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Posts Tagged ‘blogosphere’

If you’ve been tooling around the blogosphere, particularly amongst the writings of the so-called conservative intelligentsia, you may have run into the words “epistemic closure.” The phrase seems to have originated with Sanchez conservative blogger Julian Sanchez, who admits on his blog that he’s giving an old undergraduate philosophy term a new spin; in this case, “closed off to new information.”

Sanchez is concerned that conservative media has become “worryingly untethered from reality…”,  a phrase seized upon with delight by both the New York Times and Salon; both also covered, in gleeful detail, some of the nastier rifts between the “true” conservatives, who see the David Brooks of the world as sell-outs, and those of Brooks’ and Sanchez’s ilk, who think the propaganda pushers as, well, loony-tunes.

Sanchez’s concerns are chiefly with the conservative media, which positions itself as a purveyor of truth among of sea of liberal media liars, even though it seems to promulgate misinformation and “fact-based” information with equal fervor. This scarcely seems like news to critics of the Fox juggernaut and the soaring careers of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, and now, Palin. But I suspect “epistemic closure,” despite its high-falutin’ phrasing and amusing provenance (Hey, want a laugh? Check this out; the conservatives are fighting!), might go a long way in describing where we find ourselves today:  angry, disaffected, partisan, opinionated; unwilling, unable, and unconvinced that any information could ever change our minds or make us move a millimeter off whatever position we’ve staked out. It’s close-mindedness writ large and applied to whole sets of beliefs or groups of people down to one person or a single memory.

Though I tend to be firmly in the liberal camp, let me remind my fellow fingersinearsprogressives that allowing one’s mind to slam shut isn’t limited to conservative thinkers. We all are guilty at times of absorbing misinformation, regurgitating old assumptions, resorting to ancient biases, or falling back on preconceived notions. Even if we could ever get back to arguing ideologies (the role of government, the pace of change) instead of assigning stereotypes (immoral liberal; cold-hearted conservative), we’d have to learn to see various shades of grey along with our black/white (or red/blue) mindset. For a smart and supposedly tolerant group of people, we’ve become dangerously inept at seeing another’s point of view.

Of course, the current contretemps over the craziness at the fringes of either party (or either ideology) is magnified by the ubiquity of media, professional and amateur, mainstream and new, informed and less so. It’s so easy these days to whip up a group of anxious, confused people on information overload – and it’s clearly more profitable. It’s also irresponsible, especially when dealing with a group of people so clearly afflicted with epistemic closure.

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I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.

 

I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

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