Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Content Hydraulics

The most positive thing Lynne Truss says about digitial media in Eats, Shoots & Leaves is that the key virtues of the Internet is that it is "not controlled by anyone, cannot be used as an instrument of oppression and is endlessly inclusive."

Doc Searls has served up a far less optimistic vision of the Net's future his long essay for the Linux Journal: there's a battle on between those that think of the Net as a place and those that think of it as a latticework of pipes - the latter largely the pipe-owners themselves: the telcos. Thanks to them broadband already tends to mean a band that is rarely equally broad at both ends, favouring download over upload. Of course, the noisy arrival of blogs seems to herald a new wave of democratisation, but Searls predicts that pricing structures will favour the kind of CGM that allows consumers to convince others to buy stuff: "The Net will remain two-way to the extent that it fuels the market."

In such an environment non-consumerist use of the pipes would be regarded as vaguely deviant - like amateur short-wave radio according to Ben Vershbow on If:Book. He reproduces a fascinating gobbet of thought from Bertolt Brecht from back in 1932:

"The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. "

A commenter on that post points out however that Brecht's two-way radio might have been a non-starter because, as Marshall McLuhan later noted, users of voice-centric channels end up paying too much attention to picking up the incoming information and not enough to digesting it through thought. (Participatory Radio also has a questionable record politically - such as during the Rwandan genocide.)

With blogs the time involved in both the supply and demand sides of the experience are fairly comparable. The same can't really be said of podcasts, which are inherently less linky and easy to annotate. In spite of their low-load nature, blogs probably remain the best way to keep open the upload aperture at our end of the pipe.

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