We tend to overestimate the short-term impact of technological change and underestimate its long-term impact. This is a frequently-quoted maxim, in several variations, and is attributed to many people including Heinlein and Winston Churchill. Whoever it was, they were right.
It’s a bit like saying that people have a rather short-term memory. Any telephone poll of ‘the greatest albums of all time’ will suggest that a remarkable number of them were released in the last year or two. The same is true for films. I think it would be much more interesting to run such a poll with the added restriction that anything from the last 5 years is automatically excluded. A very good way of judging the quality of anything, in my opinion, is how well it stands up to the test of time. But the point is that we overestimate the importance of the recent.
Anyway, what actually got me thinking about this was a Podcast I downloaded from IT Conversations. It was a discussion with Dave Gillmor about the effect of blogs & podcasts, and the likely effect on Journalism (with a capital J). I started to think that there might be some significant parallels with Desktop Publishing. Remember when the phrase ‘DTP’ was everywhere? When everybody thought they could do graphic design, and the leaflet ostensibly about the Village Fete told you more about the number of fonts on somebody’s hard disk or the quality of their dot-matrix printer?
In the long run, of course, people calmed down a bit. Graphic designers and publishers didn’t, in general, disappear, though some of the bad ones probably did. But I think the general public gained more understanding of the field, and if more amateurs proved to be quite good at it when given access to the tools, there was also greater appreciation by the non-professionals of those who were really experts. Giving a man a fishing rod is rather different from teaching him to fish.
A similar thing has been happening over the last few years with video production. There was a time when you needed a professional if you wanted to make any kind of video. Now you just need one to make a good video.
Well, now it’s the turn of journalism…
It used to be that blogs were online journals, and in that sense they were competition for a newspaper. You could think of one as a particularly specialized paper. The blogs I visit today though, do far less original content. Usually they aggregate links and other bits from the web. The original content is often a summary and opinion, but not first hand information gathering.
I think blogs may herald a new level of abstraction in newsreporting (yes, levels of abstraction are a continuing theme with me). Currently, newspapers write most of their stories, but also buy some from the AP or other newswires. Instead of choosing one complete set of stories (a newspaper), I can choose from a huge variety of blogs on a subject, each a different compilation of stories from the internet. So now, writers compete to be in blogs, and blogs compete for readers.
It will be interesting to see if there is commercial competition (beyond ad placement) in this new layer of story selection.