Are We Anywhere?

Dan wrote a post about the Planned Parenthood story to which Tod responded with an assessment of our current media landscape.

I more or less agree with the context of Tod’s piece.  To get it out of the way, I believe that Tod’s right, to a very important extent, about the current state of new media.

So here’s a meta question.

Are the existing market incentives for clickbait-hysteria…

(a) the new norm (we are somewhere we haven’t been before);
(b) a side effect of transient, disruptive media changes (we’re not somewhere yet, so this is symptomatic of transition rather than the new normal);
(c) symptomatic of a death spiral of a new media instance (we are somewhere, and it’s already dying?)
(d) the inevitable resting endpoint, the heat death, of responsible journalism?

To flesh that out a bit more…

Let’s go with a simplistic analysis of factual media in the United States.  This isn’t a dissertation on journalism in the U.S., so gloss over the nuance with me here for a moment.

At the spawn of the country, print media was still pretty expensive, mostly done by non-coordinating independents, largely individualized by those folks, and wholly irresponsible when it came to talking about matters of fact.  I’m just asserting this, but if you want raw evidence just read any political pamphlet from the first dozen or so Presidential races and realize that this wasn’t fringe media making up ridiculous charges about candidates… this was literally *the only* media available.

Somewhere between the beginning of the industrial revolution and the advent of widespread wireless radio, it became cheap enough to mass-produce what we now think of as mass circulation newspapers, at a price that sufficient folks could afford to buy them, because they had money to waste on things like the local fishwrap instead of food.  The metropolitan newspaper became a media instance of its own.  We get they heyday of William Randolph Hearst and other media moguls.  Now print media is cheap as dirt, mostly done by somewhat coordinating independents (usually broken into two competing organizations in any given metropolitan area, the Blue paper and the Red one), and still pretty irresponsible when it comes to matters of fact, because making stuff up can improve your circulation when you’re either the local Blue paper or the local Red one.

Then we get radio.  Now print media needs to compete with a new way of disseminating information.  New organizations pop up running competing media sources, and the “news” part of the newspaper has to start to compete with a news distribution method that is much faster.  Newspapers respond to this by writing longer form pieces, more magazines start to crop up to fill the new void of long form journalism.  Some former newspaper moguls respond by increasing their media empires by buying up radio and other newspapers and magazines, and forming the first media empires.  Others die out.

Then we get television.  Now radio has a competitor, and print has a competitor, and the government has some fairly heavy regulations on what broadcasting companies can and cannot do over the airwaves (before anybody starts moaning about terrible censors and how you can’t say certain words over broadcast television even today, let’s just leave that conversation for another day, eh?)  The Big Three broadcasting companies have news divisions, which are necessarily segregated to some extent from the profit motive by the fact that the Big Three are required to have them.

Now along comes Ted Turner.  He’s disruptive.  CNN.  Fox News.  MSNBC.  Cable news is disruptive to the television/print/radio trifecta… the amount of disruption largely depending upon local markets and how much of those three news distribution channels are owned by a mogul or a newscorp and how aggressively they are competing in any individual market… and what that local market wants to hear/see/have reinforced in the editorial pages, of course.

Now we’ve got teh Intrawebs.

Now, if you plot all those disruptive moments in news media over time vs. time periods with a status quo, you’re going to probably find something along the lines of 30-50 years of print media being pretty stable, overlapping with 30-50 years of radio being pretty stable, overlapping with 30-50 years of television being pretty stable, and then a gigantic train wreck of fifteen years where there *is* no “new norm”, there is only “things are changing really fast”.

The Internet has mucked things up considerably.  With vested interests in print and radio and television and cable news, and a morass of regulation and a bunch of other things, it’s not clear to me that we’re anywhere that can be called a place.  We’re traveling from one place to another.

Tod’s piece doesn’t come right out and talk about this, but the subtext I get from reading it (and from the other good work he’s done here) is that he’s got some underlying assumptions that are leading him to consider the current state of affairs as a new normal, and one with a lot of bad incentives.  While I agree there are a lot of bad incentives, I don’t think we’re at a norm, so I’m less concerned that there are systemic problems here.

Here’s a thing that I say occasionally, I’ll say it again, just to remind us all:

We’re the weirdos, here, people.  Most folks don’t register to vote.  Of those that register to vote, most of them don’t vote.  Of the ones that do vote, most of them don’t really follow politics and policy.

