Friday, February 22, 2013

Information Overload = Less Knowledge, Good Analysis?

"Information has become more important than the source of information.” I read this quote while reading an San Francisco Weekly article discussing Bleacher Report’s rise and it made me think. If anything, this sums up the era we now live in.

Information is more easily available now than ever before. There are more voices telling us what to know and Bleacher Report is one of many sites taking advantage of this. I was attracted to write for them because even though there’s a wealth of voices, it gives you a chance to stand out with your style and insight when done right.

But it makes me wonder about a few things long term. I explored some of these ideas last year and now it makes me think even more about the future. My future as a writer/sportswriter/thinker and our future in society's ability to be critical thinking consumers. This isn't a criticism but a critique of we're getting so much but losing things just as valuable as information.

1. Are good writers/analysts are harder to find?

More voices means you’ll be listening to and reading more folks and the name won’t matter as much as what they say. As someone with a journalist background, that doesn’t bother me because we’re in it to be anonymous storytellers most of the time.

But if you have 50 people talking about the same thing, how do you know who the best voice is?

Maybe it’s because I’m used to hearing what certain people have to say because of their background or expertise on the matter or just how they have a perspective that I learn from.

Go to a bookstore nowadays (or shop Amazon) and you’ll see a huge variety like never before. I was talking to somebody the other day and we remarked that it’s almost impossible to know who the best literary writers of the last 20 years are. Sure you have talented sportswriters, long form writers and reporters but “pure” writers” who are known for their skill?

It might take some more thinking as they’re a forgotten tribe in the Information Age. But I stillthink the wealth of information we have requires us to be good at sharing it so we don’t just add two cents to the noise.

2. Do we care even less who gives us information? Talib Kweli once said information is the newest religion. Well just like folks in church, it seems like folks sit there and take it in without checking to read it for ourselves or caring who's speaking.

People don’t care who they get it from and as long as folks have something to share, there'll be a market now where before, you had to meet a standard.

10 years ago, would there be a TMZ or Bossip that's on the same level as big name sites? There were always tabloid magazines and legit magazines like People, US Weekly and others that fed the cult of personality. But now, those sites have as much weight in giving us information despite not being held to the same standard of responsibility.

Also consider spinoff blogs and sites from Deadspin and Bleacher Report. AllHipHop, HipHopDX and RapRadar typically give you the same news minus when they have their own features. It’s almost rare to see a site devoted to a majority of original content.

They’re pretty much giving us the same thing with their own spin. Same stuff, different packaging, still have a reliable audience. What makes your site so special if you have the same thing everyone has but better yet, do the consumers care?

Basically there's more info but less knowledge. It's all about attracting eyes with the honey instead of giving them meat along with the sweet.

3. Does this leave us open for trouble?

Besides English, I studied communications in college and one thing that disturbed me was learning about the Big 5 (now Big 6) companies who controlled the majority of the media. If information is the new currency everyone's buying more than who sells it, could that mean it's also ripe to be manipulated more?

Yep and Nope. The hunger for information gives giant corporations greater control over the public discourse. But because there's so much info, there's ways around it if you look hard for it (i.e. why The Daily Show and other shows have strong audiences.)

At the same time, it's made us a well-informed society without much context, depth or wisdom. Big companies bank on the assumption that while we should do more digging, we don't. Sports blogs, music sites like Complex know you're coming to read so they give you what you want regardless if it's interesting or well thought out. Not everything is subpar, of course, but long-term I wonder what will happen because of it.
This final quote sums up what I've been saying. We've been drowned in information and gotten fat or bulimic (eat it up and flush it out). Instead of organizations and sites giving us more knowledge to balance out the fun, it's tipped the other way.

I'm only wondering that we could use more balance and if folks even notice enough to care. As long as information is the new currency that folks are buying in mass doses without considering or challenging the source, things won't change anytime soon and we'll continue following the model we've been seeing the last decade.

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