The questions raised by a recent Analysis feature at Mind Matters News, by a long-time tech maven, affect everyone who gets most of their information from the internet:
Blogging, certainly “citizen blogging,” is dead—haven’t you noticed? So too a host of other enthusiasms and ideas that once seemed poised to transform culture. In 2006, Wired editor Chris Anderson predicted a coming new economy in niche markets, the so-called long tail of online consumerism. Turns out, the long tail of indy bookstores, out-of-the-mainstream music choices, and other products mostly ended up on Amazon, the behemoth sometimes accused of strong-arming smaller companies into contracts favorable to its bottom line. The grassroots, 2005-ish internet, full of opportunity—the sweet smell of revolution and change in the air—well, disappeared. Slowly at first, then seemingly all at once (like falling in love), we now have the Big Five: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft.
What happened? Remembering the prophecies for the web in the halcyon days of ten or (better) fifteen years ago is strangely painful and disorienting, like a hangover, largely because we so silently abandoned its ideals. Following endless feelgood clickstreams, we marched happily into big advertising and data monopolies. What happened to the collaborative culture, decentralized markets, and wisdom of crowds that bestsellers prophesied fifteen years ago?
Remembering the prophecies for the web in the halcyon days of ten or (better) fifteen years ago is strangely painful and disorienting, like a hangover, largely because we so silently abandoned its ideals.
Experimental physicist Rob Sheldon, author of Genesis: The Long Ascent, responds:
If you are a millennial, or a parent/friend to a millennial, this article captures the depression/frustration of millennials perfectly. The quote from “The Great Gatsby” at the end is pitch perfect.
Because what our culture faces has been seen before, has happened before in the Roaring Twenties. I never understood Fitzgerald until now, and then, only through the eyes of my millennial children. There is a deep despair running like an ice-covered river through the heart of our culture, as cause after cause is revealed to be just another windmill, another machination of men. Our hope is that this despair can lead to identifying the real causes of human achievement, the real design of a marvellous cosmos, the real purposes of a human life. This is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.
Response from O’Leary for News: Monopoly control is bound to have a dramatic effect on newsgathering and dissemination, just as it did in the days of the “one-paper town.” We thought we had gotten past that but here we all are again.
Many people will believe what they wanna believe. It was ever thus. The critical question is, assuming you want to know as much as possible about what is really happening, how easy is it? Russ White has some useful ideas about how not to live in a news bubble anyway, at least for now: How to know if you are trapped in a news bubble and how to escape it.
Hyper claims about “fake news” miss the point of the problem created by monopoly social media. All news that harms a political candidate’s chances is “fake,” so far as the candidate is concerned. The critical question for the rest of us is, how many independent streams of information does the voter genuinely have access to?
See also: Part I: What is fake news? Do we believe it?
Part II: Does fake news make a difference in politics?
Part III: What can we do about fake news that would not diminish real news?
Extra! Extra! A handy guide to the normal fake news