To find out about the future, let’s look into the past.
Conboy and Steel‘s article is a sobering reminder for internet revolutionaries and pessimists alike – I found the piece both interesting and well-written. Referencing Carey’s “ritual model of communication” (as opposed to the more widely used transmission model), the authors put the current developments in media into historical perspective, claiming that these developments are rather reconfigurations of traditional articulations of readership than redefinitions of the role and function of the news media as such.
Media organs – however partisan they are – have always had to solve a complex equation that involves technological and economical factors as well as political and cultural ones. (The way in which newspapers were forced to redefine the concept of “news” with the advent of radio and television broadcasting is a case in point.) And while it is true that “the quantitative increase in the amount of information available necessarily leads to a qualitative change in social formations (Webster, 2002)”, this also have been true ever since we can talk about newspapers – only today the pace (or scope) of changes might give a false impression of newness.
Pondering about whether this latest trend of abundant information is actually beneficial or not, Conboy and Steel do not take wild guesses – instead, they compile a sober list of pros and cons (with considerable attention dedicated to Sunstein and his idea of overfiltering or hyper-differentiation), and conclude by ultimately rejecting technological determinism – a position I find hard not to agree with.
Conboy, Martin and John Steel (2008). “The Future of Newspapers – Historical Perspectives” in: Journalism Studies, Vol. 9, No. 5, (650-661), London: Routledge
Webster, Frank (2002). Theories of the Information Society. London: Routledge.