One of the benefits of the ongoing writer’s strike is that people like me get to catch up on reruns of all the shows we’ve missed, and for reasons I won’t bother to explain I found myself glued to several episodes of Gossip Girl’s first season. Much has already been made about the fact that the program, which resolves around the lives of a group of wealthy Upper East Side teenagers, is told through the voice of a blogger whose identity is not revealed. Observers have also noted the plethora of cell phones, laptops and other IT gadgetry that is showcased in scene after scene. What may have been overlooked is the profile of the people carrying those gadgets. Perhaps unintentionally, the producers of Gossip Girl may be giving IT managers an early glimpse of what their user base will look like in a few years.
While the cast is supposed to represent high-schoolers, most of the archetypes/stereotypes in Gossip Girl look more like junior versions of the people we meet in the corporate enterprise. Nate, the hot blond guy, is already being groomed by his father for his future in the CEO’s seat. Chuck, a lecherous villain, represents the worst of what we think about our friends in sales and finance. Blair, a good girl gone bad, uses information passed via cell phone to get ahead and get revenge, and would probably be a great VP of marketing. Serena, the bad girl gone good, should probably be thinking about a career in HR and her boyfriend, Dan, is seldom seen playing with technology but will probably end up deploying Vista in about five years as a tech support specialist.
What you learn about these users confirms a lot of the accepted thinking about the next-generation workforce. For starters, they are definitively mobile: it’s hard to imagine how they could juggle all the scheming and socializing they do while bound to a traditional desktop. Like the model customers of wireless data services, they are always connected, and use a combination of voice, text and images to convey information about each other. In the opening episode, Serena’s return to the New York scene becomes a bulletin that rockets across the city, with countless shots of gasping handheld users taking in the real-time update. Even a plunging stock price wouldn’t get this kind of reaction.
Although they often discuss pricey designer clothes, cars and other status symbols, the kids on Gossip Girl take technology for granted. Everyone totes around a thin-and-light notebook or a smartphone, but they don’t impress each other with them. They just use them for what they need, never ask for help and the compute clients are regarded as interchangeable, if not immediately replaceable (This is taken to new heights at the end of episode 2 when Serena, looking at a digital photo of a friend who has betrayed her, dumps her cell phone into a garbage can).
The most telling thing about Gossip Girl is that for all its IT-related window dressing, the show is really about the power of information. Revelations about young lovers’ affairs, details about a secret rendezvous, contact lists to whom party invitations are sent – the points on which the plots of various episodes turn are often not lies but the truth. Everyone in the show uses their technology tools to read the title character’s blog because they can’t risk being left in the dark. Would that the systems developed by IT managers in the enterprise prove even half as compelling, or addictive.