Individuality in the online age

General interest is out, niche is in – according to an article in The Atlantic on why the Economist is thriving while Time and Newsweek fade. "The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009." Michael Hirschorn describes how the Economist (by accident or design) more or less ignored the online revolution and the desperate urge to be "relevant" on the web, and has hence remained a valuable print product  – valuable that is to readers and to the owners, an enviable double-whammy for publications these days. The Economist is not innovative or intellectual, according to Hirschorn: "The “leaders,” or main articles, tend to “urge” politicians to solve complex problems, as if the key to, say, reconstituting the global banking system were but a simple act of cogitation away. A typical leader, from January, on the ongoing Gaza violence was an erudite, deeply historical write-around on Arab-Israeli violence that ended up arriving at the same conclusion everyone else arrived at long ago: Israel must give up land for peace. The science-and-technology pages tend toward Gladwell-lite popularizations of academic papers from British universities." However, the magazine cleverly distils the world into a compact survey every week – so you really can keep up with what is going on everywhere. (The other publication that is succeeding for similar reasons is The Week, an addictive digest of everything but without any orginal content.) "Knowing what and who you are, and conveying that idea to an audience, is the only way to break through to readers ADD’ed out on an infinitude of choices."

Along similar lines, here's a video of Christopher R.Weingarten talking about music criticism and the web at the "140 characters" conference in New York a few days ago. It's an entertaining rant, making the point that using Twitter (etc) to find information relevant to you is the problem, not a solution, because all you find is what you already know. He writes music reviews on Twitter, and says he makes an effort to make every one poetic and infomative. His line is: don't just say "I like/hate this" and make it about you, in common with everyone else on Twitter, but be a critic, let people know the "why and the how" – there is enough room in 140 characters to elaborate and have good writing, and that way you might actually discover something new rather than following the bland majority. Those of us who read and review books know this already (the principle, rather than the bit about the 140 characters!), but I think it might be news to a few.

6 thoughts on “Individuality in the online age

  1. I don’t want to get into a discussion on what is a very difficult problem but the last time a country was required to give up land for peace it was the Sudetenland.

  2. I probably should not have used that quote, Norman, sorry. I ensured there was no mention of Obama anywhere, but missed the potential of that one. Apols for any unintentional offence.

  3. Maxine, I hope I did not seem brusque with my comments.
    I have read far too many books fiction and non fiction about the 1930s to believe giving up anything for peace will work when faced by an implacable opponent. These opponents of democracy tell us what they want and it is our failure to respond that did cause a war and may in the future cause millions of deaths.
    The only problems I have with President Obama are his past associates in Chicago , some of his appointments or attempted appointments, and the fact that he reminds me so much of Tony Blair. The joyful atmosphere at the celebrations last year were very appropriate in the circumstances, but were reminiscent of the way we felt in 1997 and I do hope Obama will not be another Blair type disappointment.
    The fact that the Americans had last year two candidates to choose from with such wonderful life stories to tell, a war hero whose father and grandfather were admirals, and a man of mixed race, whose great uncle was one of those who liberated Buchenwald, and who is both an inspiring orator and pragmatic politician of exceptional ability brings into focus our desperate plight in the UK. A possible hung parliament with Nick Clegg deciding who rules us. :o(

  4. Not at all, Norman, you could never be brusque! I am a bit wary of making any remarks about Obama after what happened last time, but the comparision between him and what passes for our leaders or potential leaders is telling.

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