Sunday, December 07, 2014

Everyone Else is Doing It

The New Republic is an amazing publication, and its gutting seems to be a tragedy. It didn't really have the same updated web presence that The Atlantic, The Wire (RIP), plus some of the new media outlets (Vox, 538) did, so perhaps it was in need of a bit of a digital boost. (Anecdotally, The TNR's voice was absent from my social media, factoring in a lot less on my Facebook feed than the above publications, or even traditional outfits like The New York Time and The Guardian. But when you made your way to the site, the pieces featured there were exceptionally thoughtful, gracefully crafted with a real seriousness and meticulousness.) I just wish this attempt at transformation could have been done in a way that respects the venerable tradition and intellectual vitality of the publication.

I'm tired of the fetishistic "Silicon"izing of everything. We need to stop bowing dow and worshipping "digital" and the Valley, and start thinking about how we fit into a larger ecosystem—of society, of values—and how we shape the deep, underlying, humming song of the world, not just the flashy surface.

Let's stop conforming to someone else's paradigm shift, and start making our own: one that has a true ethical core. The role of media isn't to get clicks—that's instrumental, not a raison d'etre. The role of media is to change thinking—to build an educated citizenry, provide truthful reporting, while pushing back against falsehoods, giving voice to the voiceless, to engage and provoke, to be both a gadfly and a pillar, to be the relentless critic and the sagacious teacher ... It is to create a collection of insights, and a world view (or many world views) ... It has a mission, and it keeps our democracy rolling. Fine, maybe not all media—the world has its gossip rags and its polemics. But this it The New Republic, for God's sake. Can we not let it do its job? Can we not nurture these writers and support them as they carry out a spectacularly pro-social mission of opening minds, challenging assumptions and inspiring more critical thinking?

If you have fabulous wealth from the Second Web Era, you would think you could purchase your way out of that life—to transcend. Instead, this dude—and dude really isn't a wrong appellation for someone of our Internet-fueled generation—is buying into the world of Internet hype. He is embodying the social media generation instead of finding a way of stepping up and rising above. He isn't interested in evolution, but retrogression. It's worse a violation than any "old media" outfit could ever commit of being limp or anachronistic, because this generation is supposed to be better than that. There are greater expectations, we should show more promise, because we know, because we are digital natives. He's sinking down to the level of the extant world, not looking into what could be. He's accepting status quo, when the status quo is meaningless "disruption". He never asks those around him, whether it's his immediate circle of friends, his band of writers and employees, or his wide assemblage of of readers and society at large, to do anything other than conform. Instead, he could be inviting us all to do better.

With this outcome, The New Republic has given up the opportunity for new technology mavens to build a true partnership, friendship, alliance with the world of old and imagine a joint future together. A publication is not only its public face, nor the archive of articles, but the ensemble of people who write, build, shape and paint it, as well as the long heritage that has built its reputation, its character, its place in the cultural sphere. He's taken hostage the palace, and instead of reimagining-while-preserving, he's dynamited the tower, collapsed the chapel, leveled the walls and gates, so we all fall down the crevasse to a newly "flat" future. It will be a long time before we rebuild an architecture so elegant as that, and the city landscape will be the poorer for it.

This episode reminds me of the hutong-demolishing, resident-evicting, temple-bulldozing attitude—that cultural theft carried out by the skyscraper-and-condo building developers. They suffer from a narrowed field of vision, and what at the end of the day amounts to a real lack of imagination. The attitude seems to be that "everyone else is doing it," and so we must do the same to survive.

"Everyone else is doing it." That's what you want to do with our cultural heritage? "Everyone else is doing it." That's the best response you can give? From the intellectual heirs and beneficiaries of Silicon Valley—once the heart of innovation—I expected better. New shopping mall indeed.

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