Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cut and Paste Culture

If you’ve landed on this entry because of searching a particular phrase, you might want to move on and read this link instead, a thought-provoking article from 21 March New York Times, "Texts without Context" by Michiko Kakutani, as my comments, ironically, are perhaps part of the very problem. Also, ironical is that while this article is about the Internet, it was published in a major traditional newspaper, and itself incorporates the ideas of eight books on the general topic (and subtitle of the article): “The Internet Mashes Up Everything We Know About Culture.”

So, at the risk of being part of “the problem” here are some highlights from Kakutani’s article:

* intellectual property and plagiarism that have become prominent in a world in which the Internet makes copying and recycling as simple as pressing a couple of buttons

* Web 2.0 is creating a “digital forest of mediocrity” and substituting ill-informed speculation for genuine expertise

* the Web have been accelerating certain trends already percolating through our culture — including the blurring of news and entertainment

* [we’ve become] a culture addicted to speed, drowning in data and overstimulated to the point where only sensationalism and willful hyperbole grab people’s attention.

* More people are impatient to cut to the chase, and they’re increasingly willing to take the imperfect but immediately available product over a more thoughtfully analyzed, carefully created one.

* technology is also turning us into a global water-cooler culture, with millions of people sending each other (via e-mail, text messages, tweets, YouTube links) gossip, rumors and the sort of amusing-entertaining-weird anecdotes and photographs they might once have shared with pals over a coffee break.

* the Internet’s nurturing of niche cultures is contributing to what Cass Sunstein calls “cyberbalkanization.” Individuals can design feeds and alerts from their favorite Web sites so that they get only the news they want, and with more and more opinion sites and specialized sites, it becomes easier and easier…for people “to avoid general-interest newspapers and magazines and to make choices that reflect their own predispositions.”

This cut and paste mentality has migrated to mass media as well, with reality TV shows replacing shows that have to be written from scratch, perfect “water cooler” fodder, and retread movies and Broadway shows becoming more prevalent. We’ve become a mass culture addicted to gossip, voyeurism, and extremist or conspiratorial views, abetted by the Internet

Ironically, the plethora of views that can be found on the Internet can lead to a self-fulfilling confirmation bias, reinforcing preconceived views and gathering momentum to the point where some need to proselytize their views. The cut and paste approach requires no thought other than to send broadcast emails to friends, and friends’ friends ad nauseum attaching, the conspiracy or the impending Armageddon theory du jour.

I have asked friends not to forward me such stuff responding to their first missive with my standard letter along the following lines: “As much as I enjoy hearing from you, I don't want my email address used for any broadcast emails, no matter what the subject or the degree of importance. On the other hand, I welcome personal emails and you know I will always respond in kind. Thanks for your understanding.” Usually, that’s it. Most such “friends” normally do not write personal emails.

Nonetheless, we have gone from a society where information was controlled by the few to the explosive democratization of information, where anyone can produce what passes for such and anyone can consume it as one wants. Beware of prophets bearing informational gifts for the self-delusional.

Spammer at Work