Of the ones that *do* follow politics and policy, very few of them actually follow more than a half-handful of personally held important issues.

Of the ones that *do* follow politics and policy and have *more* than a half-handful of personally held important issues, most of them have ideological blinders that make their policy preferences pretty predictable.

Of the ones that *do* follow politics and policy and have more than a half-handful of personally held important issues which they can regard while consciously removing their ideological blinders so that they can regard policy without overwhelming bias… well, there’s about fifteen or twenty thousand of us, am I right?

SO…

The current state of affairs is clearly rewarding horrible… biased… hit-piece… click-bait journalism.

No argument there.

Who’s reading it?  And is it really affecting their public policy preferences?  We’re becoming a more divided country, by the rhetorical language used by our talking heads and ideologically slanted media overlords… but are they really over-lording much?  Wasn’t the end result of the GOP Primary last cycle the nomination of the fairly right of center, technocratic, historically moderate Mitt, and not… well… anybody else?  Does anyone seriously think that Donald Trump is going to last twenty days past the Iowa primary, if he gets that far?

And isn’t there an inevitable backlash?

Already the squishy middle folks like me just can’t tolerate the hyperbolic editorialized baloney that passes for basic news “reporting”.

So folks that write hit pieces get clicks, usually from the outraged fringe on both sides, and the response pieces get clicks, also from the outraged fringe on both sides, and the fringes are getting pushed farther to the right and left and thus more and more folks in the middle are getting less and less interested in the conversation at all.  Fox News viewership isn’t going to be replenished in the next decade, not at the same rate that the boomers die off.

The meta-level incentive here is pretty stark.  You can get increasingly shrill and get better retransmission rates between a rapidly decreasing number of users… which is the current path.  But eventually you hit a tipping point.  You need the folks that you’ve forced to tune out.

Folks who are twenty years younger than I am don’t even have the same media consumption *universe* that I do.

Isn’t this whole thing unsustainable?  Sure, the incentives are bad right now, and their inevitable outcome is *garbage*.

Who wants a steady diet of garbage?  Remember what happened to the O.G. media moguls like Hearst?  Public response to guys like Hearst is what gave us Edward R. Murrow.  It is what gave us FCC rules that required broadcast television networks to carry news departments in the first place.

So where are we?

(image credit: “WaitOctaviaMoRShrug” by Infrogmation of New Orleans – Photo by Infrogmation (talk). Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -)

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57 thoughts on “Are We Anywhere?

  1. Good question. I know my media habits have shifted a lot over the last few years and i probably think more about what i want to search out or even let through my filter. That wasn’t much of an issue 20 years ago when it was more an issue of how to get more information and having few sources. Now we have a million sources and a fire hose of info.

    My guess is many people, especially young folk who will grow up with the intertoobz always being present, will want carefully curated information ( for better and worse) and also be more conscious about the media they consume. They will be used to the fire hose of info and need to learn how to cope with it earlier then us old folks. People will put more effort into developing good personal filters for what info they take in to protect themselves from an information glut. We are at the point where we aren’t going to keep getting more and more info or new sources of info, as we have been for the last 10-15 years. We’re getting to the How do we Manage all this Crap stage instead of the Look at this New Shiny Thing stage.

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  2. I don’t know a lot about this, but my gut says that this is part of Capitalism eating itself in order to continue to survive. Too much competition for too little resources, so things start to get crazy.

    Further, this is some of the same reason behind increased Polarization that Saul wrote about. Capitalism is dying, Empire is collapsing. These are the things that happen – slowly – while things wind down.

    We’re trying to survive by eating our own tail.

    My answer is that the answer is pieces of A, B, C, and D.

    We are in a new normal, but it will continue to change. We are transitioning from being a Super Empire, to being just one of the other countries out there. The death spiral is because Empires spend exorbitant amounts of money and resources on maintaining the Empire. Responsible Journalism wasn’t ever really a thing, in the way we like to imagine it, I think. It’s always been Capitalism first, right? Of course, a few exceptions, but we’re painting with the broad brush here.

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    • The U.S. is still really the only superpower when it comes to military might though. I agree that things are changing economically but I don’t think capitalism is going to die anytime soon.

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      • Agreed on military might. I think I’m looking at it from the sense that military might isn’t the same thing it used to be. There are other kinds of wars that can be used to further politics, and military might isn’t the thing you need for those wars.

