Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Six Books - Media, Ethics, Balance, Language

I got an email a while back saying to come in and renew my library card and I've been trying to get that done.  Tonight it happened.  Expiring the cards, he said, because the data base was getting full.  That doesn't seem like it should be a problem in 2011, but who am I to argue?

Double click to enlarge
Our new book club selection is Cutting for Stone, but it wasn't in.  I put it on hold and looked at the new books in the non-fiction section.  Wow! Anyone bored?  Go to the library.  Not only can you look, but you can borrow. 

I'll let you know which of these is good.

But I started with I live in the future & here's how it looks by Nick Bilton.  At dinner I shared the epilogue  - "why they're not coming back" - with J.

It's addressed to Dear CEO, Publisher, Producer, Editor, Author, Journalist, Advertising Director, Filmmaker .  . .

"They" are traditional customers, "[m]edia, brands, and the established narratives."

It all boils down to storytelling, he tells us.
In the past stories cost money and were told by people with access to a printing press or television studio, but now everyone has the ability to spread and share information equally with inexpensive tools at our disposal, with our mobile phones, digital cameras, and laptops, we all have an equal voice.

. . .we need to accept that we are not simply selling content. W're not selling the words on the page or the images on the screen, instead we're selling an entire experience. The content we create and sell is just one segment of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.

As we move to the next iteration of storytelling, as a great flattening is taking place between consumer and creator, the medium will no longer be the message. The medium will be pervasive. The medium will be amateur, professional, and infinite. And it will all exist as a mutual collection of bytes, snacks, and meals.
So as I'm byting on my meal of yakisoba, I look up at my wife and say, "So, then, why is he writing a book?"

But when we got home and I went to the author's note at the beginning, I saw that he had thought about the question (one of the problems with starting at the end. )

So there are computer extensions of the book.  You can download an app for your iPhone to scan the QR code (that chippy looking box) to take you to the page matching the chapter. 

Or you can just go to and see the extra for that chapter. 

But let's go back to the content above. 

If the story is the core (and I'm a big believer in the importance of the narrative), Bilton's history doesn't seem to go back far enough.

"In the past stories cost money." 
 I think he's talking about the recent past.  Besides, the stories themselves didn't cost money.  The story is the idea, is the narrative itself.  What could get expensive was the telling of the story.  But let's go back further than his limited time horizon.  Before electricity, before print, the medium was the voice and the body.  Everyone had access.   If you could use your voice and body to make your stories compelling you would get your audience.  (Though it could be costly if the people in power didn't like the message.) 

When the printing press came along, there was also a great liberation because access to the written word could no longer be monopolized by the monks, the time to hand copy a manuscript was now reduced to the time to set the type.  Once you did that, printing took relatively little time.  And with printing, more written material was available and more people could learn to read.  And more was printed in the local language.  Printing at first, wasn't seen as a monopoly, but rather as the breaking of the monopoly.  Those opposed were the ones that had the monopoly.  (Ithiel de Sola Pool's Technologies of Freedom describes the history of changing technologies of media and predicted back in the early 1980's the convergence of most media that Bilton is discussing. )

My concern today is that people like Nick are so enamored of the technology that they see themselves as the powerful ones (because they have mastery of the technology) and they are almost condescending to the old power people who don't know how to do things with the technology.  But just as with the printing press and movies and recordings and television and radio, the good old boys will take some time to adjust, but then they will figure out how to gain control of the new medium, and they have the money to do it. 

Just as Facebook might have allowed the Egyptians to communicate more freely and widely than ever before, the government also figured out how to turn Facebook off.  As governments and businesses figure out the power of the internet they will also figure out how to use it for their traditional pursuits - control of the population and making money.  To do this they will hire techies who will willingly restrict access and track dissidents for them. 

As Bilton revels in the idea that his gps can track him through his cell phone and have his order ready when he gets to Starbucks, I'm thinking that's a pretty cheap bribe for also allowing the government (or Google) to be able to track people and pick them up or use their data for their own ends. 

