Friday, 12 September 2008


“Too Much Information” Yeah, that’s the problem.

Somebody named Dusty Horwitt (who, after we get to the bottom of the article, turns out to be “a lawyer who works for a nonprofit environmental group[1]”) writes in the Washington Post that he is worried. Worried that Data is drowning out Vital Information:

The information avalanche coming from all sides -- the Internet, PDAs, hundreds of television channels -- is burying us in extraneous data that prevent important facts and knowledge from reaching a broad audience.
“Important facts and knowledge.” Such as...?
...To achieve their goals, political movements need to reach and influence tens of millions of citizens...
Okay, propaganda. And...
“It's much more difficult [to reach people] today -- and much more expensive,” said Steve Eichenbaum, creative director of a Milwaukee-based marketing firm that helped engineer Russell Feingold's upset U.S. Senate victory in 1992...
...Media fragmentation has driven up TV advertising costs as candidates compete for the shrinking number of time slots that can reach voters, says Ken Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin...
Propaganda, political campaigning, and advertising. I see. And...?
The opportunity to educate millions of citizens, so essential to significant movements of the past, has dwindled. In the early New Deal era, the Roman Catholic “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin...
(We’ll skip the discussion of whether Father Coughlin is best characterized as an “educator” or as a “rabble rouser, socialist propagandist, and bigot.” Meanwhile, say on...)
...promoted ideas for economic reform to a weekly audience estimated at 40 million... Today’s top talk-radio host, Rush Limbaugh, reaches only about 14 million people per week.
So the problem is that Rush’s audience isn’t large enough?

(Didn’t think so...)

Anyway (skipping some direct quotes; the piece is badly organized), Horwitt goes on to lament the decline of newspaper circulation, blaming “the overload” which “siphons audiences and revenue” (while carefully failing to note that, although some of the decline can be blamed on new alternatives, a lot has been existing subscribers getting fed up with a shoddier– Cut that news hole! Gotta maintain those profit margins!– and more biased newspapers).

And nobody seems to be watching network television anymore, either. Why, what’s a poor community organizer to do?
The challenge is to find ways to strengthen democracy in the era of TMI. It won't be easy, but the situation may not be irreversible, either.
“Strengthen democracy,” huh?  And I’ll bet you’ve got a plan, don’t-cha, bucky...
Rather than call for government regulation of technology itself, perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread.
I’ve got it!  We’ll abolish the internet and send everybody back to steam radio!

But Dusty, the great unwashed might resent us raising the price of, and then taking away, their toys.  What to do...what to do...?
It could be done via a progressive energy tax designed to keep energy prices at a consistently high level...
That’s it!  We’ll tax it out of existence!  Brilliant!  (Smithers!  Some single malt for the gentleman!)
... (while providing assistance to lower- and middle-income Americans).
Our clients! Of course. (Have another single malt!)
This solution may sound radical and unlikely,
Not to mention stupid.  You are writing in the Washington Post.  What’s less energy-efficient than printing stuff on dead trees and then hauling it around town on trucks?  Hey Post editors, did you read this before you printed it?
...Modern information technologies are highly energy-intensive. According to Arizona State University engineering professor Eric Williams, a desktop computer “is probably the most energy-intensive of home devices, aside from furnaces and boilers.[3]” ... It’s possible that over time, an energy tax, by making some computers, Web sites, blogs and perhaps cable TV channels
Hey, what about regular TV channels. After all, using millions of watts of electricity to throw something into the air is almost as inefficient as printing stuff on dead trees and hauling it around town on trucks. Has the NAB heard about this yet?
too costly to maintain, could reduce the supply of information...  A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers
which print stuff on dead trees and then haul it around town on trucks
instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now.

If the thought of more expensive information technologies makes you flinch, consider economist Alan Blinder's warning that the Internet could lead to the outsourcing of 40 million American service jobs over the next 10 to 20 years, including such jobs as financial analysts, lawyers[4] and computer programmers...

So. Under the guise of “strengthening democracy” (and saving energy and jobs), this clown wants to return us to those glorious pre-Rathergate days when the Recognized Media told us what to believe, and we believed it. When there were no alternate sources to contradict a Walter Duranty (or a Walter Cronkite).

When all the activists had to do was convince a few gatekeepers. When the Received Wisdom remained unquestioned.

Noooo thank you.

(And then there’s that little thing called Moore’s law.  I imagine that, tax or no tax, on the day the final issue of the last newspaper comes off the press, you’ll still be able to find us, sitting in front of our solar-powered computers, blogging away.)

HT:  Comment by “AlanDP” at Hell In A Handbasket
[1]  It appears that he’s “Senior Analyst” for a U Street advocacy outfit called the Environmental Working Group[2], and is formerly Dick Durbin’s deputy press secretary.  I found that out by Googling.  (Probably more extraneous data that I don’t need to know about.)

[2]  78% foundation funded: Lessee... Joyce, Streisand, Turner... hmmm.

and Al Gore’s hot tub. Don’t forget that.

[4]  We can only hope.  Then they can all get jobs doing something productive, like... printing stuff on dead trees and then hauling it around town on trucks.

Posted by: Old Grouch in Rants at 02:05:44 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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