        And, while I agree that capitalism isn’t going to die anytime soon, it is interesting to me that when I bring this up (that Capitalism is dying), the reactions tend to be “capitalism isn’t going anywhere” types of responses. Does everyone really believe that Capitalism will not be replaced by something else? I find that fascinating, because that is how it appears to me.

        However, maybe it’s just fear of admitting that it won’t be like this forever.

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        • I don’t believe in the End of History, so I can certainly believe that capitalism (whatever specifically you mean by that) may one day be supplanted, just as I believe the same will eventually happen to democracy. I don’t think that capitalism’s replacement has been invented yet though.

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          • I’m with James. If capitalism is dying, and that old hoary unlovable goat named Capitalism has out lived a LOT of people predicting its demise, then I’m doubtful it’s replacement has been gestated yet.

            Though if you do know what the successor is post about it because that would make you richer than Croseus and more famous than Elvis. Also it would be great for the site.

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              • But, again, why must capitalism be replaced with something new or better?

                Have there never been times when an economic system is replaced by another economic system that already exists? Certainly there are places that have devolved back to previous systems.

                The way I can see it happening is: When things get bad enough, people will demand that someone DO SOMETHING! Someone will come along and promise that things will be better, if only we try this other way. People will clamor to follow that new way.

                It’s happened that way before.

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                • But that is temporary. once the revolution is over, life (and business) must go on. Without the hegemony of the soviet socialist state, many of the countries in the eastern bloc quickly became capitalist. Even China ultimately had to go capitalist in order prevent catastrophic moral horror. The thing about capitalism is that it is extremely stable. The reason for this is because capitalism* delivers better than any known alternative.

                  *I mean this broadly. The Nordic states are capitalist too. Having a large welfare state does not make you non-capitalist. Markets still perform the bulk of the allocative function in society.

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                  • I think I disagree that capitalism must return after a change to a different system.

                    Capitalism only works today because energy inputs are so inexpensive both in terms of capital and in terms of time. That is ending. Hence, capitalism will end around the same time.

                    Capitalism is only stable because energy inputs are so cheap. Waste has already overtaken energy inputs in the system.

                    The system must change because of that. An economic system based on infinite growth in a finite system cannot survive.

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                    • That doesn’t make any sense. Capitalism is not “based on infinite growth” and does not require cheap energy. Capitalism is private ownership and control of the means of production. Without cheap energy, things get a lot worse under any economic system, but there’s no particular reason to think that an increase in the price of energy makes some other system work better.

                      Edit: I mean, unless you’re just saying that a dramatic increase in the price of energy makes everything go to hell and then the masses demand socialism (or whatever) because they don’t know any better.

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                      • It’s so quaint to hear about ownership of the means of production when so much of production is done in very poor countries, and the people who actually run things are careful not to own any of it, lest they be held responsible for the conditions under which production takes place.

                        Ownership of the means of finance I’d believe.

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                    • We must distinguish the system of private property and free-ish markets from particular patterns of consumption. When sources of energy become rarer, its price goes up and its consumption goes down accordingly. People either find ways to be more efficient in their energy use, alternative ways of energy production or reduce consumption. This does not stop the system from being capitalist.

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                      • Unless the system collapses, which has happened in the past, as well.

                        Jared Diamond wrote a few books that explained this (“Guns, Germs and Steel” and “Collapse”). Also, Joseph Tainter (Collapse of Complex Societies), and several others.

                        Tainter argues that as societies grow, they get bigger problems. To solve those problems, the societies become more complex. That complexity requires energy from the society, and the greater the complexity the greater the energy needed. This eventually leads to diminishing returns and the society collapses, sometimes suddenly, but that the people behave rationally while it’s happening. The society does not choose to collapse, it happens because the system can no longer be supported. He discusses Roman, Mayan, and other cultures, if I remember correctly.

                        Diamond discusses why different societies grew at different rates on different continents in “Guns, Germs and Steel” and why different societies collapsed. He uses the environment, politics, diplomacy and other variables in his analysis. He does all kinds of comparing of different stuff.

                        They (and others) do a much better job than I can in discussing why capitalism may not survive the collapse of our empire. I highly recommend both authors and all three books. Eye opening.

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                        • Part of our problem in thinking about alternatives to the current system is that we have only ever known a bipolar world, where there was Capitalism or Communism.

                          Its like Europeans in the 16th century, who could only envision a Protestant/ Catholic world, in which that question and identity permeated every single sort of discussion.

