Death of newspapers foretold

By Clay Shirky, as explained over at Cloud Culture.  Well worth reading the whole thing, links included.  Shirky rightly mocks the newspaper people who claim to have been toppled by the sudden, unpredictable tsunami of new media:  “This change has been more like seeing oncoming glaciers ten miles off, then deciding not to move.”

I often witness a gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the demise of the news.  Who will provide a variety of content?  How will young people stay informed?  Cloud Culture, describing his reading habits, becomes a good exemplar to what, without question, will be the best-informed generation in the history of our kind:

I currently have 162 subscriptions in my Google Reader account–that number goes up and down, but for whatever reason, the average number of new “items” (that is, specific posts, articles, videos, comics, etc.) tends to hover fairly consistently around 6,000. Obviously I don’t read all of those, but needless to say I have a lot of content available to me. Nevertheless, the most valuable sources of content are often my friends and family, who are constantly sending me links through e-mail, Google Talk, and Facebook. Google Reader is my personal, customized window into the world wide web–but my friends and family all have their own approaches, and point me to things I would otherwise have missed. Even if they used the same method that I do and subscribed to the exact same feeds, it’s likely they would bring some items to my attention that I would otherwise have skipped over.

The self-consciously social aspect of information consumption in the age of new media will have interesting repercussions.  We have always gotten our trustworthy information from family and friends — but for my entire life, and probably much longer, it has been bad form to admit this.  Even when our facts came from a carpool buddy, we cited “authoritative sources” or “scientific studies,” the New York Times or the Washington Post.

Such hierarchical authority over information has vanished.  Once again, the informational conduits openly social, properly acknowledged with a “hat tip” — but the social sphere has inflated far beyond anything possible before, to include strangers, and attain roughly the dimensions of the Web.


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