Tuesday, November 18, 2008 12:04 PM
“Overload!”, the Columbia Journalism Review’s current cover story, is every bit as overwhelming as its subject.
In a lengthy, thorough explication, Bree Nordenson lays out the results of a study commissioned by the Associated Press to track the news consumption of young adults around the world. The gist of the findings is grim, but hardly surprising: There’s more information out there than ever before, and this is not a good thing. “The American public is no better informed now than it has been during less information-rich times,” Nordenson writes.
Or, in numerical terms: “Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day. Say goodbye to the gigabyte and hello to the exabyte, five of which are worth 37,000 Libraries of Congress. In 2006 alone, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written.”
The way information, particularly news, is disseminated has been revolutionized, for better and worse, by the internet. Context has disappeared; data usually travels in a chaotic tsunami and arrives “unbundled” and often indecipherable. “These days, news comes at us in a flood of unrelated snippets,” Nordenson writes.
The rest of the article examines a number of different trends affecting the current state of news consumption: the limits of human attention, the role of media in democracy, and the new role of journalism. The piece does end on a relatively optimistic note, however; the final section, titled “Why Journalism Won’t Disappear,” contains this easier-said-than-done prescription: "If news organizations decide to rethink their role and give consumers the context and coherence they want and need in an age of overload, they may just achieve the financial stability they’ve been scrambling for, even as they recapture their public-service mission before it slips away."
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:40 PM
There’s a steady feed of anxiety buzzing across the airwaves and blogosphere about Barack Obama falling short on Election Day.
First, there’s the infomercial gamble.
Then there’s the incessant stream of bad news about voter suppression. And the potential of a Florida redux.
And where to begin with the polls? Nate Silver’s soothing graphics and heady analysis can’t even stave the fear that the polls are way off. The New Republic and Washington Post have some scary bedtime reading on that front. But what about the impact of Obama’s perceived lead? Will it keep would-be Obama voters at home? Will it convince hard lefters to go Green Party? How anyone in a post-Bush v. Gore world could succumb to such a line seems inconceivable, but my colleagues Julie and Danielle kindled such irrational fears in me yesterday by reporting that Green Party nitwits at Minneapolis’ trendiest co-op are handing out fliers for Cynthia McKinney with the chant, “Obama’s up 14 points.”
As if this glut of fear weren’t enough, some folks are spinning some hypothetical nightmare scenarios with all the care of horror film scriptwriters.
Newseek’s Jonathan Alter was kind enough to spin this Halloween-esque yarn about “Why McCain Won”:
Obama shifted New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada from red to blue. But there was a reason Virginia hadn't gone Democratic since 1964. The transformation of the northern part of the state couldn't overcome a huge McCain margin among whites farther south. They weren't the racists of their parents' generation, but they weren't quite ready to vote for the unthinkable, either.
Obama had wired every college campus in the country, and he enjoyed great enthusiasm among politically engaged young people. But less-engaged students told reporters the day after the election that they had meant to vote for Obama but were "too busy." History held: young people once again voted in lower percentages than their elders. Waiting for them turned out to be like waiting for Godot.
And then there’s this personalized bit of horror that’s making the rounds from MoveOn.org. (I thank my big brother for sending it to me after I rattled on a little too long about recurring nightmares of McCain taking Pennsylvania.)
So what’s a nervous wreck to do, outside of hitting the bottle or the Xanax?
Normally, I wouldn’t turn to Larry David for advice about anxiety, but he does offer one option that, I suspect, many others are taking:
The one concession I’ve made to maintain some form of sanity is that I've taken to censoring my news, just like the old Soviet Union. The citizenry (me) only gets to read and listen to what I deem appropriate for its health and well-being.
Of course, there’s always yoga. The Huffington Post’s Tara Stiles has some election-timed tips in this video.
The Associated Press has a few suggestions as well:
Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising. You'll feel better while recognizing those things you can control, says Wilmette, Ill.-based psychologist Nancy Molitor.
Realize that no candidate is as good — or as bad — as you might imagine, Molitor says.
When all else fails, change the subject, says Lisa Miller, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University Teachers College in New York. "Turn to those things which are more eternal and more important, such as nature and family," she says. "It's a great time to go into nature. Go camping."
Unfortunately, these tips seem about as realistically helpful as the fantastical prescriptions the Stranger came up with last month, such as Palium, which “[i]nduces a Valium-like calm with respect to all things Sarah Palin.”
In truth, the best plan is to either tune out until November 5th or white-knuckle it until the results are in (really in).
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 6:03 PM
As election day nears, new stories of voter suppression and improper voter purges continue to come to light. The polls that pundits tend to focus on may not mean much, as huge numbers of voters will likely be unable to vote on November 4.
States have purged some 13 million voters from the voter rolls since 2004, Joe Rothstein reports for U.S. Politics Today. According to Rothstein, 17 percent of registered voters in the vital swing state of Colorado have been dropped from the rolls, and 10 percent of voters have been dropped in Missouri. CNN reports that 50,000 people have had their voter registrations “flagged,” calling the viability of their votes into question, and “4,500 of those people are having their citizenship questioned and the burden is on them to prove eligibility to vote.”
