Brave New World – The Journalistic Function
Yesterday I was surfing Amazon looking for latest thinking and theories on such diverse tekkie subjects as membrane theory, quantum decoherence, and interstellar travel. In my enthusiasm, I bought a Kindle eBook which looked very promising from the blurb, only to find when I fired it up and started reading it that it was a load of well-meaning but amateurish hogwash, and certainly nothing I could use as the scientific underpinning of some writing I’m working on. Curious (and somewhat embarrassed by throwing away money unnecessarily) I surfed Amazon further, and found a strange phenomenon I’d never really been aware of before: lots and lots of books with stupendously long and superficially very impressive titles, like “Transhumanism, Augmentation, Artificial Intelligence, Computerized Brains, Future Evolution of Human Beings”. Hardly catchy – but certainly up my street!
Then I looked further. In the blurb was the explanation: these books are compilations of articles from wikipedia.
What?!? I reeled for a moment. What?! Wow… I searched for words. What a… waste of money… what a – huge loss in reliability, trust, of the printed word. Allegedly scientific books – just compilations of unconfirmed wikipedia pages?
It’s become a truism in the second decade of the 21st century that the internet is filled with information, and most of it is rubbish. Now, with the advent of cheap and easy ebooks, which can be compiled almost by web-bot and published without the additional expense of layout, proofing, and printing, the electronic and online libraries and bookshops of the world are running the risk of becoming indundated with undifferentiated, unverified, bogus crap. All my life I’ve been used to going into a bookshop, online or not, and being secure in the knowledge that the selection I was seeing had been subject to at least a modicum of quality control.
No longer. Was it like this when the printing press was invented? When suddenly books, pamphlets, and newspapers could be easily and cheaply produced which were then dumped on an unsuspecting (and hence perhaps gullible) public?
To some extent it must have been. There must have been – indeed, there were – heaps of publications containing bogus (and often dangerous) health and ailment remedies, false histories, calumnies, and out-and-out superstition dressed up as science. How did we manage?
Of course, we managed because a class of “trusted aggregators” came into being – educated filterers of information, with integrity not to publish any old crap. People you could trust to do the job of filtering out the garbage for you. Call them publishers, editors, journalists, whatever, since that time they’ve fulfilled a very simple gatekeeper function: to make sure that any random tomnoddy with a mad idea can’t suddenly claim it to be true and hoodwink an unsuspecting public.
The internet today is in dire need of aggregators. Over the past 10 years or so I’ve relied heavily on Amazon reviewers to vet the usefulness of publications, but web-savvy indies are wise to that, and now frontload their stuff with heaps of positive reviews – the bogus book I bought had 8 out of 10 thoroughly encouraging reviews. We need something more.
When I buy an iPad app, I go to one of a number of application aggregator sites for a review first. If it ain’t there, I’m unlikely to buy it. My gut feeling is that there is a huge niche – nay, a gulf – opening up in the internet right now for precisely that kind of *journalistic function* to sift through the piles of dross for the gems, and compile them and offer them for sale. In a world of free information, that’s your “value-add” – the ability for someone, say, who’s an expert in astrophysics to sift through the net and provide regular digests of the best that’s out there. It would be a massive time-saving for those of us who don’t have the wherewithal or knowledge level to do it ourselves (hey, I *love* pop astrophysics, but I simply *can’t* differentiate between cutting edge theories and well-disguised bollocks at the top level). I’d happily pay for that journalistic function.
So – IMHO that’s what I think we’ll see emerging right now and in the immediate future on the net. Paid aggregators – a new generation of journalists, specialists in their fields, building reputations for integrity and trustworthiness, selling digests and summaries of the amazing knowledge floating out there in the World Wide Brain, often swamped by the collective mutterings of humankind.
Now – I just need to find one who can tell me about hyperspace… 😉