                          Its hard for us to envision a world that doesn’t have as its overriding issue the size and role of the state and marketplace.
                          But we know that this is really an issue of our time- it wasn’t really the big issue in the Middle Ages or antiquity.

                          What needs to happen is an alternate arrangement to be created, and point the way.

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                          • Yes, well said LWA. We lack only imagination.

                            It is interesting to me to see the reactions when I discuss things like this.

                            Human nature is such that it assumes things will always be the way they are now. Right up until the end of things being the way they are now.

                            Also, our belief in our Exceptionalism blinds us to the most obvious things sometimes.

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      • The U.S. is still really the only superpower when it comes to military might though.

        But how long will the “super” part of that last? The Army has stated its intent to cut 40,000 troops (from a level that couldn’t manage the occupation of Iraq w/o the National Guard). The Navy is required by law to have 11 carrier strike groups, but procurement delays have reduced that to ten currently and some of the admirals are muttering about a much smaller forward presence. The Air Force is making a bet-the-force wager on the F-35 (with the interesting announcement this week that the software that runs the onboard weapons systems won’t be able to actually fire the wing guns until 2019 or later).

        I have a bet for a pint (or equivalent) with Kolohe that in 25 years the US will not be a global conventional superpower. That is, the country will not be capable of mounting an Iraq-like adventure outside of the Western Hemisphere. You want in on that?

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        • Ah, no. You’re conflating a few things there with the US military. We had many times the manpower we needed to conquer Iraq, but not remotely the manpower needed to occupy it. That’s because the US military has specialized into a high-tech army.

          That gives it a long teeth to tail ratio — for every boot on the ground or pilot in the ground, there are tons of soldiers behind the scenes allowing him or her to fight. One-on-one, a US soldier or pilot is generally worth high multiples of anyone else’s. (Drones, submarines, cruise missiles, next-gen fighters designed to fight a generation of fighters that never got built).

          Pit us against any army in the world, and the US will win easily. Even against our technological equals, because we have many, many, many more people in uniform than they do. We could cut the US military down to 25% it’s size and still be able to thrash anyone.

          BUT…technological edges aren’t force multipliers in occupations. You need people. Lots and lots and lots of people. Ours were tied up behind the scenes.

          In practice, the US generally acts as the tip of the spear — we crush everything in the way, then let one of the far less technology oriented countries handle manpower. (Egypt, India, etc).

          In practice, it means the US can dismantle any military in the world with ease — nuclear weapons being the only effective deterrent. But it means we can’t really occupy anyone we conquer.

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          • I’ll certainly agree that the US will still have the ability to bomb (or missile or whatever) the majority of the world’s countries back to whatever level it chooses, from “no major military infrastructure” at one end of the range to “pre-industrial” on the other. I’m predicting that the US will lack the ability/will to, for example, stage 100,000 soldiers plus armor and artillery into one country and from there invade a neighboring country (outside of the Western Hemisphere).

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  3. Which “we”? (Also would like to quibble with your logic chain on involvement/participation, but I agree with the underlying point about effective apathy and alienation, even if I don’t think it’s as extreme as you depict.)

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      • 1) Forget the parenthetical for now, but, while we’re thinking out loud, I could assume that the “we” you have in mind is the “we” of “We the People,” so “the People,” or, perhaps, the “Popular Sovereign,” who/which belongs to the genus “Leviathan” as described by Hobbes, and is frequently miscast or misunderstood as a separate power above “us,” rather than as “ourselves” collectively constituted – as Hobbes says, “the matter thereof, and the artificer[:] both which is man.”

        2) Hobbes also refers to the Latin name for this virtual entity: CIVITAS – also called “commonwealth” and “state.” If we use the word “state,” then we tend to create confusion, since we tend to use “state” to refer to politics and administration objectively, rather than to the whole “culture-state,” Hegel’s term, which is also misleading or potentially misleading because it seems, again, to describe a separate thing, rather than a collective entity, a plural subjectivity, that includes us or most of us, and to which we attribute some manner or mode of self-consciousness or agency or decision-making faculty and interests, as when “we” decide to invade another country or legalize trade in marijuana or produce a deep space probe or note an alteration in mores or discuss one news story but not pay much attention to another one.

        3) The further and “critical question” – the question whose answer determines the course of or resolves the actual or potential crisis – is how we identify this identity, because how we identify this identity will also tend to be how we constitute it or how it constitutes itself, which will also be how we constitute ourselves collectively.

