Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Death of Perspective?

Today, Editor & Publisher, the newspaper trade publication that I read regularly to keep up with the industry I was a part of for 20 years, reports

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released this morning the spring figures for the six months ending March 31, 2009, showing that the largest metros continue to shed daily and Sunday circulation -- now at a record rate.

According to ABC, for 395 newspapers reporting this spring, daily circulation fell 7% to 34,439,713 copies, compared with the same March period in 2008. On Sunday, for 557 newspapers, circulation was down 5.3% to 42,082,707 [link added].
The Wall Street Journal just launched an interactive site that documents current circulation and negative events for major newspapers in the United States since 2006.

Meanwhile, online media continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.

Twitter, the online service that allows users to post updates on whatever they wish in Wired reports that in that same month, US users doubled to 9.3 million bringing the number of users worldwide to 19 million. Significant growth continues. Web 2.0 Journal estimates that 1.2 million people have joined Twitter since Oprah featured the service on her show on Friday 17 April. Though blogs are far from dead, Twitter is the new blog and extends the popular media trend that combines truncated content with heightened immediacy.

Closely related to the Twittering phenomenon is the growing popularity of Facebook updates. On Wed 8 April, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the online site had crested the 200 million user mark. A significant portion of this growth is now comprised of those over the coveted demographic of the 18-35 set. Carmen Musick of the Kingsport Times News reports, "Between June 2008 and January 2009 the number of Facebook members between the ages of 35 and 54 nearly quadripled - increasing 276 percent- and members older than 55 tripled...."

Only the most anachronistic Luddite would depreciate the enormous benefit that online media brings to the developed world. But, at the same time, this type of growth is coming at a cost:

I am concerned that the ubiquity and immediacy of information can precipitate a loss of perspective.

For example, there used to be a typical news cycle for most journalistic organizations that allowed for reflection when considering the events of the day. This enabled writers and editors to bring perspective into their coverage of news events. The 24-hour news cycle, on the other hand, tends to erase this advantage. Media observers such as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media Culture note that journalists have gravitated toward "sensationalism, entertainment, and opinion" and have moved away from "verification, proportion, relevance, depth, and quality of interpretation" (see 24-hour news cycle).

Francis McInerney and Sean White, authors of FutureWealth: Investing in the Second Great Wave of Technology, might characterize this trend as another example of how society changes as the cost of information declines.

But I do not believe this trend is permanent.

I do believe that the natural desire for wisdom means that, despite the current upheaval in media, new (or, perhaps, renewed) journalistic voices that balance breaking news with relevant perspective will rise through new media. Sensationalist fare can only satiate the superficial palate.

Until then, those who desire reflective perspective will have to search a little harder for it, listening carefully through the din for the more discerning voices that can still be found.

Analagously, I believe that those of us who participate in online expressions of spiritual community - whether through blogs, twitter, facebook, or what have you - need to be cautious that we don't lapse into religious superficiality. Loving and following God takes time. Deepening spiritual friendship and community takes loads of time. Working through differences of opinion cannot generally be done via blogger or twitter. Nearly by definition, meditation can't be done quickly!

I love online media. I enjoy blogging, facebook, twitter, online community, all of it. But from time to time we need to remind ourselves that this new form of communication is not omnicompetent.


Joe's Foster Dogs said...

why do we do what we do?

for those who follow Jesus, this is the question to ask.

imo, if this doesn't throw you into a confusion to some degree, you are not looking deep enough.

the fast pace of technological advancements does NOT like confusion and appeals greatly imo to those who are not very reflective relating to the above question.

Bob Sardelli said...

I think that even in the daily newspaper world there was already a problem with "undigested" news (for lack of a better term.)

This book does a good job of making the point that news that is more "digested" is going to be more accurate:

How the News Makes Us Dumb