Fooled by Spectrum

From Rev. Jeremy Simons, Cathedral Chaplain
May 14, 2019

“Fooled by Spectrum” is the title of a talk aired last week by Seth Godin on his “Akimbo” podcast. He says that in 1950, only 9% of American households had a TV but by 1961, 90% of them did. According Godin this changed the world. Conversely, a similar change that has happened since the year 2000 is poised to change it back again.

The reference to “spectrum” is to the narrow range of the TV and radio dial that many of us grew up with. There were only a few channels on TV, and not that many more on the radio. The resulting scarcity of access to these attractive forms of communication meant that only the best and the brightest, and those with the broadest appeal, would be heard and seen. National brands, and national sources of top-quality news and entertainment, became more powerful than ever. Local brands, and items of interest to few, however, lost out – replaced by the national powers.

The lesson for religion, philosophy, and social commentary was that the message and the appeal had to be tailored to the broadest market possible in order to compete. If it did not have mass appeal, it would never be heard. The stiff competition for the scarce resources of spectrum, the narrow spectrum of broadcast channels, not to mention print publications, would choke out the message.

In the digital age, however, everything is changing. There is no longer a narrow spectrum. It has been replaced by almost unlimited access and opportunity. According to Godin this is having the effect of changing things back to being more like they used to be, before the dominance of the mass market.

Now, instead of needing a message with universal appeal there is much more ability to appeal to specific audiences. Those who want opera can find opera, those who want religion can find religion. The watchword now is less about mass marketing and more about finding what is called “the smallest viable audience.” That is, those few people who are looking for precisely what you have to offer, yet numerous enough to be “viable” or able to sustain the programming.

Despite the existence of this new situation, according to Godin, we continue to be “fooled by spectrum” – thinking that we need to appeal to a mass undifferentiated audience through offerings that are universally pleasing. But the new reality is that if the message is authentic and well presented, it will attract whoever is looking for exactly that message. They will be able to find it. We aren’t living in the 1960s anymore.

This is the strategy of offTheLeftEye, stating exactly what the Writings teach and making the source explicitly clear. As was demonstrated at last week’s Swedenborg Foundation meeting they are finding an audience. The new key is a distinct and differentiated message, not mass appeal. I think that this is an encouraging development for the New Church and for those of us in Bryn Athyn.

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