What we’ll miss when Big Brother finishes

Celebrity-big-brother-2010-logo If they stick to their word, when the last celebrity has left the house that's it,Channel 4 is done with Big Brother. But amid the cheering – consider what the launch of reality TV started. Forensic analysis of the social dynamics of a closed environment. For months at a time. Now social analysis has always been an interesting occupation ever since the My mate fancies you exhanges at school. But the way BB cut the labrats (sorry housemates) off from the outside world, changed the rules regularly and used the diary room to give us private feedback not available to the other house members (including votes) made an entire generation sensitive to social nuances in the confidence that all your fellow analyst were working with the same data set. There were no extraneous factors to take into account. And you knew more than the housemates.

This social experiment repeated twice a year for long swathes of programming time has been the equivalent of encouraging a couple of million people to practice piano for at least an hour a day. It has given a lot of people a skill they would never have sharpened to the same degree if the reality TV had never happened. And as TV executives walk away from reality TV formats to catch the next wave this skill won't be at the same pitch again for the foreseeable future. Online social media platforms use different muscles and critically they are open ended so you never have all the data.

As far as I am aware no research methodology has taken advantage of this hyper social observation awareness. Which is a pity since it is critical to how a lot of research is analysed and if research participants were to be roped into their own analysis we are at a particularly interesting time to make this work.  Why did X say that – what was she thinking and what do you think of the reaction of everyone else in the room?  There's a lot we won't miss about Big Brother. But let's at least acknowledge something it brought to the table and how many skilled practitioners it has created. Perhaps they will aplying for jobs in research agencies.



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