        4) So, to say that where we are is a location discernible from where our media are is to make a particular argument or propose a particular constitution of “us,” but “we” might instead insist that where the mass media are is increasingly irrelevant to an authentic constitution of the Popular Sovereign, by the Popular Sovereign, for the Popular Sovereign.

        5) We might argue instead, for example, that “we” really “are” or are best thought to be the demos, or the people as such, constituted by other means than through the idle and inane conversation of highly paid imbeciles. I don’t happen to think that “demos” is an adequate definition, though the demos does happen to like hearing that it has first position, and is at least roughly equivalent to the Popular Sovereign, either the primary identity or the identify of last resort – that in the end “we are a democracy.”

        6) Either way, if the people as such do not mostly care about this empty, dysfunctional, or mostly or entirely pointless media discussion, then “we” will have to be found “somewhere” else, a place in relation to which the outward supposed manifestation of our self-consciousness, that media discussion, is a false manifestation.

        7) Our real self-consciousness, or self-constitution, might occur primarily by other means, and the media discussion would be a residuum, not, as the discussants including some of us often seem to presume, the thing itself, or anything like a true voice of a true collective mind.

        8) A true voice of a true collective mind might speak in a different language via a different organ altogether, though some of us might prefer for our media discussion to offer a better reflection or self-reflection, and its failure to do so might be a worrisome sign or symptom, and a meaningful failure of the imagination on the part of most discussants, including most of “us” (OT-readers) “here” (this site).

        9) We, that latter we, or the we of whatever readers of this comment, now or ever, might offer a preliminary diagnosis of senescence or otherwise failing mental health (also “constitution”) on the part of that other vast and overlapping “we,” as Mr Griffin seems to do above when he speaks of empire and is applauded by Chris, pointing to a transformation and reduction in “our” capacities or expectations.

        10) For them, apparently, where “we” are is, or they seem to hope may be, in transit from an undesirable and arrogant constitution to a better one, and the media discussion is among the sounds the motion happens to make or that accompanies it.

        11) I think that that account is possibly partly true, but I suspect that they likely vastly underestimate the implications, or narrowly focus on the ones that happen to suit or seem to suit their preferences, or that they find more pleasurable to contemplate.

        12) It seems likelier to me that “we” have not yet been heard from fully, may yet have some surprises in store for ourselves, based on facts about ourselves or our self that we have tended to suppress as topics for any sort of discussion.

        13) It could be that we never know who we are until put to the test, and that, untested, we lose connection or sense of connection to who we are or might yet turn out to be or to have been all along, unknown to ourselves – a somewhat familiar if not precisely common occurrence or observation in the everyday lives of individuals, the revelation of true commitments and capacities, or character, under stress, especially extreme stress, our best selves or our worst but either way our true selves or self.

        14) So, we may produce that test and may even seek to produce it without recognizing or confessing the fact to ourselves, or it might be produced for us partly with our mostly passive assistance, in time, and it’s always too soon to predict how it will turn out. The predictability of its outcome – therefore its stresslessness – would be the surest sign of its inauthenticity.

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        • CK: As a favor to those of us whose eyesight is not what it used to be, please separate every 6-8 lines of text with a paragraph break. Long walls of text are very difficult to read.

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          • (6- to 8-line paragraphs, , on a text like that, points to proceeding by one-sentence paragraphs. Next, we’ll have someone like our old… friend… Professor Hanley insisting that anything worth saying must be short and punchy! A reader who isn’t willing to put forth an effort is not a reader of interest to me (sorry, Professor, not really), but I have no reason to put you into that group and I’m sure you mean well, so I’ve met you around half way and performed some edits, too. I’ll look again, and if it seems that the next step in the hopeless task of making things easy is numbered one-sentence paragraphs… then… so be it.)

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            • Another difficulty is that there’s a lot of factors that the writer lacks control over. The most obvious one is the width of the bounding box in which the text will be rendered. Here at OT, there is a substantial difference between the width of the box for a comment at the top level, and one indented several levels. Then there are my favorites, font family, letter spacing, and line height. I go to great pains to get as much as possible to render in my choice of those things. My choices happen to work best if the width of the box makes the line length approximate lengths typical for paper. The “wall of text” thing is particular bad if the wall is wide.

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  4. I see “here” as a small little telescope into the future.

