A few concluding thoughts (with no promise I won’t return to the topic) on the medium we’re sharing at this very moment – blogs, and more generally, the internet. Fascinating especially to Alaskans, who like others in far-flung corners of the world, stand most to gain – and lose – from the medium that has changed our lives. Thoughts, in no particular order, prompted by the book I’ve referenced before, Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur:
–Keen refers to blogging as “ego-casting…[a] Darwinian struggle for mind-share.” He may be overstating, but whenever power opens to the unempowered, i.e. the formerly isolated, expect, ahem, interesting results.
–Keen calls the web “a smokescreen for truth,” promoting superficialities rather than deep thought. As in the Palin candidacy, which was hailed as being good for Alaska but seems only to have made us a parody of ourselves, misinformation abounds.
–“Amateur journalism trivializes and corrupts serious debate,” writes Keen. Blogging is many things, but it’s not journalism. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, only that it should be taken in perspective. Likewise, news is not a conversation, despite what we see on many 24/7 cable “news” shows.
–When you only listen and talk with people who think like you, it’s hard to find truth. On blogs, radio talk shows, and specialty-interest “news” shows, narrow views are reinforced. After only 50 years of statehood, Alaska is barely out of adolescence. This is no time to retreat to corners where we’re bolstered with self-talk.
–Keen points out that when information is distorted and skewed, people switch off. Alaskans already too prone in that direction, as we revel in our differences, our separateness, and our “unique” mindset.
–Though there’s lots of talk about online communities, consider how many participants are anonymous. Is that real community? Contrast with Alaska’s native cultures, where community is authentic and meaningful. At first blush, the cyber-notion that content is common property seems like it fits with native notions of sharing. But in fact Alaska’s natives are cautiously and judiciously protective of their intellectual property. They recognize that stories are the essence of who they are.
–According to a Stanford University study, one in eight adults is addicted to the internet. Ouch. Between that and Keen’s assertion that creative work stalls when there’s no monetary reward, we’re back to that question of whether the internet is bad for writers.
–Alaskans want to be connected, but we love our privacy, too. Given how data is tracked and stored, not to mention sites that promote voyeurism, Internet privacy is an oxymoron.
Ready to quit reading and shut off your computer? Forego online shopping and make do with the local store? Talk to your dog instead of your online friends? Go back to the village phone where everyone stopped playing pool to listen to what you said to the folks back home?
I didn’t think so. What Keen advocates is simple: awareness and prudence. Read blogs by folks who know a thing or two, writers who have a track record. Remember that real community happens not when you associate only with people who think as you do, but when you stretch your notions of truth by considering other points of view. As you read, give yourself time to think, reflect, and engage in genuine dialogue with people who use their real names.