Ant Wheels: When Ideas Change

I was originally going to write this about Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip. And then I read the newest Rolling Stone, and lo and behold, there’s a big, fat review of the album. I’ve read a dozen or more reviews of the album at Warren Ellis’ Whitechapel Forums. So what this leads me to is how do I, the casual blogger, really get a good, timely, post out there? Well, up here. Anyway.

I think the short answer is that I don’t. Nearly all the posts I’ve made in this blog have been months or weeks out of date. Maybe I don’t rely on my feeds enough. Maybe I rely on them too much. I don’t think I’ve hit that magic spot where I’m reading enough yet not reading too much.

The unfortunate thing about the internet, that I’ve found, anyway, is that what you’re trying to say has probably already been said. Political commentary is being parroted by half a dozen news stations, innumerable websites, TV news, radio news, and the hundreds, nay, thousands of bloggers* just itching to complain or canonize some snippet of news. I am not an investigative journalist. Not often, anyway.

All I can do is give my opinion, which 90% of the time is made up of 80% uninformed bitching and 15% lies (that’s not true) in an attempt to up the word count of my post to keep some sorry bastard (you?) keep reading.

And if I’m doing that somewhere between once and four times a month, what about the people that do it every day?

I can’t maintain a link blog. I find it an indulgence anyway. Yet I use Twitter for the sole purpose of feeling important. Is that what all of us in Web 2.0 are doing? Is this creating a shit-ton of content that really doesn’t mean anything? I submit that it is. That’s not to say there’s no real content out there, but I think someone needs to figure out a way to dig into my brain and find what I want to say when I want to say it, as well as parse the entire internet into a digestible portion that I’m interested in. I’m slowly integrating bits of information intake organization; I’ve started using Google’s applications to organize my RSS, and its Calendar application so I know what the hell I’m doing and when I’m doing it (so long as there’s internet access where I happen to be at any given moment.)

I realize at this point that my whole post is a product of the mindless blather that is the internet. It’s some sort of self-perpetuating cycle. “Add something that readers would have an interest in.” “Bring something new to the table.” It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But is it really?

Take, for example, the New York Times. There’s this really neat thing that they use called RSS, but their various feeds run the same stories. Does this make sense? Do they run the same stories in different sections in the physical newspaper? I bet they don’t, because that would make the paper weight a thousand pounds apiece and drive the costs through the roof, not to mention that it would be an unwieldy beast to read. So why do they make you see the same headlines four times in four “different” feeds? Is that economical for anyone involved? Wouldn’t I save time only looking at one headline? Wouldn’t the NYT save time by only running a headline once? Wouldn’t the webteam* accomplish more if they weren’t adding the same stories to half a dozen feeds?

This, I think, is the whole point of this post… everyone is trying to get as much junk out there as they can, trying to get their voice heard. “The internet has given everyone a voice, and apparently everyone wants to bitch about movies,” I think, is a paraphrase from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I’m quoting from a mildly successful Kevin Smith movie, I realize, but there’s a lot of truth in that. But it’s more than just movies. Everyone gets together to bitch about… everything. I mean, you’re reading my bitching about other people’s bitching? How fucking inbred is that? This whole post is cyclical and parasitic.

Sorta like the internet, and media in general.

I read in a Magic: The Gathering article by Patrick Chapin about an idea called information cascade. One person reads something from a source they trust and simply assume that, since it comes from a trustworthy person, the information is true. Then someone else hears from the new person, and so on, until nearly everyone simply assumes something to be true. Chapin puts it this way:

“The information cascade is a chain reaction of decision-making where almost everyone involved is basing their decision on the decisions of others, who in turn base their decisions on others, regardless of personal information. Now, often these cascades carry a useful message to everyone quickly (such as when you are at a street corner and everyone starts crossing. Even if you can’t see the walk sign, it is a fairly safe bet that the crowd knows what it is doing). However, if the first couple of people were in error, the cascade can send a harmful signal to all (everyone panicking and trying to run out of a movie theater when someone yells “Fire”). “

The old example is the “ant wheel,” wherein ants simply follow the ant in front of them, and if the front of the line finds a new ant, they follow that ant… which may very well be the rear ant in the line that he himself is leading. It’s the ant equivallent of staring at your own bellybutton. I think that any system that relies on others and their leadership can run into this sort of thing.

So media, in a way, is just everyone repeating what someone else has already said about something. And that’s how I got here. I can’t seem to write a review of Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip without saying something someone already said, or might have already said. And then someone reads this and (well, hopefully) assumes I’m right, and they tell someone what I said, and everything goes cyclical.

I’m not doing that. I refuse to. I’m not bringing down the internet. And neither, Mr. Bloggerpants, should you.

*I find it ironic that Firefox claims that “bloggers” is not a word, and thus underlines it to tell me so. As well as “doesn’t.” Interestingally, “webteam” is a word.

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