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'Like pedos in a playground' - the media and Web 2.0

James Harkin on cybernetic silliness

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A Media Executive Can Lose Himself In London

I think the media obsession is an example of over-estimating the impact of technology. I find London media, marketing and advertising agency people are completely obsessed with Web 2.0, but it's a phrase you've ever heard anyone else use. People just pick up the tools, use them, and are really discerning about technology. The BBC goes on about little else.

It's dangerous because these people are prone to take all the Web 2.0 claims at face value.

I first wrote about Second Life because I was sick of reading utter rubbish. The first line of the repot would always be "I'm sitting here on Copacabana beach with loads of girls and a deep blue sea, and - bingo - I'm not in Brazil, I'm in Second Life."

This is no way to understand any medium. Instead of trying to understand what the medium can offer, they're simply surrendering to the whole idea.

“The best cultural operators are not surrendering their authorship or control”

It's partly a demographic issue. You have a very ageing mainstream media and pompous executives who are desperate to reach out to a new audience to who aren't watching their programmes any more. The danger is because of the demographic distance between executives and audience they take the claims at face value, there's no critical distance whatsoever.

Why do you think that is though? Twitter is a great example. An editor or a reporter at a newspaper needs to turn off part of their brain to write about Twitter uncritically. Part of their brain part is going 'This is really daft', another part is saying 'This is cheesy' and another voice is probably saying 'Stop. This is a kind of behaviour that has never caught on.' Yet they silence all those doubts. They'll throw out evidence to the contrary.

If you're a journalist in Fleet Street or the BBC it's difficult to be critical, because these commands come on down from on high. BBC radio people tell me the kind of pressure they're under to use Twitter.

Large media companies are laying off good, seasoned journalists at the same time as they're paying these internet gurus huge sums of money to talk rubbish about the medium.

It would be a shame if we abandoned seasoned journalists who are capable of researching and breaking stories, and capable of doing more than just simply going on Google, in favour of people who are simply obsessed with the medium. That's the danger.

Do you think it's insecurity as Adam [Curtis] says? Or are they feeling guilty about being in this privileged position of being in the media?

It's a transitional phase we're in. But if journalists are messing around, then that's a problem, they should be doing what journalists should do.

Why should they bother when they have this instant, hyperreal world they've constructed for themselves? Web 2.0 gives these new media journalists everything they would otherwise be drawing from the real world if they did their jobs properly. It's an endless supply of novelty - and it promises to describe the world in a new way. It's an alternative reality. The credibility of the media goes down all the time with ordinary people the more they write about Twitter, or whatever the Twitter will be next week.

It's not going to rescue your media operation. If they want to save the idea of newspapers and put them online they need to take a step back from Web 2.0, rather simply chase a young demographic around like pedophiles at a playground.

One aspect of Cyburbia I didn't find so convincing was the argument that the TV show Lost, for example, or the movie Memento, are cybernetically influenced because they're non-linear stories. But Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five weren't either, and you've got modernists like Joyce before that. Or Tristram Shandy

I did anticipate that. My argument is that all of these things - non-linearity, stories going off in different directions - are not unique and contemporary at all. They've been the stuff of high culture for almost a century. Jean Luc Godard famously said a film should have a beginning , a middle, and an ending - but not necessarily in that order. But they've become part of popular culture for a generation, by people playing fast and loose with computer games, texting and the internet. Remember that Kubrick's movie The Killing [1956] where he used these devices was a big flop - maybe it was too early.

Fair enough. I'll give you that.

You're positive about a lot of aspects of technology, then...

It's easy to be written off as a miserable old bastard.

Hah. Well brace yourself, I think you will be called that anyway by people who have the Web 2.0 religion, from their point of view everyone who disagrees is a miserable old bastard.

The positive aspect is that people are ripe for new ways of working, new forms of story telling - but we have to take a step back from the hype of whatever the latest manifestation of the Web 2.0 is and focus on how people are changing . The changes brought about by computers games, texting and the internet will have moulded us very delicately over the past 30 years into creatures who may be more jumpy, might more sophisticated, or may be keener to design associations and patterns of information.

All this could be harnessed, but we need to take a step back from the idea we just surrender to this self-organising system, and reclaim our human-ness.®

Many thanks to James for his time and generosity.

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