The Geography of Buzz

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Two professors, USC’s Elizabeth Currid and Columbia University’s Sarah Williams, have created what they call a “geography of buzz.” Starting in 2006, they mapped Getty Images photographs to cultural venues in New York and Los Angeles. Their result show that mainstream venues like the Lincoln Center in Manhattan and the Kodak Theater in LA lit up with the most buzz, while Brooklyn and Echo Park are dark. Currid and Williams’ study has implications for media studies and urban planning: digital technologies have not been entirely successful in de-centering cultural practices. Flashing lights attract flashing lights, busy doorways on one block mean busy doorways the next block over. Buzz attracts buzz.

There’s something tautological about claiming that buzz can be measured by the number of photographers at an event because photography can be geo-tagged. A buzz-worthy event is taking place here because it can be located here. Also, there’s an assumption that buzz is all one thing, or that the social significance of an event is tied up entirely in publicity. Some events attract interest precisely because there are no paparazzi lurking outside. There’s a kind of insider buzz: publishing people talking about a major book acquisition at a Hamptons party or bloggers picking up on a film screened at a festival. On the other end of the publicity spectrum, just because somebody snaps a picture outside Bungalow 8 in West Chelsea doesn’t mean anyone in Cleveland (or LA, for that matter) cares.

Still, the authors’ main point is persuasive: that the publicity machine still works the same way it has worked for decades, and that people still tend to gather around around urban centers.

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