Thursday, May 14, 2009

On the Paradox of the Internets

I was reading a recap of a popular television show* on a prominent sports blog this morning, and I noticed that the author linked to a vague and confusing Wikipedia entry for a book of Flannery O'Connor short stories. At first, this made me rather angry, because it was clear that the author of this blog--an influential voice in the blogosophere, and a former journalist--had never actually heard of Flannery O'Connor, let alone read anything she's written**, and I fell into one of my thrice-daily condescending laments about the Internet, about how it is making idiots of us all, and how it has basically turned me into a drooling ADD-addled numbskull who checks his IPhone every six minutes and skips from one site to the next and scans the Huffington Post headlines without ever actually absorbing any information at all.

And then I considered this. And I thought, I have just read a reference to a Flannery O'Connor short story on a website whose primary preoccupations include A.) Whether a one-time backup wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles is indeed dating a Playboy model, and B.) Post-apocalyptic survivalism. This, of course, is what is so brilliant about Lost: While absorbing audiences into its story, and into the emotional arcs of its characters, it is also doing something that few, if any, network television shows in history have done: It is surreptitiously attempting to make us all smarter, to make us read things we otherwise would not have read (I almost picked up a copy of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time at a used bookstore the other day, but I started reading it and became intimidated), to make us contemplate really huge and unanswerable questions that often seem to get--well, lost--in the modern age.***

Again, this doesn't have a lot to do with sports--except I think it has something, however vague the connection, to do with the future of the Internet, and with the future of journalism, and with the future for people like me, who traffic largely in books and long-form narratives that attempt to grasp at some greater truth. I would like to think that these types of stories will still exist in 20 years; in fact, it is kind of interesting how the best television shows have grown increasingly more intelligent, driven largely by HBO, which--not coincidentally--charges a little something extra for its product. Maybe this will happen with the Internet, as well. But it can't happen for free.

So I would like to think that the mythology a show like Lost has engendered--the fact that there are now websites dedicated to deciphering Latin phraseology and analyzing the works of Charles Dickens and Desmond Hume--are further proof that technology can, in fact, contribute to an intelligent dialogue, and that this will happen in new and different and currently unfathomable ways, when (and if) we find a revenue model that works, so that such creativity can be fostered.**** In sports, I hope that means there is still a place for pieces that deliver subtext, that dig deeper, that actually tell real stories, that there will always be a place for something more than 140-character punchlines or links to stories that somehow involve Michael Irvin.

The problem, at the moment, is that stories like these--stories as complexed and layered and nuanced as Lost--require two things to thrive: Patience, and financing. And at the moment, the Internet--or at least, Internet journalism--is in short supply of both.

*Hint: Said show involves mysterious polar bears.
**Which is, of course, typically hypocritical behavior on my part, since I've had a copy of O'Connor's collected stories on my shelf for years, and have probably read 2-3 of the stories in that book.
***My guess is I've come to learn more random facts about history, philosophy, and literature in the reading Doc Jensen's column on than anything else I've ever read on the Internet.
****And no, I do not believe that serious journalism cries out to be free, any more than Jeff Tweedy is crying out for me to illegally download his new album. And I think the people who are saying things like this are going to very embarrassed about them someday. Either that, or they will be embarrassed when they attempt to read "citizen journalists" who have not read an actual book since Hop on Pop attempt to craft a coherent narrative about a zoning board meeting.

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