Homo homini rodentius est

Thoof: The End of Culture as We Knew It, cont.

Mike Arrington features [yet another Web 2.0 startup] over on Techcrunch that aims to change the world — but this one, inexplicably named Thoof (why ask why..?) aims to provide personalized “news” that gets submitted through a Digg-like process that also allows wiki-like tailoring of the news announcement. Think Digg-meets-Wikipedia-meets-del.icio.us-meets-God.Help.Us.

Arrington quotes the site founder on the virtues of his platform:

Historically, news has been delivered in a one-to-many manner, meaning that lots of people tend to get the same news at the same time, but I think this is more of a bug than a feature. People don’t necessarily *want* to be shown the same stuff that everyone else is seeing, but the limitations of the technology somewhat required that this be the case. They would much rather see things that are specifically tailored to their interests, its just that either that option hasn’t existed, or it has been poorly executed.

People don’t necessarily want to be shown the same stuff that everyone else is seeing. [My last post] was about the decline of journalistic standards in a new media world where the economic models that supported time-tested institutions were being dismantled. Indirectly it was about the loss of a common information culture — a shared set of informational priorities that were provided to us through commonly-shared channels. Elite channels, granted. But elite channels that were accountable. In the current gold rush to grab eyeballs in the interest of garnering venture capital, where’s the accountability? Is there even an acknowledgment of value to society beyond the personal enrichment of the investors and the pleasure of the consumers?

This latest example of “let’s build it because we can” lays bare all that’s wrong with the new media culture. It is the definition of expedient greed masquerading as populism — gladly tossing the values of time-tested professionalism (news editing in this case) out the window in deference to audience whims. One cannot imagine the Second World War being won by a population that got their news (or as Thoof founder Ian Clarke calls it, “stuff”) from something like his invention. If Thoof and its ilk contribute to a Balkanization of the culture and the loss of common interests or polity — who cares, so long as it gives people what they want?

The problem, of course, is that people may not realize — until too late — that what they want isn’t necessarily what they need.

UPDATE 6/16, via Matthew Ingram’s [blog], I found my way to the debate on the anti-expertise trends of Web 2.0 over on the Britannica blog: Michael Gorman on [The Sleep of Reason] and Nick Carr’s [response]. Resonates with issues I’m trying to raise here.

The End of Culture as We Knew It

Paris Hilton dominates Washington Post front page

I’ve become pretty inured to the cheapening of our media culture that has been directly proportional to the lowered cost of entry provided by technology. Once upon a time it was fairly expensive and difficult to produce mass-market media and, as a result, we tended to see what the elites who controlled the media wanted us to see. This had downsides, to be sure, but over time it tended to sift out the garbage. Then it became relatively easy to provide 500 cable TV channels and an infinite number of Internet “channels” — all competing for eyes — and the implicit filters on what could and couldn’t be provided disappeared. “Give the people quality” became “Give the people what they want” and in a free-market democracy who can argue with that? Well, I can. What I’m seeing is a huge regression to the mean effect taking place, where the standards that people used to aspire to are inexorably declining to satisfy a mass audience with incredibly low standards of quality. The decline is particularly steep online, where the audiences are younger, and the most egregious recent example is this snapshot of the Washington Post online front page, where the majority of the “above the fold” space was devoted to the tragicomic misadventures of a whore:

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A Day in the Life: June 1, 1967

Found a great video clip where all four of the Beatles talk about the creation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — the album that changed everything, released during the [Summer of Love] forty years ago today. Enjoy.

PDF2007: Tech Elite Meets, Declares War on Elitism

Esther Dyson (foreground) leads a panel on Navigating the New Media System

The 4th annual Personal Democracy Forum was held recently here in New York. The [list of speakers], including Thomas Friedman, Eric Schmidt, Esther Dyson, Seth Godin and Robert Scoble, was the proverbial Who’s Who of the digerati. They gathered before packed audiences to comment on the role of technology in “flattening” archaic political structures and transferring power to the grassroots — Democracy 2.0, you could say. I attended a few of the sessions and came away with these impressions…

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First look: Heath Ledger as The Joker

UPDATE! Dark Knight reviewed: Heath Ledger “mad-crazy-blazing brilliant”

Harry Knowles over on Ain’t it Cool News broke the story on a [viral marketing campaign] that Warner Bros. has started to introduce Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight to the world. I’ve been itching for news about what he would do with the part, being a big honkin’ fan of him, Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. If this pic (after the jump) is any indication, it’s going to be gooooooood.

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