Thursday, July 8, 2010

We All Know That Crap Is King - Give Us Dirty Laundry

As I was doing my morning reading, I notice several sites I regularly read had postings on the delivery and digestion of information in the Internet age.  With so much thought of it out there already, perhaps putting some of it together makes sense.  And allows a gratuitous Don Henley video as well...

It only takes an acute perception of the obvious to realize we live live in the "gotta have it" age (apologies to Coldstone Creamery).  Social media, Twitter, RSS feeds, The Blogosphere all feed our insatiable desire for information - NOW!  It's the dawn of a new chapter in communication - much like the telephone once was.

But it's not without perils, of course.  Information fast is not always information accurate.  And as our parents once taught us - it's difficult if not impossible to take something back once you've said it. Which doesn't keep MSM from trying, but I digress...

Lilac Sunday (a new read on my bloglist and a member of our Left Coast Resistance) has an interesting post this morning on Information Fragmentation.  It draws several parallels to my own life (likely without the 23" B&W Philco TV with two remotes - my sister and I) and sent me down memory lane.  My parents also had a firm "no TV during meals" policy.  Of course, when parents wanted to watch TV, meal times were flexible (privilege of authority). Back then, no one really knew what Walter Cronkite's political affiliation was, it wasn't germane to any discussion because Cronkite was so beloved and believable. It was simply unfathomable he'd twist news to support his own politics.  Reference LBJ - when he lost Cronkite, he felt he'd lost the country.  Point being, in our home Cronkite was THE source of truth.  And when he did rarely err, he was forthright and clear in correcting his error.  Checks and balances worked, and people had faith in this.

Lilac Sunday makes a good point on information delivery.  Perhaps the "News Pendulum" has swung too far toward "NOW" and too far from "ACCURATE".  Lilac correctly points out that the question of feasibility of instant news has been emphatically answered.  But should the complete question be "ACCURATE AND NOW"?  And where is the balance?

Over at Tweetage Wasteland (being a Who fan, I LOVE the name!) I saw Dave Pell's article discussing tweeting during an execution in Utah. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff tweeted during the preparations for Ronnie Lee Gartners execution by firing squad. Shurtleff tweeted as he gave final instructions to proceed with the execution:
"I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims."
Heady stuff.  Dave wonders aloud whether this is the wrong forum for something so profound and somber.  Ultimately, he finds it meaningful and important.  And of course, "NOW."  Dave goes on to ask:
"How do we quickly differentiate blurbs that are almost entirely outside our personal experiences from those with which we have a deeply personal connection?"; followed by:
When do we pause? Which stories are worth an extra click? Should we know any details about the victims of Ronnie Lee Gardner’s crimes? Do we need to know anything about Gardner’s own biography?
Is this story close enough to our own daily lives to go deeper, or does this batch of 140 characters just pass us by along with the other data of the moment?
Dave and I share many things - we are both professionals who work and play in cyberspace.  We are both early adopters of on-line information gathering and dissemination (I started 1978 via Harvey Mudd, how about you Dave?) We both know the age in instant information is here, and here to stay.  We both also wonder how society will ultimately learn to create that homeostasis of "NOW" and "ACCURATE".

And really how important is "NOW", anyway?

My good friend and right wing co-conspirator John Doe from Smash Mouth Politics just came back from several days of visiting family in northern Michigan.  During that time, he was on somewhat of an information lock-down. No internet, just some cable TV - which rarely made it to news.

My sister and her family do not have access to the internet. They do not get a newspaper.  They have cable but instead of news when watching T.V. I watched the NFL total access station and the history channel, or the “Band of Brothers” for the 18th time.  I was totally cut off from my usual political watching activities.  And you know what?  It was no big deal.  What Obama and Pelosi and Reid did had zero effect on life up in rural Michigan.
I missed the 24 hour news cycles about the latest gossip.  I missed learning of Obama’s latest proof of incompetence.  And I re-charged my batteries. 

Which goes to show that even the worst information whores/whorettes can live without "NOW".  I don't know about you, I still find "ACCURATE" far more important than "NOW"

So what drives "NOW"?  Originally, the need for the MSM to be first in delivering a story.  In the world of media - first is considered best.  it sells more copy.  First wins more awards.  First garners one more bonuses when direct deposit (where there is also convergence of NOW and ACCURATE - but another day) hits.  But even in the day of "next day news" - mistakes of Herculean proportions have been made.

Does anyone remember:

  •  Mark Twain? "...The report of my death was an exaggeration..." (1897)
  •  "..the Titanic has been saved..." (1912)  A note here, it was only the New York Times of the day's newspapers which accurately reported the Titanic had indeed been lost.  My, how times have changed...
  • "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" (1948)  Chicago Tribune.  Some things also never change...
  • "Gerald Ford to appear on Republican Ticket (1980), and "Dick Gephart to head Democratic ticket (1984).  Both of course, incorrect.
  • Gore Wins Florida, Becomes President (2000)  We all know how that worked out...

So as you see, the fight between speed and accuracy is nothing new. It's the result of two diametrically opposed forces working against one another - the fiscal rewards of "first report" and the balance of trust to report accurately.  Don't look for Twitter and it's followers to resolve that conundrum.

Which again takes us full circle back to Lilac Sunday:
"...since when is Twitter considered all the news that's fit to print? If we get all our information from people who are like us, it will become increasingly difficult for us to talk to each other, because we will have fewer and fewer areas of common ground. I don't want to go back to the days of Walter Cronkite, but I am anxious about the consequences to society when people increasingly rely on their own affinity groups for information. And I don't know what the middle ground is, or how to get there."
Indeed.  However since businesses are driven by profits, we can expect mainstream news resources to continue flipping a coin and guessing which way a particular issue will go - comforted by the fact they can bury an apology in page 31 under the Metamucil ad when they fail to get it right.  News sells.  Breaking news sells better. Apologies? well, no one worries much about that.

Like Don Henley said: 

We can do the innuendo
We can dance and sing
When it's said and done, 
We haven't told you a thing
We all know that crap is king
Give us dirty laundry!

And so we shall.

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