Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism
News from Nowhere: Television and the NewsI skimmed the notes and bibliography, something I do first with books I consider particularly serious, and this book easily passes my smell test. I am engaged by the various quotes used to open the book, and immediately won over when early on the author labels the Huffington Post a classic case of a scam — an empty shell sold for way too much money.
As an intelligence professional I am alert to coherence, structure, facts, sourcing, and “the story.” This book does not disappoint in any way. About the only thing missing are several maps to illuminate the author’s “ten most wanted” nefarious (unethical) bloggers, and perhaps a few “how to” charts. I would also have liked some emphasis on “attaboys,” recognition for a few sites, mine being one them, that tell only the truth and have no advetising. This is a good book by an honest, articulate subject matter expert and I absolutely recommend it as both a standard reading in all MBA programs and all national (secret) intelligence and covert action programs, and as a recommended reading in all other majors.
The bottom line is — should be — disturbing, and here I advance a couple of quotes, the later one first:
QUOTE (188): The Internet is the problem here, not the solution.
QUOTE (15): The economics of the Internet created a twisted set of incentives that made traffic more important – and more profitable – than the truth.
YES! I have been complaining about Google focusing on clicks and not making sense for years. And just this past week, Damon Horowitz, serial entrepreneur and Google walk-out, sent this message to one and all: “Quit your tech job and get a PhD in the humanities.” I said something similar to the staff of Paul Allen’s INTERVAL in 1993, in my invited rant, “God, Man, & Information: Comments to Interval In-House,” easily found online.
The author summaized his own book early on, and I like the brevity so here it is:
+ Explains why blogs matter
+ Explains how blogs drive the news (which is not really news)
+ Explains how blogs (and hence the news) can be manipulated, not just by Wall Street, but by anyone
+ Outlines how to do this
+ Outlines how it backfires
+ Outlines the dangerous consequences of valuing traffic clicks over the truth
Throughout the book, the author names names and provides specific examples from cradle to grave. His core point is illustrated over and over: blogs create and consume false perceptions and outright lies; these lead to bad conclusions and wrong decisions – those in turn have consequences for real people.
Politico is a case study. Buy the book for that alone. His account certainly resonates with me and saddens me because the book that persuaded me the US Congress was a lost cause was the one that described how Newt Gingrich personally destroyed House Speaker Jim Wright and caused the two party Congress to immediately begin abdicating its Article 1 ConstitutionaL responsibilities: The Ambition and the Power: The Fall of Jim Wright : A True Story of Washington.
BLOGS ARE A BUBBLE. This really grabbed me, coming as it does on top of the housing bubble, the student loan bubble, the two-party tyranny bubble, and my own personal interest, the US national security bubble (trillions for nothing of value).
Top sites for scorn include Gawker, MidaBusters, HARO, and The Dish. The author provides an absorbing detailed look into the many layers of blogging, from the slave labor at Huffington Post to the many bloggers that gets paid now by the hits and hear a pittance of most of their work. He also discusses the “revolving door” in blogging, such that top bloggers abstain for being critical of Google, Facebook, and Twitter (this is not a problem I have) because they ultimately end up being bought in by one of those.
BLOGS POLARIZE. I’ve always known that lies and accusations polarize and spread, but the author does a meticulous well-crafted presentation on how the emphasis on traffic instead of truth amplifies and multiplies lies across the board. Blogs that inspire anger, however baseless their substance, go viral.
Comments and Votes are a scam — they are there for one reason only: to create new pages, new views, more traffic, more advertising pennies.
I have grown to appreciate the value of history in the third quarter of my life (I am 60 this year), and the author fully satisfies me with a brief but thoughtful presentation of the history of media, initially as an outreach vehicle for political parties, then as a subscription-based actual news service, then yellow press selling gossip, and finally modern journalism, the news hole that draws on blogs precisely because advertising is what pays for the newspapers, not the news and “anything goes” for the garbage pit.
He offers a brief but sophisticated examination of “delegated trust” (which blogs do you trust to filter for you), and loss of trust — truts is a casualty, as truth is a casualty, in a click for pennies environment where lies and anger earn clicks and the boring truth does not. Lies are roughly five times more effective than the truth at earning click through. An interesting informal measure.
He slams AOL and I am shocked (in my naivete) to learn that StumbledOn and OutBrain sell traffic.
He addresses how blogs are NOT a boon to democracy and of course I agree — apart from the fact that there is no honest democracy under a two-party tyranny in the USA, I am reminded of another excellent book, The Myth of Digital Democracy and especially the central graphic showing that pornography and gambling consume the bulk of the traffic–which pretty much makes blogging their third cardinal sin online.
800 words is the edge of the tolerance level for today’s average web browser person.
Jeff Jarvis is an idiot. It is a sign of my great virtue that I have no idea who Jeff Jarvis is, but it merits repeating as the author no doubt intended.
The author provides an excellent discussion of why links are an illusion of relevance, they are NOT the trust and credibility factors that Google and others would have you believe.
I am fascinating to learn of how social blogging is now an extortion racket, how celebrities will sell their Twitter endorsement for next to nothing, and how social media is now an explicit risk factor for any company. In one specific example, a single lie too four billion dollars off Apple’s market cap. It was at this point that I wondered if there was a business opportunity for a retired spy, along the lines of “lie about my company and you will die within the week.” It is clear the courts cannot handle this, lies and financial terrorism (led by Goldman Sachs) move too quickly. We are, in my view, rapidly reaching a point where lies by bloggers need to be treated the way shouting fire falsely in a theater is treated: as a crime.
There are many gifted turns of phrase in this book and I especially like the manner in which the author has woven in the word of others to good effect. Michal Arrington of TechCrunch is cited as saying “Getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap.”
Having concluded myself that Wikipedia is largely worthless when it really matters, I am quite taken by the author’s sober evaluation of how often Wikipedia is WRONG fact after fact, page after page. The reality that eventually a Wikipedia might be more or less right — absent trolls and idiot editors such as i have suffered on Wikipedia with no help forthcoming from Jimmy Wales, who locks down his own page but does not extend this capabilit to others — does not undermine the very intelligent observation by the author with respect to the ratio of lies and flaws within Wikipedia over the history of any given page’s development.
The rest of the book is absorbing, I have no interest in manipulating anything, so I will just end with one more quote from the author, and the one books I have left within the ten book limit that Amazon imposes. To see the relevant books I am not listing, look up < Graphic: Information Pathologies source=phibetaiota > without the brackets.
QUOTE (208): It is clear to me that the online media cycle is not a process for developing truth but for performing a kind of cultural catharsis.
QUOTE (218): …the media is a mechanism for systematically limiting the information seen by the public.
The polar opposite of this book, the book-end for achieving an informed free people, is Will Durant’s 1916 doctoral thesis, recently republished as Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition. I have written a summary review of that book. For me to include Durant’s book in this review of Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me I’m Lying is perhaps my highest praise. This book goes into my top 10% across over 1,800 reviews to date, and will be cataloged as a six-star special at Phi Beta Iota.
Robert David STEELE Vivas
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust