Beyond mediation

We are all media now, right? That’s what we, the mediating, tell ourselves. (Or some of us, anyway.) But what if that’s not how we feel about it? What if the roles we play are not to pass along substances called “data” or “information” but rather to feed hungry minds? That’s different.

Michael Polanyi* calls that hunger our heuristic passions:

  Scientists — that is, creative scientists — spend their lives in trying to guess right. They are sustained and guided therein by their heuristic passoin. We call their work creative because it changes the world as we see it, by deepening our understanding of it. The change is irrevocable. A problem tat I have once solved can no longer puzzle me; I cannot guess what I already know. Having made a discovery, I shall never see the world again as before. My eyes have become different. I have made myself into a person seeing and thinking differently. I have crossed a gap, the heuristic gap which lies between problem and discovery.

Polanyi was a scientist before he took up philosophy. But his lesson applies to all of us who inform purposefully — rather than just mediate — because it recognizes natures of inquiry and influence that far exceed mediation alone. Even The Media aren’t just conduits. Newspapers and magazines have institutional imperatives of the same mind-enlarging sort.

Back in 2003 I wrote, “Blogging is about making and changing minds… about scaffolding new and better understandings of one subject or another”. Jay Rosen ran with that, adding that blogging “is an inconclusive act”.

It’s with this in mind that I read through John Bracken‘s rundown of 2008’s Most Influential Writing About Media. Lots of great stuff I missed, or would want to visit again.

Earlier this morning I answered a call for advice from a friend at a major newspaper. This led me to revisit the “ten helpful clues” I blogged in October 2006, and expanded slightly in March 2007. I’m not sure if this had any influence, but it’s encouraging to seeing nearly all ten suggestions followed, at least to some degree. (I knew the ice had truly thawed when the LA Times hired superblogger Tony Pierce, who now also tweets.)

Two that stand out as unfinished business: 8) Uncomplicate your websites, and 10) Publish Rivers of News. These two are becoming essential now that Apple will be selling iPhones through Wal-Mart. Nothing from a paper loads faster or says more in less time than a news river. (Here’s more from Dave, whose innovation it is.)

There are “mobile” versions from some papers. The Washington Post’s, for example, is well suited for mobiles, and may qualify as rivers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the iPhone defaults to, which is a much better way to read the paper, even in a full-sized browser, than the paper’s main page, which has the curretly customary spread of clutter — especially advertising. (Although the AJC kindly puts the advertising below front page editorial, rather than crowding editorial within acres of advertising.) My old home-county paper, the Bergen Record, is online, and has an awful ad that peels down a corner of the front page to reveal a pitch for VW. This makes me dislike both the site and VW. Color me gone.

Anyway, I’m still encouraged. Progress is being made. And I have a feeling that the current economic downturn will make it move faster.

* Forgive me: as an undergrad philosophy major Polanyi was about all we studied — or that I remember, anyway. Classmates Stephen Lewis and Tom Brown stuck with the discipline and remember far more.

Bonus link.