The World As You Don’t Know It

After my daily dose of news snippets I was thinking about how potentially massive change in how we live and how we see things, is evident in little bits of news.  In the last few days we heard about Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer all making the decision to leave network television.  Is it network fatigue or is it a realization that they could do so much more with a crack at personal branding?

 The Katie Couric Show, The Matt Lauer Show, these are all real possibilities and for these people, if they choose to go for these personal branding opportunities, success is more likely than not.  In a world where the distinction between varying degrees of celebrity is fast blurring, people like news anchors suffer the possibility of extinction and redundancy if they don’t take some steps to underscore their ability to command an audience.
Along similar lines, not much of a digression at all, we hear about CNN ratings slipping because “Breaking News” doesn’t bring in viewers anymore.  It has been several years since I tuned into a channel that brings breaking news because by the time they break the news it has already been broken by citizen journalists and microbloggers.  No sooner has an event happened that tells me all about it…within seconds of it happening.  
Then there are newspapers, the news about newspapers these days is about them finding ways to adapt.  There’s the New York Times pay wall, they won’t be giving it away anymore and there is no reason for them to do so.  They have enough equity in their name, enough followers of their brand of long form journalism, there are enough of us out there who would rather pay what NYT wants to charge than be deprived of reading what they have to say.  Most of the top newspapers – The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The LA Times – are all in the same boat and they need to ride this wave with a certain degree of panache and equanimity about the fast moving, shifting and often alarming quicksand nature of events in our times.
 USA Today, another major newspaper in the news today is debating whether they want to pay bonuses on the basis of “page views”.  That’s another example of a dawning realization that “what” is being written is about to take a backseat to “how many” read it and “who” wrote it.  Perhaps this was always true to some extent.  Success in media cannot be expected if the “what” ever got sacrificed in its entirety.  However, chances are, that something immensely readable could vanish without a trace if enough people haven’t “liked” it, “shared” it, “recommended” it or “”Digg’d” it.
Sometimes one has to re-state the obvious, if only as a form of exclamation: the world is changing.  Say “Duh” if you want to, but it is.  We can nod as though we understand it is changing.  We can make it a topic of conversation at the cocktail hour and offer up our own examples of the ways in which it is changing: little children adept at treating smartphones as an extension of their developing brains or their fifth appendages, governments being toppled over because people feel more empowered than they ever have before, a YouTube video made by the mayor of a small town in north eastern Japan getting him an unprecedented wave of concern and real if not physical support, making him feel like he isn’t alone in this tragic world, free and abundant open source applications digitizing people to their heart’s content, people buying from each other instead of from big corporations and more…profit motive? What’s that? It’s en route to being passĂ© when there are an unbelievable number of people who care more about the impact they are making; the magnitude of their impact, their crater-creation ability rather than dollars and cents, Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame would be such an example.
Julian Assange is a good segue into one final thought about our legal institutions.   A professor of law, who is memorable to me for his insistence on being called a doctor of jurisprudence, drummed into us the principle of stare decisis.  The principle whereby judges are expected to respect the precedents established by prior decisions.  He told us that our entire legal system is based on precedents.  Just think of lawyers quoting prior cases in every argument they make.
 What happens when precedents don’t exist? If most of our lives will be led entangled in the world wide web of pleasure, pain and intrigue then won’t all our crimes be committed in this same world?  Where would they find those precedents? They would set new precedents, wouldn’t they?  Hard to imagine those ancient Supreme Court justices all up to speed on this, but I suppose they soon will be!  
In a few years this world will  be unrecognizably better for those of us who call ourselves optimists and who believe all change is good, who are not alarmed by it; the new-utopians some call us.  But it could be a very scary for the rest of us.

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