My friends are not misinformed. At least, I don’t think they are. I suppose, technically, I’m in no position to judge, since — like pretty much all of them — I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper, nor — like a lot of them — do I make a point of watching the news on television (besides The Daily Show). I remember at least three social studies teachers in two different schools drilling my classmates and I on the importance of reading the paper every day, and it is them that I think of each morning, when I wake up and go through my routine of decidedly not reading a newspaper.
Some days, that’s a little scary. Like many, I was raised in the obedient shadow of the New York Times’ Old Gray Lady. Sure, my parents made fun of its stuffiness and habit of referring to everybody as ‘Mr.’ whoever, but — when it came down to it — the Times was still the word. It still is, too, at least in the sense that I still read and (generally speaking) trust their reportage. What it’s retained in residual psychological authority, though, it’s lost in physical presence. On screen, the Times occupies literally the same space as the other 20 or so websites I check everyday, not to mention links that’ve trickled in by instant messenger and email that redirect me to another two dozen sites of wire services and newspapers around the country.
The same way that shuffle play has democratized (or tried to democratize) music listening, blogs — at least for those who read them — have done the same for an individual’s daily news collection. In a very real way, it’s exactly what we were promised about the internet in the ’90s: an infinitely interconnected system of citizen journalism. It’s an increasingly sound impulse, of course, especially as the Valerie Plame scandal continues to expose the delicate way news organizations like the Times are constructed in a manner equally as political as the stories they are reporting.
Besides, why should I read what the Times editorial page has to say about the riots in France, when I can go to David Byrne’s online journal and read the art school dropout’s 1000-word digression on modernist architect Le Corbusier, urban critic Jane Jacobs, the Enlightenment, and a Dobbs-looking housing developer named Orville Simpson III? On the web, news gathering is built on trust of individuals, as opposed to institutions. And, when institutions like the Times are to be trusted, they are — more often than not — mediated through individuals’ commentary.
An unnamed aide to George Bush once snidely referred to people that "believe that solutions emerge from [the] judicious study of discernible reality" as "the reality-based community.’ ‘When we act,’ he said of the Bush Administration, ‘we create our own reality.’ Bloggers and internet dorks proudly accepted the title, but one sometimes has to wonder. If reality is created by consensus, what consensus is left if one only stays within his self-chosen community of trusted sources of news?
During November, a story that consumed the blogs was of the discovery of security-infringing digital rights management systems (DRM) on hundreds of Sony’s CDs. For days, I watched the stories flood in and circulate. Everybody seemed to have something to say as the story unfolded luxuriously over three weeks of news cycles. But — as I was reminded numerous times over Thanksgiving weekend, and when checking out an anti-DRM demonstration outside a Tower Records in Greenwich Village — the story was very much a self-perpetuating frenzy, at least in my corner of the world. But it only went to prove the dangers of this kind of news gathering.
This, in effect, is what is truly frightening about the emancipation of information from the authority of the printed word. On one hand, the prospect of the Google Print project — whereby they propose to scan and index, every book, um, ever — is extraordinary. It is no hyperbole to say that books are simply society’s deepest source of self-knowledge and information. To index and functionally interconnect literally thousands of years of ideas is mindblowing. I mean, holy shit, could anybody be opposed to that? Of course, book publishers are. But, like the Church, books and — by extension — knowledge itself rely on a mystical, unseen power to give structure to what are extraordinarily abstract concepts.
Sometimes, without the faith of books and print and the corporeal, one starts to wonder where the center is. Like in Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorow’s novel of blogosphere paranoia, it can sometimes all seem like a dream that ends when the laptop goes to sleep and I go out into the world. But, sometimes, it doesn’t. At least in the blogosphere, the meme of the blogosphere bubble is quite established. In meatspace, it’s only about two years old, arising around Howard Dean’s failed bid for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination. But, sometimes, like the morning-after discovery that maybe a dream wasn’t really a dream, a popped blogosphere bubble sometimes leaves residue. Just look at Howard Dean now, having been named the leader of the Democratic National Committee. Go ahead, dream a little dream.
Jesse Jarnow blogs at wunderkammern27.com