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Primetime 2.0 April 1, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Social Media, Trends.
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Something extraordinary and revolutionary is happening on the free-wheeling Web. Millions of minds are coming together to create a vast global brain and memory bank. Once upon a time (ie last week) TV networks determined what you watched. Today, amateur hour has arrived. Digital masses are running the show and creating a culture dependent on the spectacle of the amateur.

Call it digital narcissim. In this self-broadcasting culture which celebrates the uninformed amateur, folks aren’t satisfied being simple consumers anymore. They are demanding to be participants in the creation of culture. The idea of creative embellishment and everyone having their own channel is kind of cool – and scary. Where does watching end and creating begin?

YouTube’s tagline is Broadcast Yourself, and millions of users do just that. YouTubers are taking this literally to create an online hall of mirrors, posting videos of themselves watch others watch videos and so on. User 1 watching User 2 watch User 1. Postmodern or pure mundane? Michael Eisner’s VEOH is another example of this “Broadcast Yourself” culture. But come to think of it, we have been doing this all the time. The Web just makes it easier. Think “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Technology enthusiasts celebrate the destruction of old industries. Lest anyone thinks this widespread availability of technology is generating greater wisdom or makes for a better democracy, former Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen gives a reality check. He worries about the debasement of knowledge and reveals how the participatory Web 2.0 threatens traditional values, economy, and innovation. His polemic goes something like this:

Our cultural institutions, our professional newspapers, magazines, music, and movies are being overtaken by an avalanche of amateur, user-generated free content. Advertising revenue is being siphoned off by free classified ads on sites like Craigslist; television networks are under attack from free user-generated programming on YouTube and the like; file-sharing and digital piracy have devastated the multibillion-dollar music business and threaten to undermine our movie industry. Worse, our “cut-and-paste” online culture – in which intellectual property is freely swapped, downloaded, remashed, and aggregated – threatens over 200 years of copyright protection and intellectual property rights, robbing artists, authors, journalists, musicians, editors, and producers of the fruits of their creative labors.

The accumulation of information is no substitute for critical thinking. In this morass of information, where can one find the diversity of views that leads to wisdom? Blogs, podcasts, wikis, YouTube are all free, but can you really trust their content? When anyone with an opinion can blog, vlog or change an entry on Wikipedia, what is all the more needed are trained experts to sift the chatter from chaff.

When the anonymous blogger and videographer, unchecked by professional standards and editorial filters, can alter the public debate and manipulate public opinion, truth becomes a scarce commodity to be bought, sold, packaged and reinvented. What new skillset and mindset do users of Web content need to aggregate information quickly and multitask between information streams?

The Wikipedia model is an example of a glut of hazy information that the internet has made endlessly available. But don’t sneer yet at the cult of amateurs creating content ala wikis. A study by Nature magazine in 2006 concluded that “Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries”.

A technology endures when you find yourself returning to use it despite “new and improved” versions. Here’s a test for an enduring technology, one that withstands the onslaught of ever newer but ephemeral innovations that seek to replace it – the physical book.

For 500 years, the book has been a viable consumer product and doesn’t need to change. In the midst of the obsessions and abstraction of folks seeking comfort in Web 2.0, perhaps the challenge is to convince the world that the book is just as futuristic as the search engine.

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