I’m on the mailing for an independent progressive musician I really like, David Rovics. He recently wrote an essay on his blog titled ‘How Facebook killed the internet‘.
I thought it brought up a lot of good points and it made me think, something I admit much of what arrives in my inbox does not do.
In a random and unexpected burst of creativity and verbosity I wrote the following response to him via e-mail … and then I decided to post it here too since it’s been a long time since I wrote anything unique here. I’m sure my regular readers, if any, have been eagerly awaiting more from me 🙂
(Oh and for those of you who know my father, I’m well aware that I suspect I sound a lot like him in the following note 🙂 )
Interesting essay David, a lot of good points and ideas. I think the title is a little bit ‘Click bait’, perhaps a better title could have been ‘The internet is dead. Long live the internet’ 🙂
I wonder if the same things were said by folks when books became more prevalent, or maybe when newspapers and magazines started appearing. Or when radios first started getting popular, or television. All of those were paradigm shifts where suddenly more information and content became available than was previously imaginable and I’m sure they all seemed overwhelming to those experiencing it. I’ve heard stories that the music industry was deeply against radio when it first became available, and that the movie studios hated the idea of VCRs, and TV stations hated the idea of tivo. Napster & Bittorrent scared the bejeezus out of the music industry, yet by many counts it brought about the revolution that brought us ipods and removed the music industries model of buying ‘albums’. Currently the cable companies are scrambling to deal with the idea that people can stream almost all their content and don’t need cable packages and bundles.
I don’t disagree with the premise of your essay though, I agree that things have changed and surely there is a lot of noise coming from … well.. everywhere. But at the same time, while now anyone can publish or broadcast, for cheap or free, well… ANYONE can publish or broadcast for cheap, or free.
Two sides to the same coin. The ‘double edged sword’ metaphor comes to play once again.
We can also now all choose what we want to read, watch, listen to if we are willing to ‘find’ or ‘pull’ that content down, as opposed to just watching what is ‘fed’ to us. Your essay mentions that in the past you observed many people asleep on public transportation, whereas now they are playing games or reading Facebook. Is that really a step backward? Seems to be just another form of sleep. I realize your point was in the past people were reading books, whereas now the games and social media have taken their place, but to assume all social media is pictures of kittens and pop-culture is also an assumption (though I admit, most of it is the internet equivalent of white noise).
But today, even super niche focused content creators could potentially find an audience. 20 years ago I might have known you were out there, and I might attend a concert if you were in my area and I happened to see it listed in Dirty Linen or someone told me about it. I could mail order a CD from you, but besides that I’d just know you that ‘Bonnie’s brother’ was out there somewhere and I should check him out sometime.
I certainly would never imagine I’d communicate with a musician directly in a letter form, heck I have enough trouble buying a CD from the actual performer, let alone talking with them as if they were mortal (ok perhaps I’m unique in feeling that folk musicians are akin to rock stars, but humor me).
So with all the noise coming from all directions, does cream still rise to the top? I would like to think so, but perhaps that’s just me being optimistic. I’m sure some good stuff never gets airtime. I guess what I’m saying is, we can all, if we choose to, hand pick our own ‘cream’. Perhaps a poor metaphor, and I guess it remains to be seen how things go. I don’t think all hope is lost, though I admit there are powerful forces pushing things in the wrong direction.
But..(sadly)… haven’t there always been?
I guess the pessimist in me says that, as it has been, only the properly populist filtered and crafted content will get the ‘air time’ where anything unique and different will become obscured and ignored. On the other hand the optimist in me says that we’re still in that ‘golden age’ where anyone could create something, whether it’s a thought provoking essay, song or movie and have it go ‘viral’ whether the powers & forces that be want it to or not.
It seems like every piece of media eventually gets ‘too big to fail’ and then is unexpectedly toppled by the next one to come along. The way you describe the internet now makes me think that if it’s all become noise and it all seems like it’s beyond it’s useful lifespan, that maybe we’re on the cusp of another ‘paradigm shift’. You pointed out areas where our current infrastructure is lacking and previous media succeeded, so there are ‘holes’ that need to be filled… better mousetraps are waiting to be created.
The human race and it’s creativity remain bigger and more diverse than any big corporation or government can predict or control. New technologies, ideas, etc could catch fire tomorrow and topple facebook, twitter, apple, google, etc.
Perhaps the laws of physics apply, with every action that dehumanizes the internet and communication another action of equal and proportion occurs to help foster new communities and communication.
Thanks for listening (or at least I like to imagine that you might actually have the time to read this unexpected e-mail).
I may even blog this, who knows, maybe someone else might read it and I might actually spur an unscripted idea in someone else 🙂
May we live in interesting times.
I’m glad you’re out there. Thanks for all you do and all your ideas & thoughts, you certainly are one of my hand-picked content sources.