This post is part of a three-part series sponsored by Samsung about the role of technology in sports fandom. Samsung was kind enough to give us a very broad topic and a lot of leeway in terms of what we can write about. I think most other blogs are probably going to participate in this series by hailing the virtues of the latest plasma / LCD technology. Since I'm not much of a gadget nut, I'm going to approach this in another (extremely sophomoric) way--at least for this post. Maybe next time I'll write a more fanboy-ish column about how awesome it is to go to the local sports bar and have ten huge flat screens around me showing various games to watch. For now, I'm going to subject you to the following food for thought.
While the majority of the population hails technological advancements as the hallmarks of progress, there have always been some who have worried over technology. The Luddites railed against textile innovations that deprived them of jobs. Neil Postman believed that the advent of television left us unable to relate to the world in traditional, authentic ways. The list could go on. What a lot of these views about technology have in common is that they point to how things that we now accept as completely natural may have, in ways that we rarely think about, fundamentally changed the way that we experience the world. In this light, what are the implication of the advent of digital, internet, instant-data-transfer, and other technologies for following sports?
First, of course, the positives, the stuff we all love about the new hi-tech world of sports. It is, for instance, now infinitely easier than ever before to follow your favorite team. Once upon a time, it was next to impossible to follow recruiting in the way that the internet has now made possible. The information just wasn't out there. These days, every Gamecock fan all over the country can get up the minute news about the latest commitment. Remember when we were all scouring the internet about Marcus Lattimore's recruitment in the days and hours leading up to his commitment? That's a phenomenon with little precedent.
Technology has also made it really easy for a guy like me, who left Columbia a few years back, to follow Carolina football. Most games games are now nationally televised, and the ones that aren't--including those against teams like Furman--are viewable on ESPN360. 30 years ago, before cable television and the internet, people like me wouldn't be able to see those games, which would make being the kind of obsessive fans we are fairly difficult.
Is there anything that we've lost with the technological advances in fandom, though? I'm probably not the person to answer that question. I'm not old enough to remember what it was like before ESPN existed, and I've also had the benefit of the internet for most of my life. I do, though, feel that as with anything, there's probably a payoff. I would imagine that going to or watching a game meant something a little bit different before it became so easy to do these things. Let's imagine what it must have been like to be a Steelers fan in New York and to watch your team win the Super Bowl back in the 70s. You don't get to watch games every week. Is it a more momentous occasion to watch the big one back then than it would be now? Is the actual experience of spectating different? Was there a certain pleasure in watching a game during this relatively low-tech time that we can't achieve now? I would have to assume so, although, again, it's hard for me to describe the how and why.
At the end of the day, though, this is essentially an academic exercise. Fandom is, mostly for the better, now thoroughly enmeshed in the world of the high tech. That's the world we live in, and it will like become increasingly so in the coming years.