Peeking Through Periscope


I hate the term “social media expert.” I hate it with a passion. I hate it most of all when people refer to me as one. While I’ve advised people and organizations in use of that media scape, keeping up with social media trends beyond the staples of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram hasn’t interested me much. I’ll promote my songs or podcast. I’ll make jokes and complain about current events or nerdy topics. I just have no interest in publicly broadcasting my personal life.  Sure, I have healthy followings on the platforms I participate in, and I’ve even looked at some dirty pictures on SnapChat. But I’ve never “Kik’d it” let alone asked, “What’s App?”  I was prepared to wait out the Meerkat/Periscope battle until there was a defined champion before even playing with these new social applications.

If you’re unfamiliar with them: Periscope and Meerkat are apps connected to Twitter, which allow for live broadcasting from your phone, or you can watch others’ live feeds. These live streamed broadcasts are all the rage right now.

It recently became clear that Twitter’s own Periscope successfully won the turf war against competitor Meerkat; and when the father of reality broadcasting, comedian Albert Brooks, took to Periscope last week, I decided it was time to check it out.  If Periscope, as its name suggests, is a glance at what is going on above the water in the real world, I fear for society more than ever before.

Albert Brooks’ street pieces for Saturday Night Live shaped a new genre of media, created the mockumentary, and defined first person single camera commentary. His 1979 comedy Real Life opened the door for reality television as we know it. His use of Periscope thus far has been what you would expect from this mad genius: dry but entertaining. My favorite broadcast was titled, “I Believe I Can Fly,” which featured the song of the same name blasting loudly, as Mr. Brooks dangled his phone camera out the window.  After a few minutes of this, he threw his hat to the ground and said, “I’m going to have to rethink this,” and then the broadcast ended.

Other comedians, like Tom Green, are using the medium similarly. Mr. Green’s Periscope broadcasts are reminiscent of the many variations of his television and web shows. The Comedy Central show @Midnight has been Periscoping question and answer sessions with comedians who appeared on the taping that day. These are the few examples of mildly entertaining usages of Periscope that I’ve come across from established artists or brands. Yet, everyone is trying.

Alt-model pimps, Suicide Girls, have been actively Periscoping with various pin-ups hula-hooping, smoking pot, DJ-ing, or anything else they can think of around the clock. They easily get thousands of viewers for each of these live broadcasts. I suppose if you were a fan of one of these models, it could be somewhat entertaining, but if you’re looking for something steamier, the “sexy” stuff is coming from amateurs.

Cruising around Periscope isn’t exactly easy. It uses your Twitter connections as a base, and you can’t search out specific people or broadcasts. However, you can search Twitter for generic terms, and then connect to Periscope to view the live broadcasts. After a quick search entitled “live sex Periscope” on Twitter, I’ve been able to see people from around the globe masturbating in real time. One woman also gives out her SnapChat freely, so voyeurs can enjoy a more interactive experience with her. Unlike many women who use this to solicit funds via SnapChat, this particular user seemed to do so because she genuinely derived pleasure from the idea of people deriving pleasure from her. They always say that a technology can’t be successful until pornography takes off on it. Well, Periscope might just be the next big thing.

The majority of what I’ve discovered on Periscope is neither sexy nor funny. There seem to be many lonely people out there who just want strangers to ask them questions or someone to interact with before they go to bed. There are drug users who want to hang out with people while they use. Even some of the comedians I checked out on Periscope were live streaming the fast food drive-through or complaining about their parents while in bed. I just watched someone get ready in the bathroom to go out with friends. Not one joke was made.

There is no shortage of live bar room and club dance floor footage coming off Periscope either. However, even when people are propping themselves up to look really cool, it often comes off as desperate or lonely. People unfamiliar to me get thousands of viewers while broadcasting their nights at trendy clubs, but the footage is just them and their friends on their phones and not interacting with each other. Call me old fashioned, but that doesn’t look like a fun night out with friends.

Another trend seemed to be people showing off their possessions and bragging for the camera. I’ve never had much interest in that sort of philosophy, of defining one’s worth materialistically, so I didn’t stay tuned in very long to those broadcasts. Could they possibly they had more merit later on? I’ll never know, but I doubt it.

There is, however, some important usage of the app and this new capability of easily connecting to live broadcasts.  There were many feeds showing protests in Texas over that police officer who became violent at a pool party with a 14-year-old African American girl. I remember searching for these types of protest streams when the riots in Ferguson first broke out. Periscope would have been a wonderful tool last summer for getting the truth out more efficiently. If citizen journalism comes to Periscope, I will gladly enjoy and participate in the app. I just don’t need Periscope to show me how everyone wants to be a star or how narcissistic the average world citizen is becoming. The rest of mainstream media is doing just fine with that.

I wanted to experience the app as a broadcaster as well, but I didn’t have anything going on in my life that I thought was worthy of a broadcast. I was considering broadcasting a demo of recording a song in my studio, when the city I live in was hit with violent thunderstorms. Thus, I decided to give Periscoping a try in the middle of the night. I wrapped my phone in a plastic sandwich baggie, and attached it to a monopod on my balcony, aimed at the sky. For about six minutes, I broadcast the lightning, hail and rain. Sure enough, viewers flocked, commented and left me hearts. I suppose they don’t have weather where they live. Or maybe they just wanted to feel connected to someone else’s weather for a few minutes.

My favorite Periscope that I stumbled upon was a museum security guard on the East Coast giving a tour while doing his late-night rounds. It was incredibly interesting and charming in an every-man, behind-the-scenes kind of way.  It made me wish more people were doing Periscope live streams like that: a behind-the-scenes perspective into an area of life they could shed some light on to viewers. I’d love to see a butcher explaining his work, or artists displaying their crafts and how to make them. I think visual artists could market themselves by broadcasting pre-art openings. Musicians could Periscope their sound-checks in hopes of getting more people to the venue that night. I believe there are plenty of practical applications that could make Periscope a great marketing tool and an interesting channel to watch. However, the app is mostly full of girls talking to their phones out of loneliness or attention-seeking, with random strangers typing, “show boobs” in reply.

Perhaps, that is the world we live in now. Perhaps, this is the “show boobs” generation. Perhaps, even comedians and socialites need a social media space for complaining about daily life to strangers. Perhaps, that’s the content viewers around the globe really want to watch. Still, a Periscope with explicit sexual material during prime time had a couple hundred people watching, while that security guard giving a tour had several thousand in the dead of night. Albert Brooks and Tom Green are pulling many more viewers showcasing their personal brands of comedy than the comedians whining about their parents who support them unconditionally.  I’ll try to hold onto hope, for both Periscope and humanity.

Do you use Periscope? We want to hear why you like or dislike it, so be sure to comment below!