I have a confession to make. I am not on the cutting edge of anything. I rarely have the latest technology, and I do not usually even know the latest words. I am not one of the cool kids in the great High School of life.
Yes, I know, I didn’t have to “confess” this. It’s obvious. Stating the obvious blankly is supposed to be a type of sarcasm, and using it this way also dates me. We’re more into parody and other more broad forms these days. The obvious is allowed to run free, like a stray dog that is ignored in the hope that he’ll go away.
The reason I feel that I have to say this is that I recently realized that there is so very little new about the internet and yet there is so much hype about it all. For example, Twitter is not very different from a chat program that ran on BITnet in the early 1980s when I was in college. BITnet stood for “Because It’s There -net” and had a tendency to crash periodically – much like Twitter. We thought it was fun to send one-line messages to friends and strangers because there wasn’t anything better to do at the time; apparently, there still isn’t.
I’ve also heard a lot about Media Reform lately, in part because of a conference held in a city slightly to the West of Saint Paul. What is Media Reform? It turns out that there are many definitions of it, but a few things stand out. One of them is the idea of “citizen journalism”, where ordinary people write the stories. It sounds great in principle, but there are many problems with this.
The most important difficulty is that the model that is used, one of a person associated with the organization writing a story that is published on a webpage, is exactly the same model used by a regular newspaper. There’s nothing unique at all about this except for the fact that the internet makes it cheaper to publish things and thus allows more of them. Which gets to the next problem associated with this, a problem very similar to the publishing industry – how do you identify talent? In many cases, the answer is that you don’t bother, meaning that this view of “Media Reform” is little more than the nooze equivalent of self-publishing.
I really don’t see what’s new about any of this.
I see this sort of thing all the time. I grew up in the 70s, which was a long time ago and yet a short time ago. When I tell my kids, “That’s the way it was and we liked it” I try to do it Disco Style:
We were all united, black white and brown,
‘Cuz everybody dressed just like a clown,
And that’s the way it was (that’s the way it waaaas)
That’s the way it was (that’s the way it was now)
That’s what it was, and we liked it. (Oooooo)
(The parts in parens would ideally be done by three female multi-racial backup singers)
The only reason I get into this kind of funky funk is that I have a sense that much has changed through technology while nothing has changed in our society at all. It’s as though the nightmares I have, where I’m back in Mrs. Sheridan’s English class at Palmetto High, are actually true. And let me tell you, if she grades this essay, I’m doomed.
Overall, things haven’t changed anywhere near as much as the techno-geeks would have you think. Changing the medium has not fundamentally changed human nature or the need for quality writing. It hasn’t even changed the tendency for people to form fraternities and sororities based on the perception of coolness, even though coolness itself has swung all the way over to what used to be prime geek territory.
If we want to make good use of this new medium, which does offer us an amazing ability to stay connected with the world, we have to remember the fundamentals that got us to this point. People are still people, after all. If this thang is going to serve people, rather than define them, we have to dump the babble about what is kewl. Language needs to be used to communicate ideas, not impressions of status, and the use of jargon is nothing more than an anti-communication. It’s High School all over again, and it’s utterly pointless.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it looks like someone I haven’t seen in 25 years just contacted me on Facebook. Go, Panthers!