Who Says: Narrative Authority In a Fragmented World

Jay Rosen tweeted this seminal post by Megan Garber, articulating what the web and digital media are doing to authority memes and journalism's role in this bizarre new world.

Since the need to manage the tangled and competing taxonomic hierarchies of such a Narrative Big Brother has been my professional fascination for years, I couldn't help but notice.  

I think it's required reading for every journalist, citizen, media theorist, media guru, social media consultant, politician, educator, and student. Ok, ok….make that everyone that can fucking read.

Transparency needs to be about fostering conversation rather than ending it.

Megan Garber

Read: Who Says : CJR.

In an inadequately brief, but crucially important review or what is sure to be an even more important and discussed book, Ellen Ullman, asks, "is the wisdom of  the crowd, actually a lie?" 

A self-confessed "humanistic softie," Jaron Lanier is fighting to wrest control of technology from the "ascendant tribe" of technologists who believe that wisdom emerges from vast crowds, rather than from distinct, individual human beings. According to Lanier, the Internet designs made by that "winning subculture" degrade the very definition of humanness. The saddest example comes from young people who brag of their thousands of friends on Facebook. To them, Lanier replies that this "can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced." 

Having been in information technology since the early 1980s, I have watched this "crowd wisdom" legend grow and grow, and the almost automatic assumption that the wisdom of the crowd is always right or will bear fruit not only terrifies me, but I can see the mob mentality it often encourages in the web sites and social networks empowering the  Tea Party movement that is so actively gnawing at our national fabric.

I am a big fan of social networks, and some useful methods and mechanisms that come from crowd wisdom. But they all have limits. They can lower the cost of producing information and  knowledge, but they cannot replace the value of a single human mind, with sufficient understanding of the coincident facts and issues, which can analyze the information and put it to good use in ways that will extend, enhance or illuminate our human condition. 

This is the very reason why my own interests and career have focused on developing techniques and applications  which human beings can use to more easily do what they want to do naturally and intuitively. And that is to organize information in cohesive structures which make understanding anything—and sharing that understanding—a whole lot easier.  You know, kinda like a next-gen version of… of… a book?

I'd love to write more on this, but as the related article below predicts, my fragmented attention span is already diverted to Twitter, the Olympics, bitching about David Gregory's toolism,  and.. wait for it… some productive work.

Rebuttal & Commentary

What to reject when you're rejecting… the wisdom of crowds – @JayRosen_NYU writes an excellent (and snarky) rebuttal to many of Lanier's concerns and premises.

Related

Jaron Lanier says Internet has fallen short

Is  Google Making Us Stupid? — by Nicholas Carr —  What the Internet is doing to our brains" is a magazine article by Carr which is highly critical of the Internet's effect on cognition.

I missed "Why this Decade Sucked," by Ed Edroso, back in December. Wish I hadn't. While it's over the top in spots, by and large, it's spot on,  and reminds me of Norman Solomon's words in the mid 90s, when he quite rightly warned that the Internet would empower the status quo, while projecting a mass delusion that it was challenging it.

"We should have known from blogging's early successes what was really going to become of it. Those successes were not about enlightenment — elucidating issues, or spurring debate — but about taking down public figures obnoxious to bloggers."
 

In "Why Twitter Will Endure,"  New York Time's education and media czar, David Carr, writes perhaps the best overall description of Twitter and its overall value to civilization, better than anyone I've read in quite awhile. It's still not going to help your grandma understand Twitter, but it may help any of your friends or family who still scratch their heads and wonder why we're all sitting in front of our Twitter streams, discussing our favorite bagels and dietary supplements.

Carr confirms my previous assertions that only people who use Twitter every day, and understand many aspects of media and technology, are qualified to have any opinion about Twitter that's actually worth reading. Everyone else is just a user, and their views should be relegated to that user feedback site that Twitter still doesn't have.

The new Twitter retweet system has been unleashed, and it's a classic example of taking something that worked, and breaking it. Rather than simplify something most regular Twitter users understood and used rather creatively, they have now created a hybrid pastiche of behaviors where retweets will mean different things to different people, depending on how they were generated, and which client is in use when perusing them.

It's just nutty. I was contemptuous of this idea from the start, and early experience from most users suggests that I was right to be. It's an example of what happens when people who own a service believe that their narrow experiences represent everyone else's, and what they may or may not want. As I tweeted recently:

The two biggest lies in business are: "Our research shows.." and "Our customers say they want…"

The old method of retweet will still work, but you can be sure the Twitter clients will all handle it differently. But all in all, rather than improve the experience, they have simply made it very difficult to understand who sees what, and why.  Far from simplifying things for new, or casual users, they have greatly convoluted them. Even experts aren't quite sure what happens, let alone able to explain it easily.

I just don't have time to really explain all of this right now, so I will just list a few articles that try to explain what they have done, and let you figure it out. I will try and clarify my take with updates, so bookmark this for later reference 

If someone comes across a really solid explanation of how it all works, please Tweet or email me, and I will pass it on here.

If you have specific understandings of the behaviors (and you are certain about them), post as comments below. I will edit and include them in a more formal guide later.

Why Retweet works the way it does  — Twitter CEO, Ev Williams explains in a way that will the most make sense (as far as this sense goes) to social media geeks and people who enjoy reading self-serving corporate business case modeling repackaged in pseudo user-interest clothing.

Project Retweet: Why It Will Change Twitter for the Better –  Mashable's take on the new Retweet before it was released. I find this article to be sorely lacking, and a bit of PR puffery planted by Twitter in an attempt to justify something they wanted to do anyway, and got help explaining the rationale wherever they could.

Save the Retweet – Dan Zarella's excellent early effort to prevent this farce from ever happening in the first place. (Wasn't loading at press time, but probably will soon.).


Update:

The Reviews Roll In: New Retweet=#FAIL