Hamilton Nolan’s advice to Bill Keller, from Ten People Who Should Quit the Media in 2012
Bill Keller continues to expose his anger that the web is changing the world in unexpected ways, this time going after Twitter and social media in general:
Bill Keller, The Twitter Trap
The most obvious drawback of social media is that they are aggressive distractions. Unlike the virtual fireplace or that nesting pair of red-tailed hawks we have been live-streaming on nytimes.com, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. Every time my TweetDeck shoots a new tweet to my desktop, I experience a little dopamine spritz that takes me away from … from … wait, what was I saying?
My mistrust of social media is intensified by the ephemeral nature of these communications. They are the epitome of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, which was my mother’s trope for a failure to connect.
I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely “social.” There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant. Following an argument among the Twits is like listening to preschoolers quarreling: You did! Did not! Did too! Did not!
So, in essence, Keller is saying that what we are doing is illegitimate, it is a cheapening of what mature people do.
Keller joins those who are saying that the web makes us stupid, we should disconnect, that only old school, face-to-face social relationships are ‘real’, and anyone who advocates social connection is immature and psychologically stunted.
And then he moves to proactively attack those who would disagree with him:
I realize I am inviting blowback from passionate Tweeters, from aging academics who stoke their charisma by overpraising every novelty and from colleagues at The Times who are refining a social-media strategy to expand the reach of our journalism. So let me be clear that Twitter is a brilliant device — a megaphone for promotion, a seine for information, a helpful organizing tool for everything from dog-lover meet-ups to revolutions. It restores serendipity to the flow of information. Though I am not much of a Tweeter and pay little attention to my Facebook account, I love to see something I’ve written neatly bitly’d and shared around the Twittersphere, even when I know — now, for instance — that the verdict of the crowd will be hostile.
The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.
Keller has completely missed the social revolution as a participant, and has joined the reactionaries, making the unfounded argument that we are losing cognitive skills or bemoaning the loss of outmoded cultural norms.
I reject the argument that we are harming ourselves or threatening Western civilization by following people’s observations on Twitter, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that Twitter is so popular in part because it lines up with the way that the human mind is wired.
But of course, Keller doesn’t cite research, he just dribbles out invective, and names a bunch of other well-known naysayers. It’s good link bait, but its more like rock throwing than well reasoned concerns.
Huffington: I think we will become more obsessed with being disconnected || Absolutely wrong. #disrupt
In a world with increasing opportunities to connect, the most connected connect even more (see It’s Not About Making Things Easier, It’s About Connection), and those at the bottom of the economic heap are being connected for the first time on web-connected phones.
Huffington is going down a strange path, on one hand managing an online media empire but at the same time promoting a ‘disconnect now’ view, based on ‘connection is making us stupid’ mumbo jumbo. She’s channeling Bill Keller, and why? It’s schizophrenic.
The NY Times — especially Bill Leller — just can’t stop throwing rocks at Ariana Huffington and her Post. Jeff Jarvis spends some time analyzing this — a good read — but I can abstract the argument using just one phrase buried in his piece:
Jeff Jarvis, Who’s afraid of Arianna Huffington?
Comments have cooties.
All the tired arguments being kicked about by the Church of Journalism about their reason to exist, why we need them, and why we should pay them to do what is most comfortable for them really don’t address the deep motivations of people online.
We have invented the web to happen to ourselves, and to the extent that the NY Times staff and owners wise up to that, they can benefit from it. We are not here to be informed, or be part of the public that they want to address.
The central problem at work here is not paywalls, but simply that conventional, old school journalism doesn’t want to share the podium with us. They don’t even want us nattering in the comments, really. The leaders of The NY Times — arguably in favor of liberalism — are really not willing to accept the basic premises of the social revolution, and will definitely not reshape what they do to support it.
Comments have cooties because we, the people, have cooties. We have unwashed ideas, dirty minds, and bits of social rhetoric caught between our teeth.
Huffpo is not going to up end the media world, necessarily, but it has accepted more of what is hotting up the social mess online than the NY Times does, and so Huffpo is gaining community while the NY Times is losing readers. There is more of us in Huffpo than in the NY Times, and with the exception of our money, that seems to be the way Bill Keller and company like it.
