Saturday, May 5, 2007

Futurist Thoughts on Mass Communication

Look at this blog. It's not very popular, most of the people who read it are people we know personally. But it wouldn't be very difficult to make it go "mainstream": all it woudl take is to re-name it with a few searchable keywords, strategically narrow our posts to something with a characterisable niche, and then comment on other people's blogs. Maybe add a bit of multi-media content to attract the ADHD crowds of the web world. Then the blog becomes a true form of mass media.
We live in a world where mass media in it's traditional forms is simply not sexy anymore. "Sexy" isn't a superficial qualification, by the way, not in our generation. Noel kept telling me about how looking good is so important, sometimes even more important than actually being good. I can't disregard that anymore, the evidence is overwhelming. However, in my mind, you can't cross the line of ethics. But I'm digressing from my point. Traditional forms of media are not sexy in that they are no longer streamlined and attractive to today's generation. Chuck Palanhiuk, author of Fight Club talked about our attitude towards television on a lecture on YouTube (spot the wit :) He said that we are so sick of reality shows, especially those damn house-switch decor things that seem to be on every channel. Two hundred channels on cable television and we can't find anything to watch, because the simple truth is that we've seen it all.
Aside: I'm liking "Heroes" because it's unpredictable and the characters the interesting and blended right. Who would anticipate String Theory, a guy who can paint the future, and... don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen any of the episodes yet.
Communication, information, ideas. Entertainment, self-realization, education, socialization... the core processes by which the human mind develops are undergoing a rapid and fundamental change. I say I live in my head, don't we all? Because if you really think (hehe) about it, our perceptions are our realities. We live in worlds constructed in our minds. Those worlds come about through the information we imbibe as we develop. This idea is an unholy alliance of Kant and Dev Psych. Ain't it cool?
So what is so drastic in the difference between a kid who grew up watching television, radio and comics-- and a kid who grew up with Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, Friendster, YM and BitTorrent? The difference is in the fundamentals of communication.
The older paradigm is a one-way process, a single channel of some big institution (like the government or a media company) generating content and communicating it to a mass audience. The biggest restricition of this sort of communication is the peculiar way that information becomes dumber the wider you spread it. A television program can only be 30mins long, interjected by a mess of 10-30 second commercials. Another set-back is that you can't customise content. It's very capitalist, all these companies screaming at you trying to get your attention to look at them. But you can only get whatever they give you.
The new paradigm changes this. I can search online for content that I want; if it's not there, I can generate it myself. Think TIME magazine's person of the year for 2006: YOU. It's about the individual. It's not about plugging a faceless audience to a profit-driven company; it's about connecting one individual to another. Everyone has their own space, their own personality. Just look at those Friendster profiles. When you deal with people online, it's not a mass; its a friend network. When people comment on YouTube, you see their faces, you know their tags. It's a different society, and suddenly, information is liberated and placed at the fingertips of the users.
If you want a glimpse into society, human organization and politics of the future, I suggest you look at the blogsphere. This collection of online geeks are the future.
So there.

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