The Future of Media 2

This from the NY Times, perhaps.

I think there is something here, but the appropriate metaphor here seems to me the one I heard Andy Knoll use to describe the situation at the point of the Cambrian Explosion.

That is:  the Ediacaran/Cambrian boundary is marked by a mass extinction that eliminate the rich and diverse Ediacaran fauna.* That extinction cleared out a lot of space for organisms to try out new patterns, new evolutionary ideas.  It was, to use Knoll’s phrase, a relatively brief moment in geological time when life could take advantage of a “permissive ecology.”  That’s bio-speak for the occasion when it works to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.

The connection to a claim that a given device or class of devices is “the” saviour of newspapers and the print media in general should be obvious, I think.   I don’t doubt that a large format e-ink reader will be a very tasty bit of tech.  I think an Apple media tablet is a cool idea, as well, and I am in fact holding off on my desperately desired moment of purchase of an iPhone until the annual June Apple iPhone tease comes round.

But the issue of course is not what combination of plastic and circuits we’ll each use to read our copy of The New York Times.  It is what form the content of such publications will take as journalism — and not what shape of physical paper, or of any Kindle 3.1414 or whatever that journalism reaches us.

The permissive ecology of the modern media will affect both, of course:  the way we encounter news and the way news gets made.  The question is which media organizations — and see this post for a defense of big media, if not MSM as it currently exists — will be able to exploit which devices most effectively.  And if I knew, I’d be rich.

One last note:  it is characteristic of a permissive ecology (a) that lots of short-lived wild experiments appear and vanish; and (b) that an ecology with most of its niches filled in a semi-stable state is not necessarily any kind of an optimum.  Remember:  the phrase “the survival of the fittest” is perhaps better rendered “the survival of the least unfit” — and at that one moment, in that one place in time.  Which is what gets us the (hopefully temporary) apparent success of media scavengers like Fox News.

*This is itself a fascinating story; the older image of a Cambrian explosion in which all the diversity of body plan emerged from a more or less monotonous simpler fauna has been challenged by much work by, among many others, Knoll himself, along with old friend and former neighbor John Grotzinger, and my MIT colleague Sam Bowring.  These and other investigators found Ediacaran microfossils with a range of body forms in a period that, among much else, is marked by the emergence of bilateral symmetry — one of the key steps in producing folks with heads and tails….aka us.)

Image: Water colour on vellum parchment by Nicolas Marechal (1753 -1802), painted at Paris in 1793 and illustrates the Quagga stallion of Louis XVI menagerie at Versailles.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Cool Animals, Cool Tech, evolution, Extinction, journalism, media

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