Steve Brinich (stevemb) wrote,
Steve Brinich

Monks Complain About Gutenberg Again

Traditional-media grumblings about how the Internet spreads misinformation, social fragmentation, and other forms of consternation are nothing new. Occasionally, the underlying motivations (resentment at losing profits and gatekeeper power) peek out.

This Sunday's (24 Aug 2008) Washington Post included a remarkably (true by definition, inasmuch as I felt moved to remark on it) blatant example: "If Everyone's Talking, Who Will Listen?" (or, as translated by my personal Obfustcation-to-Honesty filter, "If Other People Get To Talk, Who'll Listen To Me?").

(This opinion piece is so over-the-top that I worry a bit that I may be taking a "Modest Proposal" literally. Meh. It wouldn't be the first time I've made a fool of myself. Anyhoo....)

The author begins by setting forth his complaint that people don't pay enough attention to to "important facts and knowledge" (I gather that "important" in this context means "favorable to the author's agenda"):

Everybody jokes about "TMI" these days: "Too much information," we say laughingly, when someone tells a story full of embarrassing detail about some personal foible or intimate relationship. But in our information-overloaded society, the concept of TMI is no joke. The information avalanche coming from all sides -- the Internet, PDAs, hundreds of television channels -- is burying us in extraneous data that prevent important facts and knowledge from reaching a broad audience.

He then outlines the achievements of major media owners back when they spoke and everybody else shut up and listened:

The opportunity to educate millions of citizens, so essential to significant movements of the past, has dwindled. In the early New Deal era, the Roman Catholic "radio priest" Father Charles Coughlin promoted ideas for economic reform to a weekly audience estimated at 40 million, which helped pressure President Franklin D. Roosevelt to enact Social Security, the Works Progress Administration and other programs.... Without broad media coverage, the civil rights movement might never have succeeded.

I guess if we'd had the Internet back then, the Great Depression would still be underway and blacks still wouldn't be able to vote, because people would be too busy watching dancing hamsters or something to address those issues. I do have to congratulate the author on his choice of examples, though -- I mean, clearly it would have been a Bad Thing for information overload to distract people from Father Coughlin's sermons and thereby dilute his influence.

The author goes on to propose a course of action:

Rather than call for government regulation of technology itself, perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread. It could be done via a progressive energy tax designed to keep energy prices at a consistently high level....

It's possible that over time, an energy tax, by making some computers, Web sites, blogs and perhaps cable TV channels too costly to maintain, could reduce the supply of information. If Americans are finally giving up SUVs because of high oil prices, might we not eventually do the same with some information technologies that only seem to fragment our society, not unite it? A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now....

After all, you really only need two newspapers (and the only reason you need that many is to have a backup in case one of them breaks). They don't even need snappy names: "Truth" and "News" will do.
Tags: news, opinion, politics, stupidity, tech

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