They do know some things, it's true. They're not spending their money frivolously, throwing it at random shows and hoping it will stick. Current spending habits are based on decades of careful research, much of it led by Nielsen, the audience measurement system developed by Nielsen Media Research, a market analysis firm founded in the 1920s, long before there was a television in every home. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks, though, that model is in the process of being turned on its head. Social media is taking the "old-school demographics," as Johanna Blakley calls them -- race, gender, age -- out of the equation and taking your interests into consideration.
Blakley, the deputy director at the Norman Lear Center, a nonpartisan research and public policy center that studies the political, social, cultural and economic impact of entertainment on the world, gave a speech last week at the TEDWomen conference in Washington, D.C., entitled "Social Media and the End of Gender." Blakley's talk was greeted with less skepticism than it seems she was anticipating. And that's because those of us who use the social media tools she talked about know intuitively that things are changing even if nobody has spelled it out for us yet. But what are the consequences of that change?
"Social media will help us to move past the stereotypes we associate with gender," Blakley opened. "It allows us to escape our demographics." When companies monitor your clickstream -- where and when you click on a Web browser or while using another software application; believe me, they're doing it -- it's hard for them to predict your age, race or gender. "When you look online at the way people aggregate and organize, it's not around age," Blakley said. "It's around interests."
Give this a quick test. Visit your Facebook page. Click on your age. First you'll have to look around to find where it's been moved. With the new design that rolled out last week, it's harder to find this bit of information than ever before. Then you'll realize that you've been tricked: You can't click on it. But there's plenty on your profile that you can click on: your place of work; your favorite sports teams, movies, television shows; the people that inspire you. And when you do click on these things you'll be taken to a page where you can find the 23,920 other people on Facebook that list Dickey's Deliverance as one of their favorite books of all time.
I went to the first fan page that pops up when you search for NCIS: LA and, while Facebook, which is growing in every area, but is still dominated by younger users, can't yet provide the perfect sample, the first person associated with the page a young girl named Nikki. She likes NCIS: LA and anime. She likes Harry Potter books and James Van Allen, the American space scientist named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1960.