Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Theme Park-Social Media Enjoyment Effect

The Internet is a great thing for Disney theme park aficionados, because it’s an unlimited fountain of information about all the latest goings-on at the parks. And that’s a good thing, right? Or is it?

There’s an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and I wonder if it doesn’t pertain to our relationship to the theme parks in this era of instant information. Before we had access to palm-sized communicators that allow us to broadcast our thoughts to whoever on the planet is interested in hearing them, we were blissfully unaware about what was happening at Disney World when we weren’t there. And even then, we mostly only knew how things were going in the immediate area of the property where we were at any given time. It was easy to imagine that everything at Disney World worked perfectly (or almost perfectly) all of the time, because we had no evidence to the contrary.

But now, every time a Monorail line or attraction goes down, or some in-ride effect or Animatronic stops working-even if it’s only for a few minutes, someone is bound to tweet about it. This constant flow of instant information exposes the parks for what they really are-a complex system made up of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of moving parts that do not always work perfectly 100% of the time. When you’re actually in the parks having a good time, though, little mishaps and outages don’t bother you too much. Sure, you may grumble about the inconvenience of having to take the ferryboat or the Resort Monorail because the Express Monorail went down, but a few minutes after you get to the Magic Kingdom you’ve forgotten all about it. And if the Davy Jones projection doesn’t work on Pirates of the Caribbean or the Burning Rome smellitzer isn’t working on Spaceship Earth it won’t really ruin the ride for you or anyone else.

Now, I’m not giving Disney a free pass for shoddy management that’s myopically focused on short-term profit at the expense of absolutely everything else. My point is that when we’re not in the parks, and yet we’re instantly aware whenever anything in them breaks down for five minutes, it can create the perception that nothing ever works right and things are worse than they really are. And when we do visit Disney World, we might find ourselves scrutinizing every in-ride effect and Animatronic looking for some hint of a malfunction so we can whip our our smartphone and tell the world about it. With that mindset, a trip to the Vacation Kingdom seems more like work and less like, well, a vacation.

Obviously, sometimes this kind of reporting from the parks can do some good. For example, Kevin Yee’s video of the completely broken Splash Mountain finale scene shamed Disney into fixing it, at least temporarily. And if you’re actually in the parks it’s nice to get a heads-up that an attraction or mode of transport has gone down so you can adjust your plans accordingly.

Otherwise, try to place the daily flow of information in its proper context. After all, if a brief Monorail outage doesn’t ruin the day in Orlando, there’s no reason it should ruin yours if you’re not even there. So relax. Things are not going so bad at Disney World that on your next visit you’ll be forced to row an inflatable raft across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom just so you can ride through darkened show buildings full of broken Animatronics and deactivated effects. A friendly Cast Member will do the rowing for you.