Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Media "singularity"

Editor's note: When one of my posts over at Xark! (a criticism of Anderson Cooper called Enough with the posing) initiated an interesting back-and-forth about media credibility and objectivity, it prompted me to write a long comment. I'm cross-posting it here because, as I read over it on the page, it occurred to me that I had inadvertently described a state of media singularity -- an evolutionary step in human consciousness.
The discussion about credibility/objectivity/etc. is a worthy one, but my point here was more basic: I don't like the acting, the dramatic personae, the fake cinema verte. I think Geraldo has done it for years, and it's laughable, but when I watched Anderson Cooper do it, I found it disturbing.

One of the best things I read every day is a MediaChannel.org e-mail called Media Savvy: A daily update on media and political matters that has the effect of making me a better receiver. From an informed position, everything has value -- Hannity, Limbaugh, Franken, PrisonPlanet, Stewart.

But what I notice about myself is that I assume I'm capable of watching all this and sorting it out in meaningful ways, but I assume that people who tend to get all their news from one source or another lack this perspective. So an important question becomes: "Am I right about that?" And if I am, what (if anything) should we do about that? Does it require any action more specific than identification and discussion?

These days I write a great deal about biology, and here's a lesson from the life sciences: diversity is the sign of a healthy ecosystem. Taken as a whole, our mediasphere is more diverse than ever, but the real issue is, what about people who self-select a media monoculture? How do we re-engage them?

And this is where I think Janet is headed in the right direction: The spirit of the new media age is niche. The spirit of the old was One-Size-Fits-All. I think that when we fight over MSM coverage today, the unspoken goal is actually control over the normative power that Big Media represented in the One-Size-Fits-All Era. Conservatives aren't generally angry at bloggers who write opinionated pieces favoring homosexual marriage, but an AP story that takes no stand yet has the effect of making gay unions look normal drives them nuts.

Janet says that a new media will emerge, and I agree. I think we're actually making it, right now, right here, at this moment. The old model is top-down, normative, restrictive, authoritarian. The new model is sideways-distributed, group-forming and based (in the loose sense) on merit rather than authority.

It's hard to imagine this now, but it will become easier once we build the tools that that give individual users more direct control over information. By tools I mean the tools of discovery informatics, neural networks, intelligent agents: thinking tools, pattern-recognition tools, aggregators, quantifiers, connectors.

Today a blog is an individual neuron in a holographic consciousness that isn't yet fully self-conscious, something that allows us access to the greatest problem-solving technology ever invented (community).

In the future, a "blog" will be part of an aggregate, measured, fluctuating vox populi, and the back-and-forth flow of information will be ordered and shaped not by editors and producers, but by machines.

The human factor doesn't disappear in such a system -- it just moves to doing the things that humans do best: Asking questions, sharing experiences, considering options, etc.

That's the optimistic view. The pessimistic future is FOX Populai, the manipulation of small media by Big Media in a monocultural hierarchy. You can choose left or right or "phony centrism" (left and right will both claim that the "objective" journalists are all working for the other side secretly), and the culture will continue to polarize.

But we're not playing on that level right now. Today, blogs and VODcasts are just "cool," particularly with the demographic that forms the core audience for Anderson Cooper 360. When Cooper steps out of his news character and steps into his romantic citizen-journalist character, he is self-consciously trying to be two contradictory things at once. Maybe that's a sign of genius. And maybe it's just opportunistic and shallow.