It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. In the year 2014, people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age.
Thus starts a video made ten years ago challenging journalists to think about the future of journalism. EPIC 2014 gets many things right but misses certain key disruptions. In particular, they don’t mention Facebook, which started about the same time as the video was made and is currently celebrating its ten years by generating videos for Facebook users of their time on Facebook.
Towards the end of EPIC 2014, there is a section that sums up the whole video, and perhaps could have applied to Facebook and their videos.
EPIC 2014 produces a custom content package for each reader using his choices — his consumption habits, his interests, his demographics, his social network to shape the product. A new generation of freelance editors has sprung up — people who sell their ability to connect, filter, and prioritize the contents of EPIC. We all subscribe to many editors. EPIC allows us to mix and match their choices however we like. At it’s best, edited for the most savvy readers, EPIC is a summary of the world, deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at it’s worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational. But EPIC is what we wanted. It is what we chose. And it’s commercial success pre-empted any discussions of media and democracy or journalistic ethics.
Read that again, and replace EPIC 2014 with Facebook.
Yet it is on Facebook that I learned that Ezra Klein is leaving the Washington Post. He has taken a bunch of his old friends from the Post and other sites to create Project X backed by Vox media. Nate Silver is also building up his team for his relaunched FiveThirtyEight site.
Yet what has really caught my attention is First Look Media.
Founded by Pierre Omidyar, the organization will pursue original, independent journalism that is deeply reported and researched, thoroughly fact checked, and beautifully told.
I heard about First Look from friends I met on the Omidyar Network years ago; some of the best and brightest thinkers about the future of journalism in the digital era that I’ve met. Then, I heard that Andy Carvin is joining First Look as well. This provides an interesting contrast to EPIC 2014/Facebook. Will Project X, FiveThirtyEight and First Look be “deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before”?
This morning, my Chromebook was acting weird, sluggish. It wouldn’t save what I was writing. In the end, I lost a draft of a blog post which I had put a lot of work in. It’s just one more thing in what is been a frustrating few days. Yesterday, one of the dishes from my mother’s house, from my childhood, broke. Things have been very stressful at work. Blah.
Anyway, I had started my blog post reflecting on Groundhog’s Day. It may be that Punxsutawney will see six more weeks of winter, or perhaps those in the media spotlight will continue to experience cold slippery conditions, but any woodchuck here in Woodbridge would have difficulty seeing much beyond the end of his burrow, let alone his shadow.
The top news story of the day that Google News select for me was about Gov. Christie’s letter to his supporters. The whole thing reads like he is helping write the libretto for Christie and the GWB, an opera on the scale of Einstein on the Beach,Nixon in China, or perhaps Brokeback Mountain.
The next story was about the Super Bowl. I wonder how many people will be talking about Gov. Christie as they drive across the George Washington Bridge on their way to the big game. I expect traffic will be pretty bad.
Buried much deeper in the news was reports that the death toll has now risen to 16 in the volcano in Indonesia.
Yesterday, Dan Kennedy posted a status on Facebook, talking about the State Department report on the XL Pipeline. It has now received fifty six comments, most of them very insightful well thought out about climate change, transportation, cost benefit analysis, stakeholder analysis and so on.
It provided an interesting data point with which to think about Howard Rheingold’s video, Why the history of the public sphere matters in the Internet age. This is a video that was posted back in 2009 and recent reappeared in my social media feed. It has lots of interesting ideas to explore, and I’d love to hear thoughts about it five years later.
Was the discussion around Dan’s post a good example of the public sphere online? Was it an anomaly? What can we learn from it? I was planning to write more on this after I took a break to go to the dump. On the way, I listened to David Sedaris on NPR reading his New Yorker article, Now We Are Five.
It was a moving recounting of issues in his family and it made me stop and think. Is it the public sphere that we need to be thinking about, or is there something bigger, something more important? What about an empathetic sphere? What about a creative sphere? How do these spheres relate to one another? Do the overlap? Does one encompass another? They they part of some giant three dimensional Venn Diagram?
What does this public creative empathetic sphere look like and how does it behave? It’s still foggy outside, and I’m not really sure. So, I’ll get ready and head off to church for Candlemas.
This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.
First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.
More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.
I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?
These are the questions we should be grappling with.
From the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook, I found the following comment:
Here's an interesting steaming pile of anti-NaNoWriMo dreck from Salon.com.
Yes, like other's my attention gets drawn to train wrecks, accidents along side the highway and other disasters, so I slowed down and took a look. The author admits that she doesn't write novels, and goes on to say,
NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.
