In Finland, the cell phone catches guards kicking a handcuffed man. In USA, it catches an Iranian-American student getting tasered by cops for not carrying an ID. What is common in these two incidents? They both ended up on Youtube. Transparent society.
A lot of people view the citizen media as a poor substitute for professionally edited journalism. They look at the quality of the material which is produced by individuals, and pooh-pooh it because it's about some niche thing or contains crappy videos about cats. But that is only because they are using themselves as yardsticks. The thing is that this new media is truly "from the people to the people" (much like the "old" media was when it was born when even the smallest town had its own daily newspaper). It's not out to replace anything (though it might do it accidentally as a side effect), but it's catering for the wants of the people, not the needs.
I want to blog about interesting things. And if I get readers, great, but I'm not looking for massive exposure. I want a handful of people with whom I can have a good dialogue - whether they agree with me or not (as long as they are not abusive). A newspaper editor wants to have massive coverage, because that pays the bills. He cares about quantity of readers, not quality. I much prefer a thoughtful comment from a friend - he does not care who subscribes. Or if he does, he cares about it so that he can sell better advertisements. Me - I rely on Google Ads.
I know this was a bit of an overstatement, because at some level bloggers care about how many people read them (just watch the Finnish blog top-list) and at some level all editors care about their job. But when the different people make choices, they tend to go different ways. I don't blog if I don't want to. An editor has no choice (if he wants to keep his job, that is). The mediums are different, and should not be compared in a simplistic way.
(This is one of those blog posts that went into a completely different direction that I was planning to.)
The online world is harsh, yet rewarding. The mechanisms of social media, amplified by search engines can bring something out of a relative obscurity to everyone's desktops in just a few days, without anyone actively working for it. This "mass intelligence", which is based on a complicated mesh of "nodes" (sites which are read by many people, and therefore work more efficiently at distributing things) and "leaves" (sites which are read by only a few people, but they generate most of the material) is something which is not easily transcribed to a hierarchical world view where everyone has their place. (Though, I don't believe the world was ever hierarchical, but many of the structures in the world make it seem like it is.)
The breakdown between private and public, work and freetime, professional journalism and citizenship media, fair use and copyright, and virtual and physical is something which, I think, is just a visible symptom of an underlying, deep change in the society, and it's all fueled by the Internet. It is now finally transforming the society as was predicted, largely because the people born in the 80s and 90s who never knew anything else, are now coming to an age.
But what exactly are we transforming into? This is an age of conflict, both in a physical and virtual world. What will emerge as a result? I can't say. I don't think anyone can, though there are people who I would be betting on. We're on the edge of a sword, to quote a cliché, and we need to decide which way to fall. Or maybe we've fallen already, but just don't realize it yet.
(UCLA video via Slashdot.)
Update: There is a Finnish raport on this very subject by Sitra on "The Well-being State in the Age of Communities", published this morning. Thanks to Laura for the link.)
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