I've gotten ahead here to the Introduction (remember I started at the end of the book), but you get the idea of where this book seems to be going.   "The future is here and it's gonna be so cool, so stop resisting and get with the program" is the message I'm picking up from the little I've read.    But I'd say it's time for Nick to go the library and check out 1984 and think about how the new technology could be used to allow Big Brother to track Winston.  And then think about how to prevent that. 

And the way Bilton says "The medium will no longer be the message" suggests to me he doesn't understand what McLuhan was saying. (Or maybe he does and I'm just too dull to keep up with him.)  McLuhan - and I acknowledge that people interpret him in different ways - was saying that the medium itself changes the dynamic between the creator and the receiver and thus it changes the communication.  So, the world of people getting 'news' on the page of the morning newspaper is slightly (or greatly) different from the world of people getting 'news' on their mobile phones.   Let's look again at what he said:
The medium will be pervasive. The medium will be amateur, professional, and infinite. And it will all exist as a mutual collection of bytes, snacks, and meals.
 Now, I'm willing to acknowledge the possibility that this is profound and I'm too dense to understand it.  So let me interpret it as I read it and let's see if someone (is Nick set up to track  bloggers writing about his book so he can swoop in here and straighten me out?) can show me the error of my ways.

"The medium will be pervasive'

Does this mean that there will only be one medium?  If that is the case, then, of course, the medium will no longer matter because all content will come via the same medium, so the role of the medium will be neutralized.  But how can there only be one medium?  People will still be able to share stories by natural voice and speaking face to face.  They will be able to draw pictures and write stories on pieces of paper.   Is he saying the internet will cause movie theaters to shut down?  Will all menus become digital?  I think not.  Even though we have electric fireplaces, people still burn wood as well because it has a look and feel and smell an electric fire just can't match.

"The medium will be amateur, professional, and infinite."

Now if Nick is changing the meaning of the word medium because its old meaning isn't adequate for the new world, he needs to explain himself a bit.  Otherwise, he might just be writing gibberish and no one is willing to call him on it.  (Actually, I haven't checked to see what people have said about the book.  Maybe they have called him on this.)  In my old fashioned way of thinking, 'amateur' and 'professional' describe the people creating the story.  They either do it without pay or with pay.  The medium (again, only one seems to exist in this sentence now) isn't amateur or professional, the content creators are.  The medium could refer to the method of realizing the concept - crayon, calligraphy, keyboard, blackboard, camcorder, etc. - or it could refer to the method of distribution - phone app, birthday card, email attachment, blog, 3D Movie, skywriting, etc. 

One guess at his meaning here is that everyone - amateurs and professionals - will be producing with equal access to the global audience in the new world.  But moving words around into grammatically proper places for nouns and verbs and adjectives doesn't necessarily produce sentences that have literal meaning.  If he does mean the only medium will be the internet, he's dreaming.  What happens when the power goes out?  We stop communicating altogether?  Now, if he is only talking about commercial content, he should say so, but then he would be the one who isn't keeping up.  And he does talk about amateurs, so I don't think that's his intention.

I now have to finish reading his book.  Meanwhile he does say in the introduction
. . . this book will give you a new framework for looking at these difficult issues and making sense of the radical trends that have emerged in the last few years.  I will take you deep into the consumnivore's [again, he seems to be embedded in the market paradigm here and subtly excluding those who might not wish to cater to 'consumers' but to aficionados]  new world, explaining how navigation, aggregation, and the narrative are changing.
 He's going to take us through the California porn world to see how they use the new technology.
Then, to reassure you and put today's changes into perspective, we'll take a walk through history to see how radical new developments time and again have prompted fear and upheaval before proving their immense worth to society - and why we'll survive this sea change as well.
 I shouldn't jump to conclusions, and I know every major innovation elicits resistance from those who don't want to adjust, particularly those who have a vested interest in the status quo.   But I take it from this reassurance that he has no concern about global climate change, about the swift disappearance of species around the world, about the impact of derivatives, and other impacts of new technologies. These are probably just crank complaints by the modern Luddites.  But I haven't read that chapter yet.

And in the interest in being relatively current, I have to figure out how to combine blogging about the book and also putting comments on his book's website. 

And let me say that none of us really know what's happening and his book has got me thinking here and that's a good thing. 

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