    Insofar as we (here at OT) are representative of anything, we are representative of what we (as a larger society) will be doing in 5 or 10 or 20 years.

    We’re not anybody in particular but we’re ahead of the curve.

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  5. 1. I think Lee was right that this clickbaity stuff was always around in one for or another. Sensationalism has always sold. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was called Yellow Journalism. The main rivals in Yellow Journalism were Hearts and Pulitzer. It is pretty clear that the stories leading up to the Spanish-American war were as close to pure fabrication as possible.

    2. There have always been tabloids and they have always been partisan or tried to go for shocking. The New York Daily News infamously photographer the electrocution/execution of a woman named Ruth Snyder during the 1920s using a hidden camera. The Snyder case was huge tabloid fodder in the 1920s because it involved a love affair, a murder, and a clumsy cover-up. What shocked the nation was that the two defendants and the murder victim were all ordinary middle-class folks. Snyder was a housewife, her husband (the murder victim) was an art editor at a trade magazine, and the lover was a traveling salesman.

    3. What seems to be changing is that media (and a lot of other places) are struggling to make a profit in the new world of on-line publishing. Most people are not willing to pay for subscriptions anymore. On-line advertising is really cheap and pays per a click/view. This means you need to get as many clicks as possible and that leads to upping the sensationalism/outrage. Dry analysis does not bring in the views.

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    • (1-2) It’s always, always been the case that sensationalism draws in a certain market, and that slanted journalism (aka propaganda) has other incentives that make it not go away either… and yes, it has been the case that those two things are often coupled.

      (3) It’s always, always been the case that in-depth journalism and policy analysis doesn’t pay in the broader market. I don’t see long-form news journalism as being in a changing market. It’s just that we’ve removed or rendered irrelevant some of the market interventions we had in place providing some level of protectionism for news journalism from ~1950 to ~1990.

      So I don’t see this as new, really. So I don’t see this as a sudden market failure as much as it is a complex systems problem that we’ve historically addressed – when we bothered to address it at all – with non-market based solutions.

      I expect when it corrects itself (and I expect it will correct itself), it will also do so with non-market based solutions. It won’t be permanent, and it won’t be perfect, but I see it as something that is inevitable.

      People don’t like their commons to be a mess. News reporting is a collective action problem.

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      • The golden age of journalism coincided when newspapers were a major source of entertainment or government forced and the broadcasters believed they had some obligation to treat news as a public service. The idea of market intervention in media is really unpopular or practically non-existent currently. I’m also not sure how you could intervene in the current fragmented media market to force public service news and journalism.

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      • What sort of non-market based solutions are you thinking of? Some sights seem to be going for the freemium model where you get limited access or content for free and paid subscribers get more access. The NY Times seems to have success with their paywall but they were already an established player. Slate had to be around for a long time before they could do something like Slate Plus.

        I don’t see new sites being able to handle this but there are always magazines and media that comes and goes in a flash.

        All the patronage magazines are very partisan (NRO, TNR, The Nation) and it is probably their partisan/ideological nature which attracts vested interests and donations.

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  6. Perhaps there’s always a percentage of people who question, and a majority who simply assume by cultural osmosis of entertainment that distracts us from the grind of getting by. And I think we’re all part of that majority in some parts of our lives, trusting the mass mind to filter our decision making and opinions.

    Sites like this, like TNC’s horde, back in the day, and a few others attract like-minded souls who want to question and are open to considering opposing views. Though seems that once a group gets too big, they seem to devolve to trollishness and echo chamber; and I sort-of hope that doesn’t happen here. I fear it might.

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  7. I think it’s the new norm. Sites like OT are indicative of an earlier blogosphere, dominated by a self-selected vanguard. That blogosphere is dead, and we’re on to this new clickbait interwebs. It’s sort of the equivalent of about where we were making epic movies when Troy came out, or where we were with comedies when the Hangover hit theaters.

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  8. “Who wants a steady diet of garbage? ”

    Why do you think I basically tuned out of, and turn off, anything politically related? I live in a state reliably democratic with a nice political machine to keep to well oiled with pork and spending. The Republican “minority” are, generally, RINOs, so there is no real opposition, except along the margins. Wow, that’s an incentive to vote or give a damn.

    Those of you following the Babylon 5 series may recall this quote: “let the universe burn, I don’t give a damn anymore”. I’ve made my peace with the futility of things….let it all burn. I’m through caring anymore.

