Homo homini rodentius est

Tech Porn

Somewhere along the way, perhaps the day that [Techcrunch] guesstimated that the launch of Apple’s iPhone had generated 700,000 sales (only off by about half a million!), or maybe it was when [Robert Scoble] turned his once-informative blog into the de facto Facebook FAQ, it dawned on me that what passes for tech journalism online has evolved into a relentless drumbeat of hype that is, essentially, nothing more than product public relations and marketing. I was going to say “free” public relations and marketing, but I don’t even know that to be true — so unreliable are the reputations and protestations of transparency from “journalists” who have popped up like mushrooms after a spring rain. As Jack Shafer says in [a column] today decrying the imminent demise of the reputation of the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch’s notoriously heavy hand, it takes decades for a media source to build its reputation. There simply hasn’t been enough time to know how reliable most tech bloggers are. But even if no money changes hands, that doesn’t mean there isn’t implied value exchanged in the form of favors or just increased audience and ad revenue from boosting the current hot toy.

A few weeks ago there was a dust up on the Net because some sites in the Federated Media fold were on the take from Microsoft for a “conversational” brand campaign and did not disclose this to their loyal readers. But that was a pretty obvious case — easy to pick out. What is not so obvious is the general culture of under-the-radar, one-hand-washes-the-other marketing that masquerades as breathless enthusiasm for an endless parade of unproven, fly-by-night technologies and products that, more often than not, barely deserve a moment’s attention.

The parallel to porn is not just hyperbole, either. A few years ago there was some (quiet) contemplation about what lessons mainstream businesses could take away from the phenomenal success that porn merchants were experiencing online. Well now we know: hook your audience on an endless diet of novel stimuli, stuff them with information and images of the things they like faster than their brains can assimilate or filter. All you have to do is target the right audience with the right stimuli — young women get gossip about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, geeky males get stories about Facebook and pictures of a $600 cell phone. Pass the Kleenex, sit back and rack up the pageviews.

But there are signs of tech porn exhaustion out there — after so many hyped blog posts and twits and product announcements about this new platform and that new device, it’s getting harder to get hard about the latest new thing. All the boobs are starting to look alike. I’ve felt it myself and seen other bloggers start to complain about the attention deficit we’re suffering from but it took a blog post from [Jason Calacanis] — no stranger to the game of hyper-promotion — lamenting about Facebook and blog “bankruptcy” for it to rise to public consciousness in the blogosphere. Calacanis’ way of dealing was to impose attention filters in the form of abstinence — from Facebook and blog comments. He’s on the right track, he just has to go farther.

I’ve unsubscribed from all the tech news feeds I used to read. No more Techcrunch. No more Lifehacker. No more Scoble. I’ll wait to read about new tech trends in the New York Times and Washington Post because by the time they filter down to those hoary media venues their value will be pretty-much proven. I’ll be behind the curve, no doubt, but it’s a small price to pay to reclaim a sense of integrity. In the past week, since beginning my “abstinence” program, I’ve re-read The Great Gatsby and read Camus’ The Stranger for the first time. Let someone else burn their attention enumerating the many corpses of the Web 2.0 also-rans, I’ll be reading a book.

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