Thursday, I noted Lance Ulanoff’s alarmist treatment of YouTube. Ulanoff thinks it will turn us all into iVideots and that things must end badly:
The inescapable truth is that the moving image will be everywhere, yet iVideots will soon lose any true connection with the live people moving all around them.
Tom Guarriello caught the WSJ’s Henninger calling our world, gasp, uncivilized.
But there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It’s called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park.
Recently, Ann Moore, CEO of Time, Inc., implied that blogging was cheap opinion.
One of the biggest threats to our business is this confusion in the public between real, fact-based, checked news and opinion, which is very cheap… And so, I’m really committed…to really paying attention to Time and figuring out how we can hold up the price value of fact-based news.
I am sure there is an "anthropology of decline" that documents the symptomatology of regime transition. I just don’t know it.
But here’s a simple typology. I keep it on cardboard in my wallet….to make it easier to identity institutions in their last days.
Stage 1. Benign neglect.
In the early days of regime transition, the incumbent (aka New York Times, Wall Street Journal) treats the new challenger (aka bloggers) with a certain high handed indifference. If acknowledgment occurs at all, it comes with a patronizing pat on the head, as in "Hey, aren’t the newcomers charmingly amateur? Welcome to the party. Now, run along and get me a drink." More often, bloggers are not acknowledged. They just don’t matter.
Stage 2. Lordly disdain
Blogging actually wins a couple of battles. In its "wisdom of crowds" way, it begins to threaten the traditional players. These respond with certain sneering, scolding, dismissal. The implicit message: "who do you think you are, don’t you know who I am?" Now we’re getting somewhere.
Stage 3. Irritation plus Obfuscation
As it turns out, bloggers refuse to wither in the face of high handed treatment. In fact, they get stronger. Their victories grow more numerous. Their voice becomes more compelling.
Now it’s clear that the traditional media outlets must pay attention. They begin to "cover" blogging. They begin to read blogging. They begin to help themselves to its content.
And now they begin to see the writing on the wall. If Wikipedia can rise to become a creditable challenge for the Encyclopedia Britannica, surely the NYT and the vulnerable too. And at this point, things can get a little chippy. See my account of a skirmish with a Canadian journalist (McCracken 2004) below.
Stage 4. Panic! Attack! Panic Attack!
In Stage 4, the alarm is now running full time. You can hear it coming from the old media world as if from a neglected warehouse. It’s time to roll out the "barbarians at the gate" argument. Enter Ulanoff, Henninger and Moore.
Now, not everyone reacts this way. I had lunch with a senior journalist who cheerfully admitted that the NYT might be dead in a decade. But for most people, it is time to defend the vested interest. (And this is of course a rich irony, coming as it does from profession that is supposed to protect us against same.)
Naturally, these aggressions can make thing worse. Moore reveals a deeply patronizing attitude towards her reading public. She implies they are not quite bright enough to see the difference between fact and opinion. (Yes, I appreciate she is trying to stake out a value proposition for the capital markets, but when a CEO makes her value proposition by dissing her customers, analysts are going to wonder if she’s fit for office. This self destructive behavior may be taken as a real measure of the panic.)
What you can do
How far will they go? The old media is a little like the old mafia. We muscle in on their turf at our peril. We can’t know how far they will go, but I think it’s more than remotely possible that the community of bloggers, normally so serene and tranquil, is this far from becoming one of those Law and Order episodes in which bodies start turning up everywhere.
This means bloggers will want to think about hiring protection. Plastic surgery and name changes are not out of the question. (Finally, an excuse!) I understand that a blogger was found beaten and bloody in Second Life. He was incoherent, but in his hand was found a scrap of Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. You are warned. Take steps now!
Guarriello, Tom. 2006. Guest Post: On mass media and blogging. This blog sits at the… April 21, 2006. here.
Lance, Ulanoff. 2006. Are you an iVideot? Internet Video is sucking life out of our live world. PCMagazine. April 20, 2006. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2004. Newspaper vs. Blogs: I think we’re catching up. December 20, 2004. here. [for the Canadian journalist thing]
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Youtube: a peril to us all? This blog sits at… April 20, 2006. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Muddles in the old media models. This Blog Sits At… February 8, 2006. here.
Steinberg, Brian. 2006. Time’s Chief Plans A Digital-Age Transformation. Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2006. p. B3.
Surowiecki, James. 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Doubleday.
the Wikipedia homepage here.
On Thursday, Steve Postrel offered this useful bigger picture of the regime transition:
Remember: it was always better Before. The ancient Greeks had Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages before their own Lead. The Roman Republic looked back to Romulus and Remus. The early Roman Empire missed the Republic. The Renaissance thinkers and artists saw themselves as restoring ancient glory.
Nostaligia turned to "social criticism" during the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. The romantic movements in poetry and literature set the tone. Then we had Rousseau and then Marxists (not all of them, and not Marx himself) who insisted that living in a free society with specialization and market competition and fluid social roles was inferior to rustic stability and feudalism.
Fast-forward to the postwar US. First we had the problems of the Lonely Crowd and mass society–things were better in the old days when people were more individualistic. Then we had the problem of excessive abundance and mindless consumerism and the Leisure Crisis–things were better when our mass economy wasn’t so productive. Then we had the Age of Scarcity–things were better when the economy was booming and we didn’t have to worry about foreign competition.
Then we had the transition to today’s New Economy, with flexible supply chains and firms facing gales of entrepreneurial creative destruction, higher returns to skill and creativity, and the ability to segment and individualize goods and services like never before.
Now the Before of the social critics is the Mass Society where people didn’t go Bowling Alone or watch different TV shows from one another. And they’re already campaigning to valorize today as a Before life-extension period, when people had the good grace to die quickly.
Thank you, Steve.