We have the ability to know anything and we wish we didn’t.
I’ve noticed a trend the last year or so that really only started to solidify in my mind this week when I was reading about the explosive popularity of a new TV show.
We Can Find Anything We Want
This isn’t a new phenomenon. I was Googling information for research papers when I was in middle school in the early 2000s. I remember one English class in which they took us to the library to learn how.
In the same day, someone can use Google to research which blender is the best buy for the money, to learn about the hunting practices of pre-Columbian Americans dwelling in what is now the southwestern United States, and to discern whether or not that mole on their neck is cancerous or not (it probably is).
Virtually every fact that can be known can be Googled, and for every fact you find you can find five opinions about that fact and three explanations of why that fact is actually fake.
The ability to find the answers to any questions we have is revolutionary and feels empowering most of the time.
But a rising trend in popular culture and buying habits is showing us that we long to be surprised more than ever.
We Long to Be Surprised
I want to look at three examples of how we long to be surprised:
One of the biggest, and fastest-growing, channels on YouTube is Ryan ToysReview. If you have a child under the age of like eight, you have heard of Ryan ToysReview. Forbes named him the top-grossing YouTuber in 2018. His videos get millions of views every day because when parents give their children an iPad, they watch his videos and those videos autoplay into more videos for hours on end.
A cornerstone of Ryan ToysRview’s content is anything “surprising.” Here is a search of that content, so you can see for yourself:
He even has his own line of “surprise” toys at places like Target:
The point: Ryan’s content is built on surprises.
When you don’t know what Ryan’s going to discover, you can experience the mystery yourself!
One of the most popular toys in the world today is LOL Surprise. It’s manufactured by MGA entertainment, the same folks who make Bratz.
The toys debuted in 2016 and were largely fueled by the subtle content marketing phenomenon that is YouTube channels directed at children like, you guessed it, Ryan ToysReview.
Pretty much the entire appeal of LOL Surprise is wrapped up in two things: 1) the reality that the child doesn’t know exactly what is inside (usually a combination of a doll and accessories), and 2) the prolonged “unboxing” experience that accompanies every LOL Surprise.
The genre of toy is literally listed in some places as “unboxing toy line.” Here’s an example:
The point: Children want toys that are surprising to them upon opening.
The experience of surprise is better than the doll itself.
A TV Show
I don’t really watch network television. Susie and I are watching The Good Place on the NBC app right now when we have time, but we don’t catch any TV shows live as they air.
However, despite my relative ignorance, it has been hard to miss the noise around Fox’s The Masked Singer, which is based on a show from South Korea.
The point, if you haven’t heard of it: a masked singer takes the stage in front of a panel of “judges.” This masked singer is unknown to the judges and is eventually revealed and to the amazement of everyone involved.
Here’s a clip:
The entire appeal of this show is that they don’t know who is singing under the mask.
If Terry Bradshaw just got up on stage and sang a song, nobody would watch. But when he gets up on stage looking like he belongs in Cirque du Soleil without anyone knowing who he is, people will watch for hours.
Why? Surely you know by now: surprise.
The point: People want to be surprised by unknown talents of unknown celebrities.
Watching a bunch of random celebrities sing isn’t nearly as interesting when you know who they are.
I think we’re knee-deep in an era of surprise.
Because all of us have the ability to know anything we want to know in our pockets.
IMDB can tell us who that B-list actor is who played that one guy in that one movie.
But it can’t tell us WHO’S BEHIND THE MASK!
Why get a Barbie doll when you can have the experience of opening a capsule, not knowing what’s inside?
When knowledge is readily available, we long for surprise.