Loud vs pervasive, it’s a battle that has been trying to happen since the dawn of mass communications. It began when the first notice chiseled out of stone or scrawled on a goatskin was put up for public display. It’s the battle, or perhaps the change that this century will be known for.
In any kind of broadcast, from television to posters there is a sense of volume, a effect of impact. In the single broadcasting model each message carries a level of importance that seems to bring a sense of “reality” In effect, whatever is on the posters or TV must be “real” because someone took the trouble to make it, the more walls plastered, or screens it appears on, the more real it seems to be. This is the essence of broadcast communications. The message has impact because it drowns out all others. In effect the broadcast message is “louder.”
In fact the creation of a free press can be traced to this single quality of broadcast communications. A free press was the advent of “source” not only was it important hear or see the broadcast message, it was also important to consider the source. Utilizing the essential “loudness” of broadcast, the “expert” reporter came in to existence, an alternate source, view or opinion. This was still a very effective use, even though multiple broadcasts tend to lower each other’s effective loudness.
Broadcast communications continued to grow by providing more sources, all competing to be heard in the general din of a rising pervasiveness and all lowering the initial loudness of an original broadcast by burying it in other messages. And yet there were many more “sources” waiting to be heard, in fact so many, we once called them the audience.
The technology of broadcast became so simple and cheap that the one-time audience was posting flyers for bake sales, shouting through handheld loudspeakers at demonstrations and printing their own news letters. It was rare to see audience driven radio or television though, it was still out of reach of the everyday pocketbook.
With the Internet came a sea change in broadcast, suddenly anyone could send their own message, print, audio or video. Now mass communications became much less loud but substantially more pervasive. Just as television had the innovation of videotape, printing added color and pictures, the Internet innovated the very concept of broadcasting itself. Not only was it now possible for just about anyone receive a large percentage of all human knowledge in seconds it was also possible for them to add to it. That was bad for the single broadcasting model, very bad.
Gone were the times when the audience had to walk to the town across the mountains to check a fact or express a dissenting opinion. The information superweapon of broadcasting could be deflected by an everyday smartphone in thousands of thousands of audience pockets. These are tough times for propagandists (uh, media and reporting professionals), but very interesting for the rest of us.
As a side note for you “authors” its also bad for accomplished and experienced writers. Just trying to stay in the lower regions of the substantial “noise” level is full time work. If you’ve ever wondered why you aren’t selling more books or articles it’s because there are so many people competing against you for audience time, you just got lost. Actually getting above the fray is a rare thing of the past.
Broadcasting isn’t dead, by any means. Just look at the impact of the “Death panel” speeches given during the 2008 elections, or the rancor about the “myth of global warming” each uses the single broadcast model to send a particular message. However, both these quickly ran afoul of independent information gathering and independent broadcasting. Rumors and innuendo just don’t last like they used to, much like “expert” opinion.
All we need to do is examine the case of Congressman Anthony Weiner or Christopher Lee to see that not only is the audience now watching and listening to everything but they are also broadcasting on their own. It might be the death of privacy for public officials (and everyone else) or the rise of popular knowledge. In both cases someone came across “private” information and then rebroadcast it. Because this information became popular it spread like wildfire, being re-broadcast over and over in viral splendor.
The one-time audience now has a pipeline of constant information and acts like a billion sifters, choosing facts they appreciate and firing them out of their own personal broadcast cannon. This is very much in keeping with the rise of the global village, everyone in everyone else’s business. Tongues wag, keys tap, data flies and then falls like rain on billions of minds.
What do we do about this, or should we do anything? It makes me wonder if crime is possible without privacy? Can the perpetrators of just about any inhumanity hide their misdeeds? Can “personal” information even be misused when the misusers cannot hide either?
Consider medical information for a certain group of individuals. Perhaps something considered really damaging or embarrassing like AIDS. How long would an insurance company looking to capitalize by denying claims for this group be able to go when they couldn’t hide their own actions? How many hours would it take for that information to show up in a simple google search on the company’s name? At worst, it used to necessitate calls to a few local editors or the release of a “statement”, a possible call to a legal firm to get the records sealed. That’s just not effective anymore, not when everyone can be counted on to “talk.”
How long will it be before a simple mugger is caught by a passerby’s cell phone picture? And caught in minutes, before they’ve even left the street. It’s a strange time to be living, and I wonder when the shock of lack of privacy will wear off. A person naked in a room of clothed people feels embarrassed, how long does it take to get over that when everyone is naked?
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011