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  9. Thinking about writing something about Planned Parenthood discussions. So I wanted to see what the other side is saying, and google provided Christian Life Resources list of abortion laws by state.

    I clicked on a link about Kasich’s signing a restrictive law. The page is filled with click bait on the right-hand side. This was my favorite.

    The click-bait web is perfect for reinforcing our cultural biases, no? (And you really should click on that third link; it’s three degrees of separation down the click-bait rabbit hole. Doesn’t take long to find the fringe.)

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  10. Yes, we’re somewhere new. The Internet and cheap computing now make it possible for anyone to post a flyer in a public place so large that everyone can find it and read it. Using really smart paper that include audio, video, and whatever other media we come up with. The level of noise in the political sphere is unsurprising to anyone old enough to remember “Letters to the Editor” in the local daily 25 years ago — and that was with moderation!

    This is such a radically different place that it’s going to take a long time to sort things out. Certain business models are SOL — my local daily can no longer trade on its ability to be a content aggregator giving me access to Reuters, syndicated columnists, etc — I have immediate access to hundreds of aggregators who can do that. The same applies in a different way to content creators, and professional content creators in particular. So far, no one has found a way to connect the creators to the aggregators to the consumers in a way that lets anyone reliably make enough money to get by on.

    One of the advantages that the Internet should have is to make online communities valuable. That’s turning out to be much harder in practice than in theory. The most common problem is illustrated by commenting policies. Should you have to register in order to comment? How much identity do you have to reveal to register? Moderation or not? Before hand (comments must be released by someone in authority in order to appear) or after the fact (“This comment deleted by moderator”). In some sense, reputation ought to be a thing of value, but creating an identity secure enough to have a global reputation but maintaining anonymity if desired is a hard problem [1].

    Some of us have been worrying about this for a long time — I started writing internal memos at Bell Labs to spawn discussion about consumer-accessible data networks in 1984.

    [1] One of the things in Ender’s Game that was/is very hard to believe is that two teenagers could establish anonymous global online identities with sufficient reputation to affect political events at a high level.

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    • Michael Cain: One of the things in Ender’s Game that was/is very hard to believe is that two teenagers could establish anonymous global online identities with sufficient reputation to affect political events at a high level.

      Yeah. Ender’s Game was published January 15th, 1985. I think we can forgive OSC for not anticipating the degree of fragmentation that would characterize the online discussion “space.” The current reality is that Peter’s essays would simply be lost in the noise of cat videos, selfies, and celebrity gossip and very few people would ever read them or be able to distinguish them from all the random pundits.

      Ah well. Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

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      • Road Scholar: The current reality is that Peter’s essays would simply be lost in the noise of cat videos, selfies, and celebrity gossip and very few people would ever read them or be able to distinguish them from all the random pundits.

        In the presence of a demonstrated genocidal extraterrestrial alien threat the primacy of cat videos might undergo a challenge – which is one way to summarize the comment that Francis asked me to make more readable. We see the pattern – of discipline, coherence, seriousness, organization, purposefulness, etc., as produced or congealed in relation to the perception of danger, the latter embodied in the idea of the enemy – throughout history as well as in individual psychology and for that matter in the immune system and neuro-chemistry.

        In 1941, the US had already undergone some military build-up, but its actual capacity to project power and materially influence the course of the ongoing war was almost laughable compared to where it would be a mere four years later. So, which was the “real” USA, or the real “we,” the one whose indifferently led forces were training with broomsticks and stovepipes for lack of rifles and mortars, whose people were congratulating themselves on the wisdom of staying out of other people’s fights, and which after 10 years still hadn’t struggled out of its economic trough, or the one that was leading a United Nations coalition to victory and had achieved a configuration of state, economy, and culture that would define the course of world history for 70 years and counting thereafter?

        Michael Cain: One of the advantages that the Internet should have is to make online communities valuable. That’s turning out to be much harder in practice than in theory. The most common problem is illustrated by commenting policies. Should you have to register in order to comment? How much identity do you have to reveal to register? Moderation or not? Before hand (comments must be released by someone in authority in order to appear) or after the fact (“This comment deleted by moderator”). In some sense, reputation ought to be a thing of value, but creating an identity secure enough to have a global reputation but maintaining anonymity if desired is a hard problem…

        Why should the communities producing the discussion be perceived as valuable if the discussion itself is perceived to have no great purpose?