Even if people manage to get on the voter rolls, some states may not be ready for the massive influx of voters on election day. The Virginia NAACP recently sued Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, claiming that the state has failed to prepare for all the voters, the Associated Press reports. The complaint points out that many polling stations were overwhelmed in the February primaries, with some precincts resorting to makeshift ballots that were later thrown out. The NAACP believes November 4th could be even worse, warning that current preparation could “result in a meltdown on Election Day.”
North Carolina residents who don’t have their votes counted likely will be in good company. More than 1.6 million votes weren’t counted in 2004, according to Robert F. Kenney and Greg Palast writing for Rolling Stone, and the tactics used to suppress those votes could get worse this year. Kennedy and Palast outline six ways that people are going to try and steal votes, including obstructing of voter registration drives, illegitimate voter purges, and challenging and rejecting provisional and “spoiled” ballots.
The groundwork for this voter suppression has been laid by GOP operatives over the past few election cycles, Andrew Gumble writes for the Nation. Barack Obama’s commanding lead in the polls won’t make the illegal and undemocratic efforts to steal people’s votes go away, it just makes them more desperate.
The best way to stop the election from being stolen is to make the election into a blowout, Robert Lovato writes for New America Media. That way, manipulated and stolen votes won’t matter as much. If that doesn’t work, Lovato floats the idea of a general strike, protests, office-takeovers, and other non-violent protest demonstrations.
One of the organizations trying to make sure the vote goes as smoothly as possible is the Video the Vote project, an organization profiled by the New York Times that is supplying volunteers with video cameras to document any election misconduct. The Times also points to the Voter Suppression Wiki and the Election Protection Wiki as user-generated efforts to protect people’s votes on election day.
Image by Ceridwen, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 12:04 PM
If you thought some quality time with your Xbox might help take your mind off the election, think again. The Obama campaign is doing everything it can to make sure you can’t escape them, including embedding their ads in video games. According to the Associated Press, Obama’s ads now appear in 18 Xbox games that are updated over the internet. A Politico reader sent Ben Smith a variety of screenshots of the ads, which tell voters that “early voting has begun.” They seem to run a fine line between brilliant and creepy, and blog comments show a mixed reaction.
“Frankly, this is smart of the Obama campaign,” Mark Kraft comments on Smiths article:
It reaches a good target audience with the right message—vote early—and will generate a lot of attention online. It makes those who are technology savvy out there think that Obama ‘gets it’, and is forward thinking. Lastly, it will help to get and keep younger voters involved towards the end of the campaign. Anything that gets them out from behind the game console is a good thing.
An anonymous commenter on the same article is troubled, however: “Kind of reminds me of communist China in the days of Mao when his likness [sic] was plastered everywhere.”
Commenting on the Huffington Post, cnobody dislikes the idea of ads in video games all together: “you pay for the game and then you pay a fee to play people online. you're paying to be advertised to. that's what i object to.” But commenter anokie sees the ads as a smart way to prime the youth vote of 2012: “this is GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!.... talk about cultivatiing[sic] an electorate...think about all the 14 year olds that in 4 years, when Obama is up for relelection[sic], have already heard of him......GENIUS!!!!!”
Monday, October 06, 2008 1:06 PM
A controversy erupted recently in upstate New York, when public high school teachers tried to use yoga to help students relax before tests, the Associated Press reports. Parents and community members, including a Baptist minister, alleged that the program blurred the line between church and state and might indoctrinate students into Hinduism.
The immense popularity of yoga in secular society could render its religious provenance moot, but Mollie Ziegler at GetReligion points out, “whether or not yoga can be divorced from Hinduism, to the Hindu it certainly is a religious discipline.” Ziegler quotes yoga experts who argue that the practice’s secularization has stripped away its mental and spiritual components and focused solely on the body, robbing yoga of much of its power by re-branding it as a get-fit-quick regimen. The AP article hints at this tension, but never tackles it, causing Ziegler to write, “it's just a weak story all around.”
For more on the rocky relationship between yoga and the press, read Robert Love's "Fear of Yoga" from the March/April 2007 issue of Utne Reader.
Photo by Angela Sevin, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008 3:00 PM
In an exercise in terrifying imagery, more than 400 dead baby penguins have been washing ashore in Rio de Janeiro over the past couple of months.
The Associated Press reported last week that no direct cause for the penguicide has been found yet, though theories abound. Thiago Muniz, a veterinarian at Brazil's Niteroi Zoo, thinks overfishing could be to blame by sending the penguins on longer hunts for fish away from their native shores in Antarctica and Patagonia. "That leaves them more vulnerable to getting caught up in the strong ocean currents," he told the AP.
Erli Costa, a biologist from Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University, theorizes that global warming could be the culprit. Costa claims that climate change has caused an increase in cyclones and harsher currents, which make the seas rough on the young birds.
Global warming has already taken a heavy toll on penguins. The UK's Daily Mail reported earlier this month that the Antarctic Peninsula's average temperature has risen by three degrees to an average -14.7 degrees Celsius (about six degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 50 years, which in turn has caused freezing rain to be much more common than snow. Baby penguins don't develop water-protective feathers until 40 days after their birth, leaving them susceptible to hypothermia. Estimates are that, with tens of thousands of baby birds freezing to death, Adelie penguins could be extinct within 10 years.
(Thanks, TreeHugger and NYCsceneQueen.)
Image by Aaron Jacobs, licensed under Creative Commons.
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