The Super Bowl is the epitome of event television.
It’s probably the only televised event for which we gather with family and friends, as we have for decades, consuming abnormal amounts of wings and pizza, cookies and cake, beer and pop.
We gather at homes and restaurants and sports bars to watch a game that, quite frankly, many of us don’t really care about.
Try this. If you’re watching the game, ask the guy sitting next to you if he heard Richard Sherman’s remarks about Roger Goodell and the NFL earlier this week.
You’ll likely be met with a blank stare. He’ll probably take out his smartphone and do a quick “Who is Roger Goodell” search.
So why do we gather to watch this game? (Hint: It’s not just about the commercials.)
We join friends and family to watch because this event is the first form of social media.
The “social” part is all of us getting together, talking and laughing, sharing the experience (and lots of food).
The “media” part is that 70-inch screen in the middle of the room.
Sure, it’s not the new definition of “social media.” We may not be using mobile devices to access Facebook or logging on to Twitter to rave about great play. But we are “social” in the traditional sense, and it’s all because of a traditional form of media: television.
We’re watching with other people because we want to experience this event together. It’s a good reason to have a party, and it’s one of the few televised programs for which we have viewing parties.
This is not to suggest we abandon all new social media while watching the big game.
According to Twitter, more than 24.9 million tweets were posted during Super Bowl XLVIII last year, up slightly from the year before. For those of you unable to recall the outcome of last year’s big game, Seattle defeated Denver 43-8. Many of those tweets about the Super Bowl were probably posted out of sheer boredom.
Of course, many of the tweets during last year’s game weren’t even about the game itself, but about the halftime show with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Super Bowl halftime show has become this mini-rock concert set within the biggest show on earth.
So it should be no surprise that viewers with little to no interest in the outcome of the game were posting status updates about things other than the game, but still using the Super Bowl twitter handle: @SuperBowl.
But what if this year’s event is closer? What if the Patriots-Seahawks game is a nail biter? Will people go to their mobile devices to share the experience with distant others just as they are with people in the same room?
I hope not. My hope is that we put down our mobile devices for a few minutes and enjoy this old school form of social media: the Super Bowl.
~ A version of this column appeared in the Sunday, February 1, 2015 "Connected" section of The Vindicator.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.