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Friday, September 07, 2007

Curators of a zeitgeist

William Gibson

The place of blogs in the media landscape seems to be constantly up for debate. The paper-published media seems to have been of hugely divided viewpoint and variously to feel threatened, empowered, to reject the technology before finally embracing it.

The Independent and particularly The Guardian newspapers in the UK seem to have taken the concept and moved a lot of their content online, as have The Telegraph and The Times to varying degrees (from what I experienced of The Guardian when I was back in the UK last month this was definitely to the detriment of the newsstand publication). Whilst this probably can't be described as blogging there are many blogs on the sites.

The Internet over here in Oz is slowly coming round as Internet connections speed up and the newspaper sites are publishing things online simultaneously with the day's first edition (The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald).

The US media has various levels of online access but mostly seems to be sticking to the pay for access model to at least some stories as per The Wall Street Journal - now with extra Murdoch - and The New York Times on the East coast, and a free to access model on the West: The LA Times, The San Francisco Chronicle. The Chicago Tribune seems to have a mixture and USA Today seems to have gone all out for online audience engagement.

Leaving aside that the newspapers are now becoming proto-broadcasters with mixed media online content it is quite interesting that almost all of them now have blogs after some fashion. If you believe in the concept and validity of Citizen Journalism then the lines between the the journalists and the bloggers seems to be becoming blurred, particularly on the level of journals covering specific areas such as emerging web technology e.g. Techcrunch (relevant article). The clear trendsetters in this space were Wired in the US and The Register in the UK, a personal favourite. Both of these two have been blogging as journalism since before it had a name.

If you don't believe in Citizen Journalism then you probably believe that there is still a defined and specific craft to writing and a duty to truth in journalism that it is very hard for your average Joe to recreate (the wikipedia link probably won't have much use for you either). You might find yourself in a minority here, everyone thinks they can write. This doesn't necessarily mean they're right , but it does mean 'me too' writers like me proliferate and litter the Internet with dubious opinion and often unchecked 'fact'. Personally I think this is a moot point and blogging is still an emerging phenomenon that is more interesting in a social context than it is in a journalistic one.

Web logs seem to have begun as link lists of interesting sites with diary elements creeping slowly into the logs as online publishing became easier (strangely pictures of cats seem to have played an important part in this). Many bloggers continue this trend posting links and diary snippets daily, sometimes hourly. Those that do tend to hook into certain trends and, if looked at as a whole, seem to have a kind of Jungian collective unconscious that identifies certain themes and ideas that have the attention of the Internet as a whole, which increasingly means the westernised world.

Oddly the best of this types of blogs seem to be by science fiction writers. I can only surmise that, watching the things they wrote about come to pass, these writers are watching in awe and extrapolating further to another unforeseen future.

What got me thinking about this was an interview with William Gibson in today's Sydney Morning Herald in which Gibson says he has switched his focus back to the present as it is far stranger than anything he could imagine (also see this one in The Washington Post). In fact the present frighteningly close to what he imagined. It is almost impossible to read Neuromancer now without compiling a mental timeline of how this future will occur.

As an example, in Neuromancer Gibson describes a past in which a war is waged as much in cyberspace as it is in base reality. Somewhat presciently the war takes place between Eastern and Western powers. This is dangerously close to happening:


The quote below is attributed to Gibson though I can't immediately track down its' provenance:
"The future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed."

It's hard to argue with that.

Back on the point I had somewhere; bloggers like this are the reason for the title of this post. They both catalogue and define the milieu of an age that is increasingly about a 'lensed perception'. In an age where information arrives more quickly than it can be processed it's not so much about what you see as the viewpoint that you see it from and the way that you arrived at it that defines what you understand of the world around you.

For me blogging is this curatorial act/trusteeship where individual examples are probably not significant but a categorised broader view will be much more revealing in anthropological kind of way and over a long period of time. Of course cat pictures are always good too!

3 Recommendations with links from the sites below them.

William Gibson
Bruce Sterling

Warren Ellis

"...dread and ecstasy at one and the same time, this is the modern condition."