As I read this, I pondered, what would make a person write such a screed? Is it insecurity in her own writing? Is it some haughtiness about being a 'real' writer, instead of just some inspiring hack? Are they two sides of the same coin?
'The narcissistic commerce of writing…' She, as, I presume, a paid writer, seems to be in an odd position criticizing the commerce of writing. Perhaps the narcissism she is complaining about is her own. Perhaps she is concern that she will be eclipsed by some great writer that emerges out of NaNoWriMo, moves through writers conferences, and writes the next great American novel.
So who is Laura Miller? Her bio says
In 1995, Laura Miller helped to co-found Salon.com, where she is currently a staff writer. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the
Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" (Little, Brown, 2008) and the editor of "The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors" (Penguin, 2000). She lives in New York.
Oh yes, there s that nasty little bit of the commerce of writing slipping in. Be sure to buy her books, not. Her articles are mostly reviews, which based on her screed against NaNoWriMo I didn't see any reason to read.
Her article has received many great comments. Perhaps the best starts off like this:
Well aren't you just the Queen of Everything
Good gods, Miller, what crawled up your ass and died? What do you care if people take a whack at writing a novel or not? Who are you to tell them what is and isn't a "waste of time"? It's their time and effort, and if they want to spend it trying to write, let them. How exactly is it hurting you?
While you're at it, why don't you write a column on what a huge waste of time it is to collect stamps? Or crochet doilies? Or bone up on football stats? How about making birdhouses; THERE'S a fucking waste of time for you. And let's not forget scrapbooking. Damn, think of the millions of man hours (or woman hours) wasted on pasting ribbons and gewgaws and pictures in cutesty books. It's disgusting!
If this were just another self-righteous narcissistic professional writer sneering at all the people who still write for the joy of it, I would be tempted to glance at it and move on. However, I believe this reflections a much bigger issue in the world of writing, the idea of authority.
It is a topic that has been explored at many great conferences on the future of media, so I'l just give a quick summary. Here in the twenty-first century, where anyone can write a blog, and now, for that matter, anyone can self-publish, how do we determine what is of value? How do we find the authors that write with true authority.
It used to be that the publishers and the book reviewers were the gatekeepers, the guardians of authority. Yet now social media and crowd sourcing take the change in authorship one step further. An author can write a great book, self-publish it, and get enough critical praise from the hoi polloi to make the book a commercial success. Wither authority?
Ms. Miller also wrote a couple articles recently about Goodreads changing their moderation policy. She talks in these articles about the role of bullies at Goodreads. As we think about the changing nature of authority in the internet age, I have to wonder how much the apparent rise in bullying is a result of people trying to find their way in this new media landscape and acting inappropriately out of fear of their own loss of status.
Perhaps this provides a better insight into why Ms. Miller has chosen to publish an inflammatory attack on a wonderful hobby of people seeking to improve their ability to communicate in the twenty-first century.
Can a writer effectively compose a first person narrative story but from voice of their opposite gender?
There are a lot of interesting questions people struggle with in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group, and this is just one of them. Most of the responses are fairly predictable. "Yes… I can…I'm told they're accurate, too, from my male readers….There is more difference within genders than between…."
The discussion drifts off to sexuality.
I added my two cents with
Wow! I came at this from a very different perspective than most of the other people on this thread. My first thought was, "It all depends on whether you are cis or trans".
This, of course, led me to thinking about gender being socially constructed. If we are creating new worlds, we can also create gender constructs as we please.
I wonder how many of the forum participants get the reference to "cis or trans" or "gender as a social construct".
On Wednesdays, I speak with my eldest daughter who is teaching in Japan these days. Recently, she went to a conference on gender equality there. During our discussion of her experiences, I mentioned an interview I had recently listened to where the speaker identified herself as being in a third gender. She was a western woman in a strongly patriarchal Muslim country. In the country, there were acceptable roles for men and for women. Yet, she, as a western woman, could participate in activities traditionally reserved for men as well as in activities traditionally reserved for women.
My daughters and I often speak about social constructionism and I've been planning to weave the idea into my novel for NaNoWriMo. As my mind wanders along this path, I bump into the Constructivism philosophy of education, and I start thinking about social constructivism. Writing a novel is a great opportunity to experiment with challenging social constructs. How do writers create or reinforce social constructs? What role does the fourth estate play in shaping the third gender?
I must admit I've always had problems getting past Orlando "slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters". Yet the idea of Virginia Woolf's Orlando has alway intrigued me. At this point, I don't expect to have an Orlando like character in my novel, but we shall see.