The guy with the bread on his head

Dateline: Tue 30 Aug 2011

Late-night Tuesday conversation with son Zera, 34, an IT guy, helped me understand how people in his age group get their news.

As he explained it, the old media was about a reporter going to cover a story, then reporting to his boss, then writing the story -- as the reporter saw it. The information rolled out the next day in a newspaper. Talking about my generation.

The new media, he said -- by which he means social media -- is about "8 million people witnessing an event, then immediately using their Smart phones to report on it, taking videos, commenting, writing their perspectives on Reddit, blogs" -- whatever. Instant communication. Personal. Powerful. And who is new media?, ("the front page of the Internet") Twitter, blogs, WikiLeaks, Facebook, blogs, et al. Letting a million flowers bloom.

Hence the man with the bread on his head.

Bread Man Protester

This singular image, posted all over the web, defined the revolution in Egypt to younger readers who saw the photo and "got it" -- the "Arab Spring" was this crazy visual moment, a man with bread for a helmet, as well as constant feedback and updates from Facebook.

The main point: my son did not read the Sunday New York Times or the Sunday Star to get up to speed on what was happening in the Arab streets. He got his information from alternative sources online, the ones cited. And he doesn't necessarily want "objective" reporting; he wants individual accounts of individual experiences.

Social media engages in "crowd sourcing," a process that has worked so well that Gannett is also trying to do it, by encouraging readers to write blogs and send in photos and putting reporters on Facebook. Gannett is lame in this department, however, in part because the Star's website is so awful and poorly organized. Not fun. is where Zera first read about the Indiana State Fair collapse -- the night it happened. Videos of the rigging collapse were posted there by fans in the crowd. His information was supplemented during the Monday morning drive to work by NPR, which thoroughly covered the engineering problems in the rigging, lack of standards, etc.

Does this work?

Probably not for me, and certainly not as a replacement for the Star, IBJ and NYT. And Zera points out that the writing on Reddit is often lousy and amateur-sounding; you have to wade through a lot of junk before finding a nugget. But that argument sometimes applies to newspapers, too. Moreso at papers which no longer believe in copy editing.

The appeal of new media is largely in the quirkiness and light-heartedness: Zera talked about a reddit post, "Tell Me About the Guy at Work," which he found fascinating -- it's a common denominator that we all know some office weirdo we're curious about. He also liked "Forever Alone," a popular meme (a unit of cultural information). For my generation, a meme would be "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb'; you hear that, and you know the era, the styles, the music, etc.

For them, "Forever Alone" covers this sense that in America, we are, despite our superficial connectedness and the pull of social media, "forever alone...."

Hence the meme is about a guy who, anticipating a nice evening at home with a movie, choked on popcorn, thought he was going to die, writhed on the floor, dislodged the kernel, yet felt "forever alone" since it happened when he was by himself in his lonely apartment. Google it on images; you will get the picture. It's an icon for a new generation of non-newspaper readers. It works for them.

Our discussion included Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who is regarded by many younger guys as a brave new innovator, because he provides information that breaks through government barriers -- doing so with the help of a few rogue informers or anyway he can get it. Forget about Freedom of Information requests that the old media dances through.

I may open a Reddit account; maybe not. (Having an account would allow me to submit stories...the reading is all free).

But don't fool yourself that this, too, is a business -- when Reddit got enough heft, Conde Nast bought it in '06.

So it goes. The new media.

It's here. Embrace it, or be forever in the mist....




hendy [Member] said:

You're talking about my swimming hole. So I tweeted it. And I also updated YouFace and Chained-in at the same time, got onto Digg and dugg, and so forth.

I broke four stories, albeit on the commentary vs journo level in the past two days. I went to Yelp and complained about a Cajun place in Chinatown Las Vegas. And here I set, in the airport, updating various stuff, getting updates on my RSS feeders (every one of you should be using them) and shopped on craiglist for tires for my VW Bus.

But I wish I were at BurningMan, where I could just logoff the whole world, cell phones, too, and get dusty in the N Nevada desert. There is a point of social media where you need to just quit it for a while.

2011-08-31 13:32:37

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"For my generation, a meme would be "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb."

Man, Ruth, you sure aged yourself with that reference. And I age myself by recognizing it. Thing I didn't understand when I was a kid: who would want that comb with all of the hair grease in it? A little dab'll do ya.

Made me start to thinking about all of the boy groups of that era and how they sang such passionate love songs...about their CARS.

Hendy, how old is that VW bus? Brings back a lot of memories of my Reefer Madness counter-culture days; sleeping it off on the floor of one of those things.

2011-08-31 14:31:52

farmgirl [unverified] said:

Funny thing is, when "old folks" get onto a new thing, it isn't cool anymore, and the "kids" keep moving it back. I love Facebook, for instance, but can't do Twitter or whatever that other thing is, so of course, the kids are all about them.
Ask Z. what he will move to when we start reading Reddit!

2011-08-31 20:27:00

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

There is a limit to how much sensory input we can process. How many hours a day do we spend surfing and googling and searching various blogs for memes and substantiation of our own biases?

And I am reminded of the old addage about changing your car's oil: if you add one quart of clean oil to 4 quarts of dirty oil, you have 5 quarts of dirty oil.

People who are continuously electronically connected to all they do, lose their ability to discriminate about the quality and factuality of the input. Five quarts of dirty oil.

And all of this truly stunts social skills. Educators now say they are concerned that new college students hang onto their old high school chums rather than making new and arguably more important college friends. Real life social interaction takes effort. The default process of tweeting and facebook and endless chitterchatter removes the individual from the real world, and thus from learning important life skills.

2011-09-01 06:29:18

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Amen, Tom. I'd take one hour of talking to a friend face-to-face over 100 hours of technological communication any day. Great point about the effort involved in real life social interaction. It takes effort, but the effort is well worth the payoff. Thing is, I don't think that many (most?) young people realize that there can be a payoff. I try to start up conversations with a lot of young people who look at me quizzically like, "why are you trying to talk to me about anything of consequence?" For them, "communication" is about little bleeps and tweets and venting.

2011-09-01 12:08:26

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

And another thing....

I am reading a book about the American Ambassador to Germany in 1933, a Mr Dodd. It is a book written with exquisite detail and lots of quotes, which the author points out, are actual quotes. Taken from carefully written letters, diaries, books written by the key players.

What the devil are future historians going to do in the complete absence of letters and diaries written by both great and humble figures? Rely on semi-coherent emails and tweets? Where will historians look 50 or 60 years in the future, for insights and details about people and their times, and how will they get inside the heads of those worth writing about?
Not only will there not be documentation for historians to mine, I fear the written thoughts and transcriptions of contemporary figures who someday become worth writing about, will be clumsy and dense and by no means comparable to the writings of thsoe gone before. Who is there now to write letters like thos of Adams and Madison? (Obama is among other things a grave disappointment as an orator, in both delivery and content. Can't anybody out there give a good speech?)

2011-09-01 13:35:04

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