Ink-Stained to Link-Strained: A Kvetch
Monday, December 25, 2006
I love practically everything about being wired.
I like being able to click on newspapers from around the world, see bloggers smack each other around, Google any person or thing that pops into my brain, watch news videos (and some stupid stuff, too) on YouTube, and generally surf till I drop.
But while I hook up my laptop just about anywhere, IM my buddies and continually check my buzzing BlackBerry, one thing is missing: what I call Ed Sullivan moments.
There was a time, younger readers -- pre-fax, pre-voice mail, pre-MySpace -- when families like mine sat around a black-and-white TV set with a handful of channels, watching many of the same shows. And whether Sullivan's guests were the Beatles, impressionist Frank Gorshin or Topo Gigio (a silly mouse puppet who appeared 92 times), it was a shared experience.
Now, liberated from the stranglehold of CBS, NBC and ABC, we can watch news channels that match our political predilections. Read Web sites that reinforce our opinions. Stream our favorite radio talkers through our computer speakers. Download videos that mirror our obsessions. Add selected songs to our iPod playlists rather than buying the whole album -- oops, sorry, CD. The Googlization of books could mean that you just punch up the chapter, passage or reference you want rather than read an author's entire work.
In short, we can now get anything we want, at the precise moment we want it, tailored to our merest whim. Who'd want to give that up?
Not me, that's for sure. But isn't something lost if you can wall yourself off from views and information that challenge what you already believe? If everything is ordered a la carte? If -- and this really dates me as an ink-stained wretch -- you like turning the pages of a newspaper because you might bump into an unexpected story you would never have found online? If you and your family and your co-workers are plugged into parallel media universes?
While Ed Sullivan moments may be consigned to history, the digital age has brought us a burgeoning army of citizen journalists. And that led Time to declare "you" -- that is, all of us -- as its Person of the Year.
"Journalists once had the exclusive province of taking people to places they'd never been," Managing Editor Richard Stengel writes. "But now a mother in Baghdad with a videophone can let you see a roadside bombing, or a patron in a nightclub can show you a racist rant by a famous comedian." That's terrific, and what's more, the mainstream media don't have to pay them much.
But this people-powered movement goes beyond snapping pictures. Ordinary folks can now help shape coverage and generate buzz without owning a printing press, and even scam the public (remember the faux soap opera of Lonelygirl15?).
Still, many folks are clearly choosing ice cream over the broccoli of daily journalism. The top Google news search of 2006 was for famous-for-no-discernible-reason Paris Hilton.
It's a cacophony out there. Take the recent finding that there are 13 million blogs in America. I don't know about you, but I don't have time to read 13 million blogs. Writing one takes up enough of my life as it is.