The net is a medium like any other and has its biases, like any other

James Harkin has many thoughtful (and occasionally hilarious) remarks in this February 2009 interview with The Register, promoting his newest book.  It’s got some typographic errors that annoy, but otherwise it’s well worth reading the whole deal.

On the net as a democratic movement:

At the risk of sounding dreadfully like Marshall McLuhan, people haven’t quite understood it as a medium yet. They’ve become so focussed on the idea that we’re “freeing ourselves from the authority of the ‘mainstream media”, that we think that pressing buttons on a computer to talk to your neighbour is an authentic way of communicating. It’s not.

The net is a medium like any other and has its biases, like any other. The biases are different.

The problem people have is that they’re reluctant to describe it as a medium – they see it as a political idea, not a medium. So circumventing the mainstream media is not in itself authentic.

As you know, Andrew, if you criticise Web 2.0, people get offended. It’s peculiar that they should get offended: you’re criticising a medium. What they see is you criticising a groundswell of popular democracy, a movement, which it isn’t at all. It’s a bunch of machines.

— James Harkin [interviewed by Andrew Orlowski].  “‘Like pedos in a playground’ – the media and Web 2.0“, The Register, February 24th, 2009.

On tech evangelists and flash mobs:

There’s another view of Web 2.0 evangelists which I call ‘Why not?’ For example, ‘Why not turn up at Grand Central Station wearing underpants in a big Flash Mob?’

But I don’t think ‘Why Not?’ is good enough. Things need to have a purpose. If you have a project or a purpose, you can use the medium to achieve that. With no ideas, no project, you have nothing. The evangelists simply believe can use this metaphysical glow of this medium to woo people.

People forget the world’s first Flash Mob in 2003, organised by Bill Wasik, was a joke. It was a joke on the gullibility of New York hipsters who would react to any kind of electronic information, and do anything you told them.

What’s fascinating is that the ‘Why Not?’ ethos of Web 2.0 people started as a joke against them.

On the lack of critical thinking in tech reporting:

It’s dangerous because these people are prone to take all the Web 2.0 claims at face value.

I first wrote about Second Life because I was sick of reading utter rubbish. The first line of the report would always be “I’m sitting here on Copacabana beach with loads of girls and a deep blue sea, and – bingo – I’m not in Brazil, I’m in Second Life.”

This is no way to understand any medium. Instead of trying to understand what the medium can offer, they’re simply surrendering to the whole idea.

It’s partly a demographic issue. You have a very ageing mainstream media and pompous executives who are desperate to reach out to a new audience to who aren’t watching their programmes any more. The danger is because of the demographic distance between executives and audience.  They take the claims at face value, there’s no critical distance whatsoever.

On new media and the slow death of newspapers:

[Andrew Orlowski, interviewer]: Web 2.0 gives these new media journalists everything they would otherwise be drawing from the real world if they did their jobs properly. It’s an endless supply of novelty – and it promises to describe the world in a new way. It’s an alternative reality. The credibility of the media goes down all the time with ordinary people the more they write about Twitter, or whatever the Twitter will be next week.

[James Harkin]: It’s not going to rescue your media operation. If they want to save the idea of newspapers and put them online they need to take a step back from Web 2.0, rather simply chase a young demographic around like pedophiles at a playground.

As I said, it’s worth reading the whole thing.

Category: Media, Web/Tech
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