Metacommunication in the digital age

Sort of piggybacking off the last post here at The Telescope, I wanted to write about Adam Gopnik’s article in The New Yorker, which does a fine job of eloquently dismantling the simultaneous  forces of paranoia and ecstasy surrounding (cue dramatic sound effect) …The Internet.

The esteemed Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) brought the article to my attention earlier today. I find myself pondering the topic quite often, as we all should. Participating in the digital culture of news will become the norm – very soon, in fact. Well, now, in fact.

Gopnik posits an illustrative analogy when he points out that while much has changed, much has also stayed the same. It’s similar in theme to what Hernandez wrote about in the link in my post below.

Gopnik writes:

There is, for instance, a simple, spooky sense in which the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live—as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, and you can go to the periodicals room anytime and read old issues of the New Statesman. (And you can whisper loudly to a friend in the next carrel to get the hockey scores.) To see that that is so is at least to drain some of the melodrama from the subject. It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.

(Un)fortunately, however one looks at it, it seems reasonable to make the point that we’re now living within the library. It makes for an unsettling and overwhelming reality, right.

Thomas Suddes, columnist at The Plain Dealer, once passed on a similar analogy to me. To paraphrase: Trying to find a piece of information nowadays is like trying to catch a snowflake in a blizzard. I think there’s a lot of truth to that and, as journalists, it’s worth remembering that in the context of what Gopnik is writing about.There’s a veritable storm out there – and it’s going to get even nastier.

I’m striving for some kind of middle ground in the argument of digital and social media. After being collectively sucked into this latest platform of communication, it seems hard to society to rationalize what it means. One reason it’s so difficult is that, as Gopnik points out, these new forms of media are challenging our very notions of rationality.

Another extended quote:

Yet surely having something wrapped right around your mind is different from having your mind wrapped tightly around something. What we live in is not the age of the extended mind but the age of the inverted self. The things that have usually lived in the darker recesses or mad corners of our mind—sexual obsessions and conspiracy theories, paranoid fixations and fetishes—are now out there: you click once and you can read about the Kennedy autopsy or the Nazi salute or hog-tied Swedish flight attendants. But things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment—above all, our interactions with other people—are now easily internalized, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own.

Philosophically speaking, we’re experiencing a dramatic shift of the traditional paradigm. And it’s moving Fast. I imagine the destination will be fruitful (although optimism alone is nothing), but the ride will surely be bumpy.

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