Saturday, October 17, 2009

Filtration system

Mass market media is often discussed in terms of being a filter on society. 50 years ago, when you could count the number of Television broadcast channels on one hand, and when most news came via newspapers published by a small subset of powerful media companies, I can see how that is relevant.

Society is comprised of individuals, and we each have our own stories. Filtered views onto this make a lot of sense - How could we possibly cope with the information overflow that would come with being directly exposed to hundreds of stories from other people's lives? How could we make rational decisions and be informed of pertinent world events when someone somewhere is dying right this second?

Except this is exactly what we are exposed to now, with social grouping tools like Facebook and Twitter and with story aggregation tools ranging from Google news to Fark. Media is no longer a filter, it's a multiplier.

The established mass media still fills a role, but that role has become less informational and more like a bragging teenager. This is understandable given that their audience has always been the buyers of advertising space rather than the consumers of the media themselves, but without the crutch of legitimacy that comes from being a relevant informational stream, many television channels, newspapers and radio channels are falling back on creating their own story streams, playing off the exposed lives of a tiny subset of the real world and creating a huge amount of noise around these people as though they should matter to the rest of us.

I find it terrifying that huge portions of our population really care about a pop singer dying (Michael Jackson or Stephen Gately, take your pick). Sharing the information once is relevant, constructing a story around that information is fiction. I find it terrifying that similarly huge portions of our population seem to think that the empty posturing of a has-been model and her washed out pop-star ex husband are deserving of such lavish media attention, when lives could actually be changed if any of a thousand other people had the same airtime to disseminate their knowledge and views. Where is the Johnny ball of the naughties?

So, we've lost that filter that mass media used to provide, and I think our society is being lead by the hand in the wrong direction by the established powers. However, their downfall has been at hand for long enough now to make them pretty much irrelevant, if you have the willpower and foresight to simply avoid them. Starting with Digg, Reddit and Wikipedia, you can construct your own filter, participate and weave your own stories. You don't need the mass media, you never did - it was always the other way around.

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