Egocasting: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

[The following is extracted from an email response I sent to a friend who asked about Christine Rosen’s article in The New Atlantis, “The Age ofEgocasting.”]

Interesting stuff. To be sure, this feels more like an extended and eloquent “rant”
than a real essay. Then again, Pod person that I am, I skimmed it rather than
reading it through. 🙂

On the one hand, her argument feels a bit hollow since it seems to imply *all* choice — and all innovation — is inherently bad. TiVo is bad because it makes us watch more TV, which is (a priori) “bad.”  The iPod is horrible because it threatens our enjoyment of live music, thus completing the sinister enterprise begun by Thomas Edison! I can almost imagine her bemoaning the printing press, since it ruined the sacredness of literature by allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to waste hours reading some chessy novelists ruminations instead of whittling by the fire or making the arduous journey to a monastery to hear some great man read for them…

There’s also the fact that those who bemoan “fragmentation” implicitly assume that consistency and coherency are intrinsically virtuous, or that a common channel implied common values. True, splintered communities inflame partisan fervour, but homogenous ones dull it. Would racism have lasted in this country for two centuries if blacks had their own television channels?

Conversely, would the Unabomber have still felt the need to kill people to get his manifesto out, if he knew he could have vented his frustrations on a
blog?

The other thing she misses is her implication that personalization implies isolation, which ironically contradicts her earlier point about the formation of ‘like-minded’ communities. In fact, more often than not, personalization technologies are inherently social and mind-broadening. It used to be that the kids who listened to punk would have nothing to do with those who listened to pop, and both would be appalled by the freak who bought Gregorian chants. Now, a typical teenager is just as likely to have all three on their iPods (probably illegally swapped from friends :-), just as that freaky goth chick may actually be a valedictorian who volunteers at nursing homes!

Yet, with all that said, I actually agree at one level with her basic point. New
technologies do give more people far greater power. I don’t actually believe power always corrupts, but I do believe that *unaccountable* power
corrupts. When power was more concentrated, it was at least easier to keep track of *who* had power, and provide a sort of rough accountability — though even
that had strong systematic bias. Now that we all have the power to be our own channel editors, we have nobody (but the occasional nosy parent 🙂 to keep
us accountable as to whether our consumption is excessive or intrinsically harmful.

If anything, I think this amplification of consumer power merely heightens a larger moral question:
What is entertainment? Is it intrinsically good or bad? Is it even a
meaningful concept?

To the extent new
technologies force us to ask — and help us answer — those questions, I believe
they will prove good. On the other hand, maybe they will just distract us so
much we never have time
to

ask…

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