18 April 2007

Medi-ology Portals

"The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them."
- Samuel McChord Crothers

We're seeing the beginning of a collapse of what was once two separate entities. Media and politics are inexorably merging like two blobs in a lava lamp. The catalyst for this will be the main stream media's attempt to get market share by presenting a particular world view. Rupert Murdoch's success at Fox is a harbinger of this new media. It is going to be a place where worldviews are nurtured rather than subject to the daily onslaught of facts.

Once upon a time, geographic communities shared a worldview and the local media reported on community events. The events were the important thing – the story mattered most. Today, we have a fragmentation of worldviews within every geographical community. Geographic community says little about shared worldview. Within an area like San Diego we have Low Riders and Bio-tech executives, neo-Bohemians and Rednecks, Lawyers and Retail Store Clerks. They may all live in the same geographic community but they all have their own worldview. These shared worldviews shape interests more than shared events or stories.

The Internet has allowed the emergence of a new geography of ideology, a clustering of worldviews. The regular readers of my little blog come from places like New York, London, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Brussels, Portland, and Texas. (A fact made all the more remarkable given that my reading audience could comfortably fit inside a 1960's station wagon.)

Thomas Kuhn popularized the notion of paradigm filter. One’s paradigm, or worldview, creates a filter on what matters and what doesn’t – what registers and what doesn’t. Scientists who believed that Ptolemy correctly defined circular orbits thought that data indicating orbits were more elliptical were simply errors to be ignored. If your mother-in-law is convinced that you’re a slob, wearing a clean white shirt is seen as anomalous behavior rather than evidence that she should change her paradigm.

Worldviews determine at least two things: one, the stories that matter and two, how those stories should be told. For one reader, the hurricane is a proof of global warming and for another it is proof that God has tired of bacchanalian excess in the French Quarter.

We’ve never had more options. The proliferation of products, careers, and lifestyles has been accompanied by a proliferation of worldviews. As I get further into my forties, I become more acutely aware of the glut of extremists – the alarming number of crazies whose beliefs are not exactly like mine. Put simply, media sources that pretend to be general sources are increasingly challenged to address a market so fragmented.

Rather than geographic-based media outlets like local newspapers and TV or radio stations, my prediction is that we’ll see an explosion in portals that support particular worldviews. If the folks at CNN or MSNBC were smart, they’d offer entry tests that sort their audience into different worldviews, providing content that matches these worldviews. As the Internet allows a proliferation of channels, expect to see CNN –Green Planet; CNN – Evangelist; CNN – Max Your Money; CNN – Pining for FDR; CNN – Pining for Reagan; CNN – Proud to be American; CNN - Wish I Was French; CNN - Gratuitous Sex & Violence; CNN - Science Will Save Us; CNN - What Are Those Crazy Celebrities Doing Now?, etc.

Historically, political parties have provided this service of managing the worldview of like-minded people within a particular geography. Increasingly, it will be media outlets that provide a common audience, forum, and worldview to a particular group. I predict that we’ll see a collapse of politics and media into worldview portals.
And speaking of multiple worldviews, here are a few great blogs that regularly explore the issue of the clash of old and new media:


David said...

I agree with your prediction but I think politicians, assisted by an agenda-driven media, will fight hard for party politics and continue to keep it simple enough and vague enough for their views to coincide with a host of worldviews within the constraints of ideology and party and maybe those are not constraints anymore (e.g., John McCain and Hillary).

It’s still easier to be on the side of “everyone needs health care coverage” than advocating it should be paid for by taxpayers or should be funded privately. It’s easy to make Monday’s shootings a national character issue and state it has to change than it is to be for gun control. It’s easier to advocate more funding for education than it is to changing a bad system or even calling it that.

In the coming months conscientious voters must try to understand the worldviews of people who potentially could be elected to office and particularly the next presidential candidates. It’s very difficult from their statements to date and the media is equivocal at best when not simply an announced supporter.

How I envy those who find it easy to vote by party. The media is already collapsing and I hope two-party politics isn’t far behind.

Ron Davison said...

For all our disgust, we have to admit this: these are fascinating times to be alive.
But I think you make a good point pushing back on my prediction. Political parties still need a majority of the public even if media outlets can find ways to be profitable with a fraction.