When will it ever end…….
Since we first crawled out of the primordeal soup some millenia ago, we have lived in a world of limitations.
We quickly learned that after a while we ran out of food…. or water… or land….
This world of limitations was perhaps the strongest constant in our million year march to civilization. It is deeply embedded in our cultural DNA. We cannot but help think of a world of limitations. And as a result, we went on to build institutions in our societies that reflected this deeply understood notion of limits. Armies, slavery, capitalism, agriculture – they are all in a way designed to deal with the inherent limits that nature puts in our path. Even our own lives have built in limits – since the days of Moses, we expect to live to 3 score and 10. Not much has changed. So we talk about Social Security or Universal Health Care, or 30 year ARM mortgages. This notion of limits runs deep!
Then, close to the end of the 20th Century, along comes the Internet.
For the very first time in our culture, we are faced with something that instead of having a limited amount of space, is in fact infinite.
This is, in many ways, hard for us to grasp. All our social and political and economic institutions; indeed the very way we have been thinking for all our history on earth, is predicated on a world of limits.
But not the web.
It requires a whole new way of thinking, and whole new institutions and economies.
This will not happen over night. Indeed, there will be a long period of ‘awareness’ as we come to understand what it means to live in a world of infinity.
The Long Tail is just one small ah-hah moment of the nature of the infinite world. There will be more to come.
Now, what does this have to do with journalism?
I was much taken by the conversation that ensued as a result of Saturday’s post, and a similar discussion that arose on b-roll.net, (you can skip the earlier nonsense, but the last page is pretty interesting).
As the convergence of the web + cheap video and text manufacture unleashes a torrent of content, how do we deal with it? It is a whole new and uncharted world.
This made me think about the nature of the web. One of its most interesting features is that is just goes on forever. We are, of course, at the very beginning of this process, but that which we put into it will only continue to grow and grow in an endless mountain of information, archived forever. Think how much there will be in 100 years!
It is this very nature of infinity that now begins to define the way in which we think about information, society and journalism.
(By the way, those who develop mechanisms to manage this almost incomprehensible avalanche of content will make fortunes! Google is but the first of many to come.)
In any event….
The world in which we had all grown up was a world of limited shelf space. 3 networks shared an electromagnetic spectrum. Each had only 24 hours a day, of which, Prime Time was but a few. Newspapers required trees and ink and paper and trucks and a lot of money to maintain, so there was an inherent limit to the number of papers any town or city would support. A world of limits.
In this world of limits, we had to develop a way to deliver believable information on a regular basis: journalism. You had to be able to trust it. And since the world of limits meant that there would only be a limited number of voices, it was imperative, in our thinking, that each voice was ‘balanced’. That is, that each voice fairly represented each side of an argument. (It is arguable about whether this is even possible, but that was the ideal goal).
Essentially, the model boiled down was:
One voice – many points of view
Then, along comes the World Wide Web. And suddenly, almost overnight, the physical limitations of the how many voices can be heard are wiped away. No longer does NBC have a monopoly over who can get into someone’s home on a regular basis. No longer is The New York Times the only way to publish ‘news’. Now, in an instant really, anyone who has anything to say is free to say it and distribute it globally, at almost no cost. (Just as I am sitting at my kitchen table now writing this. I no longer have to submit letters to The New York Times in the hopes that perhaps…perhaps.. one will be published. I am talking to you, now, for free).
This is indeed a whole new world. A brand new, whole new world, with new rules, and new potential, And so here is the construct of that whole new world of journalism:
Many voices – many points of view
The technology of the Infinite frees us from the ‘need’ to try and ‘balance’ our journalism.
This was always an impossible task anyway. Who could give proper ‘balance’ to Robert Mugabe’s perspective? Yet, seemingly 43% of Zimbabwe supports him to the point of killing the opposition. Yet no credible news organization has opted to present his fairly popular perspective; though they all attest to being honest and balanced.
So perhaps we should instead embrace the new architecture. Open Platform. Free Press. Many voices. Many points of view. (and perhaps most disturbing to us… many truths).
Or, as Chairman Mao (another very popular leader (can one billion Chinese be wrong?) who got a bit less than fair and balanced reporting perhaps – particularly during the Cold War)), said – “Let a Million Flowers Bloom”.
It’s going to be a bit disturbing for a while, because it cuts against our old, small, limited yet very comfortable and understandable world.
But it’s going to come, because the technology and the economics make it inevitable.
I am sure it was equally disturbing for the people of Columbus’ day, when he discovered that the world did not end a few hundred miles offshore, but seemingly went on forever.