osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Time Person of the Year and inevitable reactions

As folks have probably heard by now, Time's "person of the year" is really a concept: user generated content. People as communicators, not just as passive consumers to get pushed to.

Unsurprisingly, this generates pushback from the folks who insist on looking for stuff that resemembles the universe they know. George Will has a column today about how blogging is not like Thomas Paine or Benjamin Franklin with his citizen press, as the more enthusiastic bloggers like to say, because Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin were talented geniuses who had lots of good stuff to say and 99% of what is blogged on the web is trivial.

It makes me feel old. How many times do we need to hear the same refrain? "Why do I need cable with 30 channels, I can never find anything on the 7 channels I get now?" "Who needs email? I can pick up the phone and call someone." "What's so important about the 'world wide web?' Most of the web pages people put up are garbage."

Whats funny to me is these are the same folks who are sending me the personalized Xmass cards that have the little essay about how things are for them and their family this year. Holding them to the same standard, one might well ask "Why bother? Do you think you are some famous person that the huge number of people you don't know care about your family?" Or perhaps I might write "Why do you keep a diary? You think anyone will care what you thought when you're gone?" "Why keep a family photo album?" etc., etc.

It is a peculiar vice of the mass media/couch potato age to imagine that the only things worth doing or saying are those that can attract a mass audience, be monetized or otherwise prove their "worth" by externalities. George Will is right that out of the millions of blogs kept today, you will need to search pretty hard to find a Tom Paine or Ben Franklin. And the same was true, adjusted for scale, in colonial times. When Franklin published Poor Richard's Almanac, he was entering a very crowded field. Tom Pain was only one of hundreds taking advantage of the cheap publishing technology to share their wisdom with the world. We don't remember 99.9% of the other stuff published, and no one cares. It filled a need and maade people happy. Just as diaries do, family albums do, etc. etc.

Certainly, as Time rightly points out, this level of connectivity has created a grand social experiment. It enables important things like civic enagement, silly things like flash mobs (remember those), or just family and friends staying in touch.

"You" as the person of the year on one level seems either amazingly self absorbed or silly. Time has put its finger on something extremely important. After nearly two generations of people feeling increasingly disconnected and powerlessness because of technology, the trend is increasingly reversing. Those who mockingly ask why I think anyone would want to read my blog, just as they used to ask me why I thought I needed email, would do well to ask themselves why I need a reason beyond "I have friends online; we like to chat."

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