB radio. And our nearly evangelistic fervor drove our “non-enlightened” friends, neighbors and relatives crazy. But then CB radio started to show up in the consciousness of mainstream America. The movie “Smokey and The Bandit” hit the theaters and was a huge hit.  C.W. McCall’s song “Convoy” made the top of the charts and produced a movie of the same name.  And there were the popular TV shows like “Movin’ On” and “The Dukes of Hazzard” that glorified the whole CB lifestyle. We had arrived, and we knew it would only be a matter of time before we took over the world.

If you’re one of us who are active in Social Media, I’m sure you see the stunning parallels. The reason I “get” Social Media is because, for me it really is just another stop in a series of subcultures that began with the hippie subculture of the 60’s and early 70’s, and after the CB radio adventure, went on to other religious, business and technological subcultures and has now culminated in Social Media. If you’ve ever been a part of a large multi-level marketing, religious or hobby-based subculture, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say every one of them has so many of the same characteristics as Social Media, it’s scary.

But all good things come to an end. In rare cases, subcultures grow and become so mainstream that they stop being subcultures and become part of the fabric of the culture at large. Others sink into insignificance and obscurity. Often it’s because people move on with their lives. Sometimes, the technology that makes it possible gets trumped by something new. Frequently the whole subculture simultaneously has a “what were we thinking?” epiphany and it dies from mass exodus.

Universal acceptance for the CB subculture never materialized. It ended up being just another fad that exploded for a time, but eventually returned to its roots, still being used to this day, but almost solely by truckers.

So what ultimately happens to the Social Media subculture? Its fans believe Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and all the others will be like the Web and leapfrog into mass acceptance and live happily ever after.  But, we’ve already seen MySpace begin to lose its luster. While nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook profile,  Twitter’s penetration is still significantly smaller, and according unsecured payday loans to Forrester Research, only 1% use check-in services regularly. With a business impact that’s tinier than its zealots are willing to admit,  its insider lingo, club-like characteristics, evangelistic fervor and the fact that in most markets, the Social Media community is only large enough to support the one or two businesses that are trotted out by the media as the “examples of success,” the jury may still be out.

You could always tell a CBer by the long antenna on his car, truck or house. One of our clients told us the other day that she could tell us Twitter people because of the antennae that we have growing out of our own heads!

So all irrational exuberance aside,  what do you think history predicts is next on the horizon for Social Media? Is Social Media headed for a “10-7” or will the future be “clean and green with the shiny side up and the greasy side down?”

Werewolves of London

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6 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Jim Raffel says:

    Tom, Excellent analogy. Does it say something about me(us) that I was a CB-er too? Hmm, we’ll have to think about that one.

  2. Tom Snyder says:

    It says that either great minds think alike, or that there’s a need for a support group for recovering Social Media addicts.

  3. SCH says:

    Very interesting read, and well presented point. However, as with most trends, It’s obviously payday loan shop near impossible to predict whether or not Social Media is just another fad or will be permenantly embedded in the culture of modern society. With its current low cost adoption for businesses, I hardly see Social Media as a worrying investement for many organisations whether large or small. On the myspace point, platforms like Myspace are failing where Facebook is suceeding as users simply switched to the better service. Although Facebooks growth is slowing (perhaps only due to the recognised ‘summer relaxation period’), I’m sure the next new breakthrough platform is only just around the corner.

    Any sequence of events could change internet loads the future course for the industry, I feel that perhaps a security issue/scare could be a potential disaster that could stop social media progressing into the mainstreme.

  4. Hey Tom,

    Man did you bring back some memories with this post…(more of that in a second)

    Your line “Its fans believe Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and all the others will be like the Web” intrigued me for I think many look at Facebook, Twitter, et al AS the Internet and they wont one day BE like the Net, they already ARE the Internet, if that makes any sense.

    Personally i dont think Social Media will go by the way of CBs becuase of sheer numbers and the mediums and platforms that are available now for all SM Evangelists to preach from.

    Now, as for your references… I fancy myself a pretty savvy trivia buff, especially when it comes to pop culture of the 70s and 80s and for the life of me I have never heard of the show “Movin’ On.” Of course I’ve heard of Claude Akins (BJ & the Bear and Sheriff Lobo) but never of Movin’ On.

    I must’ve been watching reruns of Mr T & Tina…

    • Anthony Rotolo says:

      Hey Steve… “Popular” may be a relative term… Movin’ On lasted 2 seasons, so it had decent enough viewership, but probably was just popular south of the Mason Dixon line and among the CB crowd up North.

      Typically, as subcultures begin to grow to become part of the mainstream, other sub-subcultures begin to develop from among them… some with the goal to get big enough to go mainstream themselves, others wear a separatist identity like a badge of honor. Early on, those who built the Web into what it is today were a subculture. Now that virtually everyone uses the Web to one extent or another, the Web subculture has given way to Social Media, and several of its own subcultures. Facebook is the closest to mainstream. The others are up and coming, but I still look around any crowd of people and ask myself: how many of these people are on Twitter or Foursquare. Depending on the demographic, typically it’s betwen none and a handful… but never more than 5-10% unless I’m at AJ Bombers or a Tweet up. 🙂

      I am optimistic that they all will continue to grow, and even if one of the platforms fail, Social Media as a whole will never fade into obscurity.

  5. Tom,

    Outstanding post. As someone who grew up around CB radios (probably long after they were cool), and sometimes got to fool around with some of the old radio equipment my family still had, I can somewhat relate to the CB culture you’re describing. I remember listening quietly to learn what all the lingo meant, sometimes wondering if the truckers were even speaking the same language. Today, I speak to whole rooms full of people who want me to decode the RTs and @’s of Twitter! The parallels really are amazing.

    To answer your question about the future, I’d say that social media will not go the way of CB, even if Facebook, Twitter and the rest end up like MySpace. It’s important to distinguish social media and the shift toward user-generated content from the specific platforms and networks that are popular at the moment. From MySpace and Facebook we learned a lot about what drives people to connect with each other (and with brands), and share information across their networks. The evolution continued as Facebook added the news feed and Twitter took the feed public. The interactions that resulted — and the shift toward information streams rather than broadcast sources — are the aspects of social media that will still be with us long after some of these networks fizzle out.

    Perhaps those early critics were on to something when they called the Web the “CB of the 90s” because, as you pointed out, the culture of the CB is definitely still with us online. It carried through to the early bulletin boards, grew into AOL chat rooms… IM… and we still see it today when we tweet. The popular sites may change, but it seems likely that the culture will continue to evolve along with the medium.


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