Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Tiger Woods, Ashton Kutcher and the Future

I'm thinking more about this Tiger Woods thing, and tonight I found myself reading the blog of a self-proclaimed media guru whose ideas I continue to find utterly repulsive, Jeff Jarvis, who I cannot seem to resist, and who is currently speculating on what a "post-page, post-site, post-media media world" will look like.* And what he describes sounds, to me, like an episode of Entertainment Tonight, if Mary Hart was a programmable robot: He details a world in which the Twitter account of a British actor named Stephen Fry is, in fact, our future. Now, you may remember Stephen Fry from such films as "Paddington Bear: The Early Years" and the television show "Woof!", but Jeff Jarvis sees Stephen Fry and his gadflyish Twitter feed--as well as Ashton Kutcher, whose mere mention should be a klaxon warning in itself-- as a glimpse of our streamlined, personalized future.

Now, I have nothing personal against Stephen Fry--I am, in fact, one of the few people in America who is not related to a Wachowski brother and will publicly defend the movie adaptation of "V for Vendetta"--but I should establish that I find Stephen Fry's notions about Twitter to be bloody ridiculous. According to this article, Fry believes that Twitter has essentially revolutionized communication in the same way the printing press has. He believes that it has cut out the middleman, and that it has allowed celebrities to communicate directly with the public without answering any actual questions about themselves, which--to bring us back to the original thread of this thought--is what Tiger Woods has been doing for a decade, long before Twitter existed. And that's the problem: Without the middleman, we are exposing ourselves to an ever more santized version of the truth. Without the middleman, we are subject to the whims of celebrities (and, more important, power brokers and politicians) who are acting entirely out of self-interest. Which means, according to Jeff Jarvis, that self-interest and self-promotion is an essential part of the future of news. And this, in his mind, is a good thing, because our news will be personalized according to the "tricks" we, as journalists, "can bring to bear."** And this is what we should be embracing--a world in which Tiger Woods and his manufactured persona are able to fully dictate the terms of their own news "stream," even more so than he already can. A world in which the truth is ever more narrow, and ever more subjective.

*I imagine it looks a lot like Sheboygan after dark.

**Question: How do I know exactly what news I want in my stream, Jarvis? I listen to Pandora; sometimes, a song I've never heard before pops into my stream. Sometimes, that song may be the best one I've heard all day. Aren't your ideas, if manifested, breeding an ever narrower and disinterested public? Or are such things beyond the purview of both you and Ashton Kutcher?

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