I read two argumentative posts this morning, one by Bill Keller, the NY Times Executive Editor and the second by Arianna Huffington. Keller started the hair-pulling by writing a column, in which — after a long build-up about his throw-weight as a Lion of Media — he complains in an aggrieved tone that Huffington lifted some of his observations about the future of media:
Bill Keller, All The Aggregation That’s Fit To Aggregate
The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come. How great is Huffington’s instinctive genius for aggregation? I once sat beside her on a panel in Los Angeles (on — what else? — The Future of Journalism). I had come prepared with a couple of memorized riffs on media topics, which I duly presented. Afterward we sat down for a joint interview with a local reporter. A moment later I heard one of my riffs issuing verbatim from the mouth of Ms. Huffington. I felt so … aggregated.
In her rejoinder, Huffington details with dates and locales, the same thoughts she had espoused for years prior to that joint interview with Bill Keller, stopping along the way to dis him about all the talent he’s lost to her, and how much bigger AOL’s readership is:
The trouble for Keller is that this viewpoint, right down to the use of the word “convergence,” is one I had been expressing to describe the changes happening in the media for years.
For instance, in May 2008, two years before the Milken panel, I told the Star Tribune, “I think that what we are seeing is a kind of convergence of the mainstream media doing more and more online, and those of us in online media and the blogosphere doing more and more reporting, along with citizen-journalism projects.”
In November 2008, 17 months before the panel, speaking of the media’s coverage of the ‘08 race, I told Reuters, “There’s this real convergence, where basically you found that the best and most accurate rose to the top, whether it originated from Time magazine or from Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, which did not exist before the election.”
And in January 2010, three months before Bill Keller’s “memorized riff” on convergence, I told Canada’s CTV, “And then we can have a hybrid future where there is a convergence between old media and new media. It’s not an either/or world.”
Indeed, as far back as March 2007, over three years before the Milken panel, I wrote a post outlining my take on what was happening in the media world: “Those papers that wake up in time will become a journalistic hybrid combining the best aspects of traditional print newspapers with the best of what the Web brings to the table.”
So who was it, Bill, who was “aggregating” someone else’s ideas?
In this interchange, Huffington comes out looking more like the diligent reporter, fact checking the provenance of the ‘convergence’ meme, and who likely uttered it first. She’s obviously the better counter-puncher of the two, at least.
But the idea that they are fighting over is fairly humdrum, so the whole thing is almost laughable. Mainstream publications are adopting the tools and sensibilities of online media, and there is a ‘convergence’ as both sides move toward the new blendo mainstream. Yawn. Sounds like two hipsters arguing about who listened to some cool band first.
From the perspective of a longtime online media observer and participant, this convergence is the stripmalling of the web, where pioneering socially-scaled advances — like blogging and social networks — are being repurposed by old media companies. They are taking these tools, and in a sense, using them against us. It’s wolves in sheep’s clothing: they use online content management, they put up an area for comments, and allow us to share and like through Facebook and Twitter. It seems like we are talking among ourselves, but it is all done in these gigantic mall-sized, privately-owned semi-public spaces, and they are so mass scale that most voices are crowded out, aside from those of the owners and their staff.
We will have to start talking about socially-scaled media, I think, to distinguish it from this convergence into remassified and superficially socialized media, the sort of media that AOL and the New York Times are churning out.
I think there is still a great deal of innovation in socially-scaled media, particularly in social news tools like Flipboard and the newly released LinkedIn Today (another post in the works). In this niche we see the possibility of the long-awaited ‘daily me’ coming to the fore, where your user experience will be grounded in the specific people that you chose to follow, and much less in the hands of Huffington or Keller.
I recently wrote You Are Who You Follow arising from a Mathew Ingram-inspired discussion about online influence, but it is salient, here, again. As users of and active participants in media (I dislike the metaphor of ‘media consumption’), we have to chose what kind of media we want to follow. We can chose to be ‘consumers’ of the hybridized, remassified semi-social ‘product’ that Keller and Huffington want to create. Or we can connect to other people through socially-scaled news networks.
This doesn’t mean I won’t read anything from the NY Times or HuffPo, but the difference is that I will be following specific individuals (like Paul Krugman), specific topics (like union busting), or finding out what materials are most interesting right now to those specific people that I follow. And then I also curate, making observations, comments, reposing, and so on. And by so doing, I become an integral part of the news network, not a passive ‘consumer’ of news. I become someone worth following, not just another random reader who occasionally writes an online comment.
This may seem like a niddling difference, but it is not. Small talk is big again. And big media wants to make us small again.