Editorial: Take a Breath5/06/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Don’t stop us if you’ve heard this before, because it needs to
be said frequently and at increasing volume. It is time for everyone
to stop for a moment and think seriously, collectively,
about an enormous topic—namely, the Internet’s combination
of instantaneous, ubiquitous information and where the vaunted
power it puts in the hands of the public is taking us.
And that part about where it is “taking us”
may be the larger point. If often feels like the
Internet is taking us somewhere rather than us
being in the driver’s seat. The Internet gives incredible
power, without an obvious list of guiding
principles on how best to use it.
We are reminded of the old Star Trek episode
where the crew of the Enterprise is dealing with
what it believes to be a being of immense power—
only to find out it is essentially a child playing
with planets as though they were toys. That
is the same vibe the Web sometimes gives off.
The FCC is taking its time coming up with an
answer to how and whether over-the-top video
providers should be regulated. We’re not sure
how much more time the commission has in this
endeavor. If distributors are moving to Internet
protocol delivery of voice and video, the FCC
will need to move much faster if it is to provide
the kind of regulatory certainty that encourages
the innovation and investment the commission
has continually made its mantra.
But this is not so much about government
agencies weighing in as it is about the rest of us
conceding that things may be moving faster in
the digital space right now than we can wrap our
Again, that doesn’t mean “stop.” It means, for
one thing, that media literacy is more important
than ever. The Web is a genie—a magical, transformative
technology. It’s not going back in the
bottle, and nobody wants it to. But we need to
be wishing for the right things, or understanding
how quickly and to what ends technology is able
to grant those wishes.
It is imperative that every school has a media
literacy curriculum. But it’s not just kids that
need schooling. We need to agree not to label
people Luddites when they want to pause and
consider the consequences of having all of our
information online, and not just the privacy and
data security issues.
Recent online events, from the Reddit crowdsourced
Boston bomber hunt (oops, wrong
guys), to the AP tweet hacker who created a mini
Dow plunge (oops, there hadn’t actually been explosions
at the White House and the President
wasn’t injured) illustrate the speed at which misinformation
can impact the nation and the world.
Everyone wanted to catch
the bombers, but unmediated
crowd-sourced investigators are
vigilantes by another name.
The problem can be compounded
when the traditional
media feed the frenzy by parroting
via social media in the guise of
reporting on “what’s trending.”
What’s really trending is that
the way news and entertainment
is disseminated has changed
radically over the last decade in
ways that sometimes feels like
we are all just hanging on to the
back of the fire truck as it careens
around a corner we can’t see beyond.
The public has grown used to this new propagation
of information, now relying on getting
scoops that sometimes can’t stand up to a level
of scrutiny not much stricter than a child asking
for a repeated clue in a game of “telephone.” And
that’s where the disconnect—literally and figuratively—
comes in. Public reliance is one thing;
public good is another.
The concern is not new. More than a decade
ago, Ted Koppel warned: “Much of American
journalism has become a sort of competitive
screeching: What is trivial but noisy and immediate
tends to take precedence over important
matters that develop quietly over time.” Koppel
said both journalists and the public appetite
were contributory factors.
The rise of Twitter, Reddit and other social
media have made it even easier to value speed
and ease of delivery over context and analysis.
So while the FCC is pondering how to treat
over-the-top services, the rest of us should take
the opportunity to discuss how best to live,
work and play in a 24/7, always-on, broadband
world. The media should lead that discussion.