Recently, I was rereading Adam Curry’s essay “The Big Lie”, written on the occasion of the assassination of Pim Fortuyn (plug – Adam will be at BloggerCon next month), in which he comments on the propensity of major media, seemingly in collusion, to misstate, misrepresent and misinterpret the news. Since 90% of the developed world take Big Media as the main data input when forming their world-view, this is a problem. Can Blogs provide an alternative?
Given the intolerable, seemingly irresistible glare of that major media spotlight as it moves over the planet at the beck and call of unseen masters, blasting situations and individuals into instantaneous superficial illumination only to move on moments later leaving disrupted lives and lingering untrue afterimages in its wake, Curry speculates that an aware and connected Blogosphere could provide an alternative. This got me thinking.
It is true that the rapid growth and connectedness of blogging, especially that branch of blogging dedicated to diffusion and discussion of the news, opens a potential alternative route for real people to get unfiltered reports of news events from other real people, without the intervention of a bunch of suits in Manhattan or L.A. However there are a number of problems in realizing this potential.
The existing system, in which global news corporations send out their legions of reporters and technicians as events develop around the planet is well-suited to the fast-paced tempo of world events in the 21st century and takes advantage of the notoriously short memory of the body politic to move us along as its masters see fit, not allowing the global mind to linger too long on topics embarrassing, complex or controversial.
The Blogosphere, on the other hand, is diffuse, independent, and although quick in conectivity, not very well coordinated in terms of delivering meaningful information to mass audiences in a timely manner. There are simply too many options.
True, we are getting to the point where when a newsworthy event transpires anywhere in the world, there is most likely a blogger nearby, and an unfiltered feed from a real live witness is probably available almost immediately in the Blogosphere. But how long will it take for that probably obscure feed, which may be from a feed store in Bolivia or a flower shop in Florida or a beach resort in Borneo, to come to the attention of the millions of inquiring minds looking for an alternative to the desperate, ratings-driven drivel streaming from the tube?
Some will find these authentic voices through Google or Blogdex or the internet grapevine, and eventually bigger Blogs or cross-referencing will bring them to the attention of the masses. But when the topic of the day changes every 12 minutes, how many will have the mental resolve or focus to stay with yesterday’s news?
So I struggled with the problem of how the blogosphere could realistically and practically become a functional alternative to the mass media. How to compete with a billion-dollar business built specifically to collect and distribute information as fast as possible?
Well, actually, bloggers have a head start, because we are ALREADY THERE when the news happens. It may take the majors anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to get their mercenaries to the scene, but there is a lag. The momentary advantage is lost, however, when it comes to getting the information to a mass audience.
Perhaps we should establish some central clearinghouse where a virtual map of the world could advise seekers of the 100 closest blogs to any headline generating world event location. Or better yet, a secret directorate of discerning news-hounds who could review blogs geographically or thematically close to the news streaming off of the wires (which doesn’t begin to deal with the question of how this shit gets ONTO the news wires in the first place) and publish an RSS feed dedicated to “the other sides of the stories”.
Ah, but that would be playing right into their hands. Another top-down model. Another “central authority”. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be rebelling against? And the more I thought about it the more I realized how unnecessary it is.
The bottom up model of information diffusion already exists in the blogosphere. It’s what happens when Aunt Tilly sends an email to her nephew at the state college mentioning a plague of six-legged frogs emerging from the pond out back by the abandoned chemical plant, and said nephew puts it on his limited-distribution blog (average day – 8 hits), where an ex-roommate now working for Fidelity sees it and puts it on HIS blog, which is read by some famous blogger who owns Fidelity mutual funds and is fishing for insider info and who instantly puts it in front of millions of eyeballs.
How long would this take? I suspect such seemingly random chains of diffusion can operate pretty quickly, especially in cases of breaking news and readers who are actively looking for news sources on whatever is happening.
That leaves the question of who decides what we should be focusing on at any moment, and when it’s time to move on to a new topic. Who is directing the attention of the mind attached to the world-wide body politic? If the electronic worldwide data network is like a giant brain, then the Major Media Moguls are trying to play the part of the ego, the conscious mind, directing awareness wherever they see fit. Is there any way to wrest control of global consciousness from this crass coven of craven capitalists?
For some time I have been thinking of the ever expanding and intensifying world network of communications and data transfer as the emerging nervous system of a new sort of entity, a functionally organic although physically artificial creature likes of which has never been seen before. In this analogy the Major Media model of a Central Nervous System is directed from the top by a brain trust composed of the owners of the major networks and news outlets, who direct the organism’s attention and control the flow of information between the different sub networks which compose the creature’s body.
Perhaps Bloggers offer an alternative cognitive model for the emerging organism. Perhaps each individual blog is like a brain cell, able to connect with other brain cells and transmit information without the intervention of a centralized command center, a conscious director, an informational gatekeeper. A bottoms-up model where ideas and connections can come from anywhere, and those that show sufficient merits by whatever measure will bubble up into the collective consciousness, a kind of Darwinian selection of interesting or valuable or original thinking.
It remains to be seen whether this process will actually function in the real world. The 2004 Presidential Elections will be one of the first major tests of the Blogosphere as an alternative to the mass media machine. There are problems and dangers yet to be dealt with. In my next screed I will write about …The Dark Side of Blogging.