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A Vast Wasteland, Five Decades Later - Ethan Zuckerman →

Ethan Zuckerman cites Terry Fisher in a long post about a recent retrospective at the Berkman Center about Newton Minow’s (in)famous ‘vast wasteland’ speech 50 years ago. Fisher got to bat clean-up, and departs from TV and stretches out:

New technologies, and some of the practices that surround them (though are not dictated by them) are eroding some existing, long-standing dichotomies: public/private, professional/amateur, speaker/audience, news/entertainment, university/society. There are huge benefits and costs to this corrosion. We see the collapse of oligarchies, address of systematic biases, democratization of processes. But we also have fragmentation, loss of a coherent single culture, the rise of a tower of pundit babel, and the superficiality of much programming. This move, he [Fisher] argues, is impossible to stop. Instead, we need to think through the new opportunities the shift presents: the ability to change who contributes to this process. And we need to figure out how to ameliorate the costs we suffer. That means creating distributed models for sifting, curating, organizing, like Wikipedia, Slashdot and academic projects like Jeffrey Schapp’s Digital Humanities project. In this new world, the FCC may not be the prime mover – the real power is located in intermediaries like Google, and if we were to push for the public interest, that’s where we’d apply leverage.

The web is slowly being converted to a giant mall (see The Stripmalling Of Social Media: Media Sprawl And The New Urbanism), and TV is made into just another pile of ‘content’ for it’s yawning maw. Google and other private companies wire their policies into the plumbing of the social web, and the FCC is hopelessly out of date, focused on channels and spectrum instead of the global agora we are constructing, and living in.

Fisher is right in the particulars: a fragmentation of culture, and the dissolution of public/private, to name just a few of his points. Like Fisher, I am caught up in the quest for a distributed ‘engine of meaning’ to make sense of the streaming world through a combination of human and algorithmic curation, and it will have to be based on social structures we aren’t mining yet, I guess.

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