Jay Rosen ponders:
What I really wanted to say to the BBC guy was: There's too much reality rushing over us every day just now. And it's pushing me to the limits of my own vocabulary.
Can anyone help? Do you even know what I'm talking about? Hit the comment button and tell us: what connects the items on my list?
Here's his list. And here's my response!
This may well be oversimplification, but I'm thinking the thing that holds it all together is the ability of just about anyone to have their opinion heard by thousands of people every single day – for about the price per month of a single hard-copy book.
In the early days of the Internet, you needed either lots of cash, or education, or both to have access to all the online things. Once Win95 came about, along with publishing software that didn't require much knowledge or expertise to build a website, the revolution was on. Now we've got blogging software, which requires even less knowledge or cash. Computers and online access are available in nearly every public library and a slight majority of homes in the US.
If you've got something to say, and the time and determination to figure out how the Internet and the blogosphere work, you can find other people who are willing to pay attention. It doesn't matter if your ideas are odd or acceptably pedestrian. You have a voice.
All of the other considerations that used to apply to high-profile individuals – their ability to speak, their appearance, their location and social standing – all those things that were once of prime importance now no longer apply. A fifty-ish lady living in the AZ desert can speak on equal terms with a millionaire industrialist in Japan, a homeless guy accessing a computer in the public library in Cleveland, or a female mystic in France.
The distance that used to be between people for all kinds of reasons, both social and economic, is no longer there. There's no barrier anymore for people who want to communicate with people they'd never dream of approaching in pre-Internet days. Yet everybody still has their opinion on the way things should be, and that opinion has been shaped by their unique experiences of life. The result of all this, that we're seeing right now, is an anarchy of ideas. It's not easy for anyone.
Established journalists often find upstart bloggers encroaching on what used to be sacred territory, and are having varying reactions as to what – if anything – should be done about it. By the same token, bloggers are undecided as to the validity and veracity of traditional media. Some of us have chosen to let the traditionalists know they no longer have the same ability to control the amount and kind of information dispersed among the public that they once had. Others still feel that traditional media is as important as ever, and must be preserved at all costs.
There has always been some level of public participation in government in this country, and now that participation has gone far beyond any previous level. Each of us has his or her own special interests, and we are not requesting, but demanding they be addressed by those in office. The general public is now far more sophisticated about the workings of their governments and politics, so along with the demands for specific changes come other demands for transparency and accountability. The days when any elected officials could count on a comfortable, uninterrupted tenure in office, with the constituents largely staying out of the business are now gone.
In a way, it's like we were all blind and illiterate before, and magically, not only has our sight been restored and we've learned to read, but we've been given the keys to the library, and we can go there whenever we want.
We still have our preferences as to the way we want or can use all this information, and some are better at it than others. That will never change, because we're all still human. There are those who won't care if Donald Duck is in the White House, or if their local Daily Star is run by trained chimpanzees.
As noted by the Cluetrain Manifesto authors, the market is a conversation. What has changed is that everything is now in the marketplace of ideas. There are no more sacred cows, no more taboos. It has all emerged into the open marketplace for discussion, and people aren’t shy about discussing. There isn’t much (or any) lag time between the conception of an idea and the discussion. In government as in commerce, we want what we want when we want it. We’re no longer as willing to wait in resigned acceptance for the slow wheels of government or corporations to turn; no more are we content to be told, “We’ll get back to you in six months.”
Things that used to be taken for granted as slow, arduous processes are being tinkered with in the background to speed things up, in one way or another. Or at least we want that to happen.
One thing I’ve noticed in the ongoing debate on the election is a thread of impatience and frustration. Everybody wishes this thing would be over. Why does it all have to take so long? Because we’re not just observers as much as we once were, we’re now part of the process, and everybody has different ideas on the way things should go. So while we’re waiting for the debates and the speeches and all the other pre-election events to be over, we’re not only checking out the man behind the curtain, we’re taking apart his machinery to see how it all works.
Fundamental changes in “the system,” and “the way things are,” aren’t quiet, tranquil events. There are always going to be those who resist change clashing with those who want to implement change. In the meantime, some of the ideas that looked good on paper don’t work in the real world, so systems that function poorly have to be dismantled.
I really believe we’re in a time of fundamental change. There was a time when the real world was one thing and the Internet another. There was a choice; you could participate online or not, and that choice didn’t have much impact one way or another. Now that choice is disappearing. While there has always been talk of governments or institutions controlling the Internet, and some, like the Chinese, are trying, I’m not sure that can be done. Just as there are ways around the Chinese blocks on certain material, there will be ways around other attempts.
Even if the Internet disappeared tomorrow, somebody would figure out a way to set up another one. It’s too important, for too many people, for myriad reasons. The bloggers, the ‘Netizens, aren’t a strange bunch of geeks without social skills anymore – if they ever were. We went online because we could. Now we’ll stay online because we must. That New Civilization once dreamed of by my old listmate Flemming Funch, has arrived. Of course, it's not in the way anyone expected!