Conversations about the future of media routinely fail to talk about what matters most
2009 © Chris Lyons / lindgrensmith.com
The people who are most likely to engage in conversations about the future of media routinely fail to talk about what matters most.
As we’re putting the May-June issue to bed, people are still queuing up at their local Apple Store in hopes of scoring an iPad 2 before the next iPhone is on the cover of Time. “Maybe [the new iPad] won’t make you feel the way it makes me feel,” raved Matt Buchanan, editor at gizmodo.com. “Maybe it could be even thinner and lighter and faster. But there is nothing else like it.”
On cue, the initial hype surrounding the product’s sexy new measurements quickly morphed into an unsightly combination of paranoid handwringing and hyperbolic prognostication. Media critics wondered whether Silicon Valley’s latest innovation would be the savior of, or the final death blow for, books, newspapers, and magazines. Young entrepreneurs argued that the growing popularity of tablet computing was further evidence that “consumers” no longer want what “old media” have to offer.
It’s a misguided debate. IPads, smartphones, transistor radios, and stone tablets are delivery systems. Their design alters the way information is transmitted. This is nothing new. When my mom was a kid, she got the news by going to the movies. I just watched all of this year’s Oscar nominees on DVD while I was reading Google headlines on my laptop. Yet modern-day media makers still allow themselves to get suckered by the most ancient of canards: That the way we choose to present our stories—in words, with pictures, over the air, or in a stand-alone application—will ultimately become more important than the stories themselves.
When I was a kid, there was no shortage of junk fiction, brain-dead TV, and tabloid newspapers. Now we can add to that list a bevy of vacuous websites and irresponsible bloggers—not because digital devices are inherently shallow, but because there will always be high art and low art, balanced and biased news, creative souls and cynical opportunists.