        10 – 13 years ago, it seemed to matter very much to people what we were hurrying to teach ourselves, and the positions we were seeking to establish, on Jihadism and possibly related phenomena. Now, we struggle to care, having successfully taught ourselves, through collective praxis, not to: In some ways we’re back in 1940 in sensibility, but on the other side of a vast historical process with ourselves (or one idea of “us”) at the center, so cannot actually be in the same place or really anything like it. We’ve made a collective decision in favor of less significance, and it operates systematically throughout society and politics, but it is subject to revision.

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        • CK MacLeod,

          I believe we’re simply talking about different things here. Certainly the geopolitical milieu would be a lot different than what we see today, no question. I’m talking more about the nature of cyberspace itself. In 1985 the Web did not yet exist and the internet, such as it was at the time, was still almost exclusively the province of universities, government agencies, and some large corporations. The reason Peter could post his missives anonymously and have them actually affect world events was due to the nature of the audience, which OSC assumed would be similar to the user base of the internet in 1985.

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          • Road Scholar,

            Then maybe you’re making a very narrow point about the limitations of OSC’s depiction of a future communications infrastructure. If there were (call it an) “integrating threat” today, then we might imagine the constitution of a relatively integrated forum for discussing “matters relating to the integration,” a web within the web where cat videos didn’t reign because discussion of presumed high significance was occurring, and in one way or another the Peter scenario could play out.

            I began by asking “which we?” because it wasn’t clear to me and still isn’t clear to me which “we” we’re supposed to be discussing. Same question for the “anywhere.”

            If Pat was aiming relatively high he is aiming for a political-cultural “we” – the culture-state, or We the People as manifested in its tools of self-reflection and -expression – in some kind of historical context (or philosophy of world history). I think that his terminology at minimum overlaps this perspective. If he just means “what is the state of our media infrastructure?” as a social-economic question with no significance beyond itself, then it’s a different question whose answer would matter differently to a different “we” defined and located differently.

            The problem is somewhat similar to the one in that abortive sidebar about “capitalism,” in which the discussants couldn’t settle on a definition of the key term, so necessarily couldn’t agree on, or even sensibly discuss, the question of the potential demise or survival of whatever it stood for. If you don’t what the thing is – don’t agree on what the word stands for in your discussion – how can you determine where it’s going or what’s happening to it?

            There is necessarily some circularity in any attempt to answer Pat’s question. “We are the ones who are here.” To define the “where” will be to imply the “who,” and vice versa.

            I think that the world-historical version of the question is embedded in his discussion: The question of the state of the media would matter to “us” if its being relatively diffuse or chaotic or dysfunctional impaired our ability to act collectively and self-consciously, and if acting or being able to act collectively and self-consciously mattered to “us.”

            If we cannot act collectively and self-consciously – we cannot and do not constitute ourselves as this larger political-cultural “we” – then the “we” and “where” to which he is referring necessarily take on that same incoherency. The larger “we” is hardly anywhere, or “we” are nowhere to be found, or that “we” is in a non-state state of some kind, possibly hibernation, possibly senescence, possibly some kind of schizophrenia – unless the notion of a continuously present, active self-constitution manifested in the mass media is a faulty notion, and we shouldn’t be looking for it there in the first place.

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  11. I largely agree, and simultaneously disagree, with your central point here.

    I very much agree, for example, that not a lot of people (as a percentage of the population) watch Fox news or listen to talk radio. Most *Republicans* I know don’t. However, it’s also true (and here I need to note I’m talking about my own personal and anecdotal observations) that the narratives that get ratings traction on those media vehicles tend to somehow be absorbed by a far, far greater population.

    So, to continue with my example above, even though I don’t know a lot of Republicans who watch Fox or listen to talk radio, I don’t know any that weren’t very aware in 2009-10 that they needed be wary of the possibility that the president was actually a Kenyan national. Likewise, I don’t know any that weren’t talking about Park51 — and indeed referring to is as the “Ground Zero” mosque — in 2011. And I know hardly any that didn’t around that same time wonder aloud why “no muslims leaders ever condemn terrorism” at the precise moment that that question was *the* Fox/talk radio talking point (and despite the fact that this wasn’t actually remotely true).

    That, I think, is very much a new normal.

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  12. We’re at a place where the best investigative reporting on swindles comes from the people making a mint off the fucking swindle. (No, I’m not kidding!)

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