Monday, March 2, 2009

The Dangling Conversation

Paper Guy: Well, I'm glad to see newspapers finally fighting back.

Tech Guy: Too late.

PG: Late, yes, but better late...

TG: 1995 would have been too late.

PG: But someone needs to tell our story.

TG: You have no story to tell.

PG: Millions of people read newspapers. Advertisers still use newspapers regularly. Newspapers have just rolled over and let others walk all over them.

TG: No, they just accepted the truth, but then couldn't let go.

PG: That's the problem. We're trying to write a newspaper story about newspapers, with two sides, both represented equally. You're being Fox News -- fair and balanced by saying, there is the other side and there is the truth.

TG: Fox News is dead too.

PG: But that's not the point ...

TG: True. But journalistic objectivity is part of why you're toast.

PG: People need a medium they can trust.

TG: People can choose for themselves what they trust. Take the fires in Australia. Who would I trust -- an AP reporter parachuted in from Sydney or ordinary blokes on the scene talking on Twitter with their phones?

PG: I'd trust the reporter to give me the story.

TG: There is no story. It's not just the time that the story takes to be printed on dead trees and driven around town by trucks that's the problem. By the time you've talked to people and then sat down to write your story, that story is already irrelevant. It's moved on. Maybe the guy you talked to already got burned up. Maybe he was at the 7-Eleven and lied to get his name in the paper.

PG: But how do you know what really happened?

TG: Why would you want to know what happened? I want to know what's happening.

PG: What seems to be happening is often not what, afterward, people realize happened.

TG: Then at that point the conversation changes. But do you really care that "Fires blazed through Australia yesterday, killing X people and causing X in property damage?" No, you care that there are fires in Australia now and that some person is saying he saved his home. The rest is for the undertakers and insurers to worry about. Not you.

PG: But then there's no first rough draft of history.

TG: History, as someone said, is more or less bunk. Does anyone really know what happened in New Orleans after the storm? We know what stories we were shown. We haven't seen the same sort of problems that have crippled Galveston, because they don't have a TV station and no one goes there to eat at Commander's. It's all arbitrary. Now you can be part of anything anywhere anytime. Does it mean anything? That's not the point.

PG: The point of journalism is to discover the truth.

TG: The truth comes through everyone having an equal ability to tell his or her own tale. That's why print is dead. It's not paper. It's the idea of there being a story. Things change too quickly. There are too many things. A story exists in a linear world. There is no more linearity.

PG: So even if...

TG: Even if newspapers could do it right, they can't do it right. They just need to accept that they are over and get out of the way as quickly as they can, so that everyone stops using them as a security blanket and embraces fully the conversation.

PG: But what about those millions of people who still want to read stories, who still want to read newspapers?

TG: They're stupid.

PG: That's not a reasonable argument. It's an ad hominem characterization.

TG: What, Modern architects didn't call Beaux Arts architects stupid? Dadaists didn't call Impressionists stupid? This is the other thing you don't get. It's not about fair. Fair is for the referees, which is what you print guys think you are. Yeah, I don't have any use for newspapers, therefore no one should. Otherwise we'd all still be thinking we should live in Victorian claptrap and put David's "Napoleon" on our walls. Do you think the editors of Dwell are fair to Ashley furniture? Change comes because someone wants change, and that person wants it because they see the future and most people don't.

PG: Well, most of the McMansions are mock-Victorian and a lot of people buy faux Second Empire furnishings.

TG: Of course they do. They're stupid.

PG: So newspapers...

TG: Even if they aren't doomed, which they are -- they will become a mark of the stupid, just like black-velvet paintings or wire wheels and landau roofs. Lots of people loved Lee Iacocca's landau roofs, they felt sophisticated driving those cars, but the roofs just went away after enough auto writers said they were dumb. Were they really dumb? Who cares? No auto writer wanted to look dumb to another auto writer by defending them, and all of a sudden, you looked dumb for having them. People don't try to hide their TVs in "consoles" anymore and pretend that it's furniture. It's normal to have a TV in your living room, it's not a sign of vapid anti-intellectualism or a lack of refinement -- so the TV can look like a TV now. Style is set by the stylish. Progress comes from the progressive. The winners are people who want to win, not people who want to be fair. Ask the Republicans in Congress.

PG: OK, I get your side of the story, and I will quote it accurately when I publish my think piece on the future of newspapers this Sunday.

TG: Too bad that in the days before that, I'll have trashed you, your newspaper and your story in every online app I can find.

PG: Why would you do that?

TG: Because of what you print guys really don't get about the 21st century. Just because I can. Just because it means you can't define me. I'm bigger than you now. It's not about you anymore. It's about me.

PG: This seems to me to be bad for civilized discourse, representative government, and coordinated action.

TG: Yeah, it is. Too bad. But all that got us into Iraq. You really want to defend that?

PG: But it seems like the other way is anarchy.

TG: Anarchy was simply humanity without instant electronic communication. Obama didn't try to control all the parties that people put on to raise money for him, even though he had no real idea what those people said his policies were or what he would do.

PG: So what did Obama really stand for?

TG: Who cares? He rode the wave. He got it. He'll ride the wave until he falls off, and then there will be someone else. But we have the power to decide that, not him, and not you. We are the wave, and the wave never stops. You are over on the shore trying to describe the wave. But that means, you're off the wave. Bye.

PG: But the wave could be a tsunami and destroy lots of good things. This puts a lot of faith in human nature.

TG: Which is why you're not the damn liberal media after all.


Anonymous said...

>>> TG: Why would you want to know what happened? I want to know what's happening.

Very myopic attitude.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this a lot. One small point that I think may have gotten distorted is that, although you may well be right about padded vinyl landau roofs (usually with opera windows) becoming unfashionable because of a de facto consensus among auto writers that they were unfashionable, I don't recall any such writer ever having "defended" them in the first place - and I read many car magazines during the 1972-1980 period when such roofs were often standard equipment (or were offered as options) on U.S. cars.