These six words form the basis of a fascinating forum which exists on the popular social media site Reddit. In everyday life, most of us move in relatively small circles – and if we do meet someone who has had an extraordinary life experience, or who has a unique lifestyle or career, often social mores limit just what we can ask.
Enter the AMA (I am…ask me anything). Here you can learn about people who live in far away places – We are staff, students and teachers at a village middle school in Ghana in West Africa. Ask us anything., pop stars – I am PSY! Composer, singer, entertainer, and creator of “Gentleman” and “Gangnam Style”. Ask me anything, and parliamentarians – I am Scott Ludlam – Australian Greens Senator and national comms spokesperson. Ask Me Anything…
The anonymity of Reddit means that readers feel freer to ask what they really would like to know, and the rules of the AMA (literally, Ask Me Anything) means that the responses are more likely to be honest.
It was this recent AMA, from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam that prompted this post. While some AMAs are purile, many others are providing access to individuals that ‘average’ people would never be able to contact. Upcoming AMAs include Mason Peck, NASA’s chief technologist, Gillian Anderson, actress from THE FALL, Hannibal and The X-files, Major Blaine Jones, the lead solo pilot of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, and Roger Federer, Professional tennis player.
Their discussions, answering questions from everyday people, not only creates a wealth of hitherto unknown information, but also makes these people more human, as they relate their stories and interact with the readers – a far more intimate and involving experience than what was previously available only through magazine articles and television interviews.
As an increasing number of celebrities choose to do AMAs (Barack Obama brought Reddit to a standstill when he participated: I am Barack Obama, President of the United States — AMA) a level of proof of identity is required. This is difficult to fake, and if there is any whiff of insincerity redditors (and the moderators who manage the communities) are quick to jump on it; this was evident during the recent Morgan Freeman AMA, where the photo evidence looked dummied up and the responses appeared to be from a publicist rather than the man himself.
So what does the AMA mean for access, open communication and the ability to access primary source information? Simply, it is a new way for those in positions of authority, for those with unique life experiences, for those who are famous to share their stories more directly with others who might never meet them normally. It takes the concept of a campfire chat and distributes it across the globe. It democratises access and allows ordinary people to ask the questions that they really want answers to. It allows us to learn more about other peoples’ life experiences, their thoughts, their opinions and their beliefs, and it creates a unique source of primary information that will be archived online. Imagine if Neil Armstrong, Christopher Columbus, Mother Theresa or Margaret Thatcher had completed AMAs – what a trove of information we would have access to!