Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mind-Boggling Abundance

From The Belmont Club:

While professional journalists may be tempted to poke fun at these early efforts the quantity of these observer-provided stories is likely to grow and its quality likely to improve. The sheer volume of information that will become available is going to make the world both more and less opaque. More opaque because the relatively simple plot lines provided by the mainstream media will be replaced by a flood of filings telling literally all sides of story. Whereas one used to be able to "understand the world" by reading the New York Times lead and grooving into the standard world view, no such simple, consolidated tales will be served up by the oncoming news avalanche. There will be no suggestive lead, no magisterial peroration, no drastic simplification. Instead there will be detail in mind-boggling abundance. The good news is that the world will become more transparent to anyone with the tools and services needed to sift through that deluge of information. The existence of so much collateral information will make it very difficult to lie on any scale. It will be possible to "know" something about an event in detail inconceivable a decade ago. There will never again be a new Walter Duranty who can foist a fraud on a reading public for any length of time from the vantage of privileged access. In short, the world threatens to become a news reader's nightmare and an intelligence analyst's paradise.

Since I stopped reading newspapers (except for what they post online), I have definitely been impressed with the "mind-boggling abundance" of information. My quest for information began after 9/11 when I began to feel that my usual sources were somehow lacking. I couldn't really put my finger on what had been bothering me about the information I was reading, but it definitely came to a head after 9/11.

Most of my adult life I have been a newsaholic--subscribing to multiple newspapers (usually a local paper, a big city paper, and the NY Times). I would read Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report; I would watch CNN and Headline News every evening.

Yet, with all that reading, somewhere about the turn of the century, I began to notice they were all saying the same thing--and it always seems negative and/or hostile--especially toward the Republican Administration in the White House. I realized that in all those varied news sources, I was getting only one, uniform perspective. Then I started noticing that the front pages of my newspapers were running opinion pieces disguised as news pieces. I remember calling up the local editor of the Ann Arbor News, who told me, "Well, everybody does it now--even the New York Times."

Then, one day, while I was on the internet checking my email on AOL, I decided to look at several news stories there. Within no time, I was clicking on some original sources for news stories I was reading. Then a friend suggested that if I wanted some variety, I should check out Instapundit and tune into Fox News.

I discovered blogs.

A whole new world opened up to me and, as Wretchard so eloquently put it, "the mainstream media [was] replaced by a flood of filings telling literally all sides of story."

I have found this situation not at all a nightmare; although it is rather time consuming. One of the side-effects for me has been an increase in my focus on certain things, as I adjusted my priorities. Where before I might read every little story in the newspaper, now I tend to focus on getting as much information as possible on a specific subject that interests me. For example, I hardly ever read anything on gay marriage. I just don't care much anymore one way or the other. Sometimes something will catch my eye on the subject, but for the most part, it has become very low on my list of priorities.

I read everything from every perspective, however, on Iraq, Afghanistan, Islamic fundamentalism and the War on Terror. I am also very well-infomed about issues related to freedom of speech on campus; and North Korea. The wealth of information available on all these subjects is indeed, mind-boggling. Lies and distortions are exposed daily. What politicians said in the past comes back to haunt them regularly. And everybody had a different opinion or a different take on things. You can decide for yourself who are the fools and who are the wise.

And finally [perhaps even most importantly!] anyone can join the fray. From a world where news and information used to be held by a few elites, now we get live-blogging from the sources of news stories. Now we get opinions from many instead of from a few. I started with Instapundit, and now I read maybe 50 -100 blogs a day; read news stories from hundreds of different sources; and read op-eds from maybe 20 different newspapers.

Personally, I find the new media wonderfully exciting and endlessly fascinating. To have so much knowledge and information at one's fingertips is not just an intelligence analyst's dream--it is the ultimate dream for a compulsive news junkie.

So much information, so little time!

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