Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Luddites, Boomers and Media

By way of O'Reilly Radar I found this Columbia Journalism Review interview with Clay Shirky. Shirky is a professor at NYU who I usually don't find interesting (a long story, but essentially feel he's sayig the same things others said 10-20 years ago), but this one is good. It is ostensibly about journalism in the time of new media, but I think it applies to the film world just as well.

So for all of you out in Sundance thinking about the future of the business between screenings, here's a few of the gems. I had to skip the 'Dance for the first time in 10 years, but hope all are having fun.

In debating new technology and it's effects on film, someone often compares the old guard of the film world to Luddites, while the old guard says, "wait, we're not against technology, we just want you to respect our model. So here's Shirky on whether there is a new Luddism:

Luddism is specifically a demand that the people who benefited from the old system be consulted before any technology is allowed to disrupt it. That’s what the Luddites wanted.... But, to say, essentially, that the change should be stopped because it’s disrupting previous value is exactly Luddite. I mean, no one is anti-technology in general times, right? The use of Luddism as a description for anti-technology is ridiculous. What Luddites are is anti-change, and, in particular, they are anti-change in a way that discomforts the beneficiaries of the previous system.

Which I would argue applies to most of the old world film people out there. Another complaint we often here in the film world is that there are too many films. I love what he says about this notion, and how to solve it:

If you took the contents of an average Barnes and Noble, and you dumped it into the streets and said to someone, “You know what’s in there? There’s some works of Auden in there, there’s some Plato in there. Wade on in and you’ll find what you like.” And if you wade on in, you know what you’d get? You’d get Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or, you’d get Love’s Tender Fear. You’d get all this junk. The reason we think that there’s not an information overload problem in a Barnes and Noble or a library is that we’re actually used to the cataloging system. On the Web, we’re just not used to the filters yet, and so it seems like “Oh, there’s so much more information.” But, in fact, from the 1500s on, that’s been the normal case.

So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do. But, you know, you never hear twenty-year-olds talking about information overload because they understand the filters they’re given. You only hear, you know, forty- and fifty-year-olds taking about it, sixty-year-olds talking about because we grew up in the world of card catalogs and TV Guide. And now, all the filters we’re used to are broken and we’d like to blame it on the environment instead of admitting that we’re just, you know, we just don’t understand what’s going on.

That's great, and falls in line with my notion that the future of the internet is find. But the kicker is the end of Part One, when he says he's sick of people wanting us to slow down for those not ready to make the change. This is my quote thus far of the year:

I’m just so impatient with the argument that the world should be slowed down to help people who aren’t smart enough to understand what’s going on. It’s in part because I grew up in a generation that benefited enormously from not doing that. Right? The baby boomers, when we were young, we had zero, zero patience for the idea that people who are in their fifties in the ’70s and ’80s should somehow be shielded from cultural changes because somehow the stuff that we were doing was upsetting them. So, now it’s our turn and we ought to just suck it up.

Amen to that.

No comments: