Keep Passing the Baton

August 26, 2008

This site has just finished its seventh month. Never did I imagine that, without any conventional advertising at all, it would reach the current astonishing numbers of readers. But, although the scale of its exposure has surprised me, the way it has worked is just as I hoped.

Now I read of a conference that just took place, which — being focused on the current Presidential race — did not seem something I had a professional need to attend. Now I rather wish I had horned in on it, because Arianna Huffington has this evening posted a summary of what was said. This excerpt portrays what I have watched happening to and from this little site and in some of my other music-propagating work, day by day:

And then there was will.i.am’s unique way of sizing up the changes in the media landscape, which rocked the house.

He dubbed the way information is passed along in the new media “batonable”: someone puts out a piece of content; the person who sees it then picks up the baton and runs with it, then passes the baton on to their friends, who then pass the baton on to their friends. In that way, the information is disseminated in its original, unadulterated form — as opposed to the traditional media process where those passing it along often do it through their own filters.

He also made the distinction between the way people consume traditional media — sitting on the couch — and the way people take in new media as if galloping on a horse… riding along the Internet countryside like online Paul Reveres.

Then there was his prediction that in the future new media would allow people to develop a collective, intuitive consciousness. It will be like a school of fish, he said. You won’t hear anything, you’ll just see the air bubbles… and a whole group will suddenly decide to turn at the same time.

And when Katherine Weymouth suggested we need to come up with different terms than Old Media and New Media, will had a great suggestion: let’s call them the media of yesterday and the media of tomorrow.

Somebody should give this guy a couple hundred million dollars to start a media messaging company.

Most of us of course use the baton for our own purposes and pass it on ornamented (or sometimes, perhaps, defaced). Still, the very fact of receiving it and passing it on — running all the time — has volumes to say about the new economy of publicity, marketing, and manipulation of opinion. But it has as much to say about serious criticism, interpretation, evangelism (in both its sacred and secular guises), and education in all in forms — and in forms that have not yet even occurred to us. Things that used to cost a fortune can now be accomplished at practically no cost at all. And if that can’t “cast down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek,” I don’t know what can.

Of course, now the humble and meek are often becoming the enthroned mighty. The saving grace attached to that, however, is that nothing about the situation is static. Not only does the baton keep on being passed along, but there is an infinite number of possible batons.

UPDATE, August 28: Those on the cutting edge of the phenomenon employ methods that are sometimes radically simple. The technology itself does the heavy lifting, allowing a concept to bring brilliant results by employing simple actions of well-placed non-professional observers. A particularly intelligent example of that has just emerged on the opera site Parterre Box, which today has also been acknowledged in the very New York Times for breaking a story that the paper of record came to almost a week later. Parterre Box’s doyenne (called, with delicious irony, after La Cieca in La Gioconda), looked ahead to September’s Opening Night Gala at the Metropolitan Opera and reasoned that most of opera’s most devout followers won’t be there. But they’ll be none the less interested in what’s going on — both on the stage and in the remotest corners of box, gallery, or promenade. Hence she proposes the straightforward device of enlisting friendly attendees with hand-held communication to message in to her when they see something worth reporting — news that can thereby reach interested fans around the world.

This, it will be noted, is the exact opposite of the old-media blather that results when reporters or pundits (where that distinction even remains meaningful) have minutes or inches to be filled whether they have anything of interest to pass on or not. By La Cieca’s method, the only thing that gets through will be what is deemed by direct observation worth sending, and by her worth relaying. It’s a good bet that more will be discovered and reported by happy accident than by the wisest planning of a few well-paid observers, obliged to come up with something — no matter how vapid.

The opposite of this vision can of course be observed in lamentable coverage of the political Conventions now in progress. It’s always refreshing, though not surprising, when real progress comes from the neighborhood of the arts rather than from the corridors of raw power. All praise to James Jorden, the publisher and creator of Parterre Box.

(And a final note: In one of those lovely examples of synchronicity that modern media afford, just as I finished typing those last words, will.i.am, who precipitated Ms. Huffington’s original article, appeared live on C-SPAN from the Democratic National Convention.)

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