Posts tagged ‘Wired’
In Wired Nicholas Carr writes about UCLA professor of psychiatry Gary Small who outfitted six volunteers with goggles on which they could see the internet as they surfed with a hand-held controller. Then Dr. Small used whole-brain magnetic imaging on them to demonstrate not only that the internet “rewires” the way the brain works, but that it does it very quickly–after only a few hours in fact.
It’s an interesting story and well worth a read, but not a particularly surprising one. In fact, in Ad Age a couple of years ago, I pointed out that this is exactly what the internet would do to our brains. And somehow I managed to do it without access to millions of dollars worth of sophisticated medical equipment or time-consuming experiments. All I had was some knowledge of history and an ability to catch a lateral from Neil Postman and run with it.
Marshall McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message.” Less famously (but more accurately, I think), Postman altered this to “the medium is the metaphor.” What he meant by that is that the dominant medium of an age defines how we believe the world is supposed to be. I’ll not go into a detailed explanation (though if you’re interested, you can read the original article here) of how that expectation changes the way we “consume” the world around us. I’ll merely point out that there is in fact a physiological reason (now confirmed by Dr. Small and his multi-million-dollar machines) that people no longer sit still for hours at a time to follow a complex argument (or, if you want to go way back, sit around campfires and listen to poets recite the Iliad from memory).
Does this change in the way our brains work make us smarter or kinder or more just? I have profound doubts. Does it make it easier to sell us things and distract us with whatever version of centrifugal bumblepuppy is all the rage at a given moment? Almost certainly.
Walter Isaacson has been out flogging his Time magazine cover story, “How To Save Your Newspaper.” Last night he was on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’m not sure which made me feel more tired–reading his article or watching him as he offered a poorly thought-out “solution” on televison. His big idea, which boils down to micropayments in exchange for content, betrays a profound ignorance of how people use the internet to consume news in the 21st century. Of course, this should not surprise us, as the story was commissioned by a news weekly, which, in an age of instantaneous information, may be the only form of media more archaic than a daily newspaper.
How to save your newspaper is the wrong question. The very idea of a newspaper is, for all practical purposes already dead. The right question is where will quality reporting come from in the post-newspaper (and post-television) news eras? I’m not sure we know the answer yet, and it’s a damned important question, since an energetic and meddlesome press is absolutely critical to the health of any democracy. I have no doubt that maverick reporters will continue to break an important story now and then. But when we take away the business model that has historically supported news-gathering operations, will what passes for news in America be dumbed down even more than it already has been? Will the number of reporters who can afford to spend months in pursuit of a single, complex story dwindle to a handful?
The question the news industry must answer is how will it monetize “free”? It is the same question that Chris Anderson of Wired has identified as central to the new digital economy of abundance (as opposed to the analog economy of scarcity). And will there be such a thing (singular) as the news industry, or will it be fractured into thousands of pieces by the democratization of technology and the destruction of old business models?
For more on Mr. Isaacson and his regrettable ideas on the newspaper industry, visit Techdirt.