The inventor of the flash mob, Bill Wisek, talks to Salon.com about his new book, “And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture.” In the interview, he defines what he means by the term nanostory.
I define nanostory as the basic unit of this kind of churning viral culture. Susan Boyle is a classic example of a nanostory. She burst onto the scene. Not just in Britain but here in the U.S. with a few YouTube videos. And immediately what she becomes is not just a little celebrity but this giant symbol of all this stuff about the culture that people want to hang on her. Her age or her appearance becomes symbolic of cutting against this youth- and beauty-obsessed media culture. The sort of style of music she likes, these throwback Broadway songs, wind up being indicative of some kind of more transcendent approach to music.
She becomes this giant symbol and all this meaning gets heaped upon her. But then of course, there’s nothing to sustain it. She became this giant micro-star at a point when she wasn’t going to be on television again for many weeks. If you can’t feed the machine, then it shuts down. We’ll just be distracted onto the next thing if it doesn’t give us more to keep us going. That, to me, is a classic example of a nanostory. It is a short-lived media phenomenon that is driven by the sheer quantity and speed of the contemporary conversation. So many hours of cable news to fill, there are so many blogs that need refreshing. Now there’s Twitter and more. And so we seize upon these tiny little things and try to elevate them into sensations, but of course they can’t bear up under the weight of it.