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 In Defense of Idiot Masses
 — November 8, 2009 —

 Paul Carr writes on TechCrunch about the failure of citizen journalism. He rambles and avoids presenting a clear thesis, but the gist of it seems to be that citizen journalists aren’t entirely accurate and don’t lead to instant revolution and therefore are selfish and wasteful. He makes an interesting argument, so it’s an article that’s worth a read, but the parts that work are the ones about our self-absorption, which isn’t a trait started with citizen journalism. That’s a part of all journalism; it’s been there since before Hearst, whose writings weren’t entirely accurate either. He makes no points specifically about citizen journalism, which makes his article less cohesive.

 Luckily, the commonplace attitude against citizen journalism was picked up and stated more succinctly by a commenter on Hacker News, who writes:

     It doesn’t matter if you are a top-level celebrity or happen to be at the location of a major incident: I don’t want to know your opinion of anything; [a] camera and a Twitter account doesn’t a journalist make.

     It is that attitude I wish to discuss.

     You’re not being held to the flame here. You’re not having other people’s Twitter accounts shoved in your faces. If you come across Twitter, it’s your own choice, or it’s the choice of somebody you’ve chosen to read. I don’t get emails or phone calls with the world’s Twitter updates. The ones I read I actively seek out.

     What sickens me is the smug attitude people get about social media. “Lots of people who use this service don’t interest me, so it’s a fucking travesty they’re allowed to have a voice.” Then we jerk ourselves off because we’re so much better and smarter than those dipshit “media experts” who spend their days retweeting celebrities hoping to be noticed. Those people are losers, and celebrities are losers too, and anybody who gives a flying fuck about somebody who isn’t a consummate professional is the biggest loser of them all.

     I’m not a socialite, mind you. I’ve tried Twitter three times and closed my account every time; I threw a hissy fit when the blog service I use added social features. The thought of being social on the Internet makes me uncomfortable unless it’s something like Facebook, where I knew everybody. But does that mean I hate Twitter, or hate the people who shot footage of riots in Iran, or hate celebrities with millions of followers who prattle on about who their best friends are? No. Those people not only have a right to do what they’re doing, they’re strengthening our media. They’re making the world a better place.

     I’ve seen Miley Cyrus’s Twitter account on several occasions, each time prompted by something different. Each time I’m surprised at what I see. There was the instance where she came out supporting gay rights. Another time she posted a picture of an ad of herself with a comment that she didn’t actually look like that, she’d been Photoshopped and her legs had been swapped. Another time she recommended John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, which is a terrific album and a shockingly mature one to be recommending to the sorts of people who like Miley Cyrus. Twitter took this generic plastic celebrity and made her human. Any time she wants, Miley can say anything she wants to, no matter how imperfect or stupid or controversial it is, and people who’re devouring every word she says are getting a realistic image of who she is as a person.

     People shouldn’t care about Miley Cyrus, you say? Newsflash: We all were raised in a culture of celebrity obsession and idol worship. It’s been half a century since the arrival of television, and ever since then we’ve had this belief that the people we see on TV are more important than the people in our everyday lives. That’s not going to change overnight. What is changing, though, is the nature of that celebrity, and the way we deal with them. People have much more control over themselves than they had ten years ago, because now the playing field is more level. We’re still in the shitheap of unimportance, but it’s cleaner and better than it was before.

     There are other benefits, too. We’re getting the genius that we never would have seen elsewhere. On Twitter we have Fireland and Shitmydadsays. People who would never have been given a chance twenty years ago are free to do virtually anything they want. They can learn and grow and mature. I joined my first forum when I was thirteen; the debates I’ve participated in online sharpened my wit and taught me more about how to write than any course I’ve ever taken. In college, I find that it’s easy to tell who spends their time online and who prefers other activities, because there’s a shocking gap in literacy and coherency. That’s not to say the average college student is a bad writer. It’s saying there’s a handful of college students who are shockingly good. They were able to learn because they were given an open forum, then told repeatedly how stupid they were until they matured.

     The best part of this open technology is this: We’re starting to finally realize as a culture how bullshit our culture is. When CNN starts using Twitter results for news stories, they’re not particularly degrading themselves. They were always that bad. We just never realized it because everything was the same level of bad. Now we have other options, we have 538 and Politico and even the better parts of the Huffington Post and DailyKos, we have more good writing and good reporting than we know what to do with, and conventional media’s looking worse for it. Good. The more people realize what they’re missing, the better chance we have as a society to become smarter and more informed.

     I want to know everybody’s opinion. I want everybody to try and think for themselves and take their own photos and report everything they possibly can, no matter how amateur, no matter how mistaken. I want to know what the whole world got for breakfast because I want the world to realize that they can tell us what they got for breakfast. I want professional journalists to get stuck in the flood of everyday people so that they’re forced to be brilliant just to stand out. A lot of professionals have gotten away with being lax and amateur because they had no competition; now they’ve got to pick up their game.

     There are two ways to stand out: You either cause a sensation, or you’re smart. Television’s been drifting towards sensation for a long time. The good thing about the Internet is, those of us who want smart instead of sensation have a million channels to sort through. We can find exactly what we want. Even if for every thousand people online there’s only one person worth a damn, I want all those millions of people so we can find those gems. And if it turns out there aren’t any gems, I’ll still welcome them all aboard, because I’ll never have to look at them if I don’t want to.

     I don’t know why people go looking for idiots so they can jerk themselves off over them. That’s a fetish I’ve never had.

Reposted byelpollodiablo elpollodiablo
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