Thursday, May 12, 2011
It's been over 15 years since I graduated college with what is now a completely useless degree in journalism. At the time I could never have imagined a world in which news would be disseminated via computer and anyone could brand themselves writers by virtue of putting up a blog and declaring themselves citizen journalists-- or reviewers. The internet was in its infancy and people still relied on newsprint and network television for information. Boy, how things have changed.
I can't help but think about how the world has shifted as I sit with my laptop, composing my own self-important thoughts and click on the "publish post" button without the benefit of another set of eyes to catch my flaws in reasoning or grammar.
How can this be a good thing?
Well, that's the question isn't it? Is it a good thing that any random schmuck cough*PerezHilton*cough can put up a blog that is little more than sophomoric scribbles over celebrity images and become very wealthy doing it?
And am I qualified to answer that question?
I'm pretty sure I agonize over trivial things more than the average person, but I do wonder what my responsibility is as a blogger-- or whether I have any obligation other than to please myself?
I'll be the first to admit that I love the information age. I think the Internet and the explosion of citizen journalists, reviewers etc., is a great thing. But there's no denying that with the flow in information comes an even greater flow of disinformation where rumor can (and will) be accepted as fact-- and setting the facts straight after-the-fact is nearly impossible. When I worked in television it seemed as if we spent as much time with the lawyers as we did with the subjects of our interviews-- I was frequently reminded that nothing was too trivial to be sued over. I haven't worked in TV in quite a while, so I can't speak of the legal standards that are enforced today, but I suspect they haven't changed much. But blogging?
I've heard of a few instances of bloggers being sued for libel, usually in relation to political content. But I have to admit I'm amazed at how much protection our free speech laws allow when it comes to blogging. Though I shouldn't be surprised considering we're a society that will allow the abomination that is The Westboro Baptist "Church" and their psychotic rantings-- but I digress. I suspect that a lot of laws are trampled on pretty regularly by bloggers, mostly because we don't know any better. How many images do I use that need to be properly attributed? Heck if I know. I honestly didn't think of these things when I slapped up the blog. And how much content is being plagiarized? I know I've actually seen articles and reviews I've written show up on other sites with no attribution-- but what am I supposed to do about that? Sue? Yeah right.
Though, if I'm being honest, I don't care that much about simple carelessness. We're all guilty of it. But it's unfortunately common for bloggers to become downright malicious. Stories of cyber-bullying, and stalking, are becoming more common and, as usual, our laws haven't caught up to reality. And I have no idea what we do about that.
There are so many ways in which average people have managed to insinuate themselves into the "celebrity" culture. Social networking and reality shows have made it seem perfectly normal to put our lives on display whether there's profit involved or not. I don't really fear video games anymore-- but YouTube scares the heck out of me. The world has become so strange that celebrities have begun competing with the rest of us and now use Twitter in ways I never imagined-- though I won't lie, if the real Christopher Walken is Tweeting, I want to know about it. That's just bizarre enough to cut through my prejudices on the matter.
Maybe I'm strange, (That's rhetorical-- no need to chime in here) but I feel a certain responsibility as a blogger. I used to worry about things like blog traffic, posting every day and generally fretting over whether I was interesting. When I started this blog about five years ago there weren't that many people doing what I'm doing, but now... We're everywhere. The Internet is like the Wild West, only in this case the it isn't the gunslingers we have to worry about. People wear anonymity like a shield even as they flaunt their every move to anyone willing to watch. And the incivility is rampant.
The online world is a society without boundaries and I doubt there will ever be a day when it will be something that can easily be controlled by lawyers. One only has to look at what has, so far, been a futile effort to stop the online piracy of music, books and movies. So it is incumbent on us to set the boundaries-- the hard part is going to be getting people to agree on where the lines should be.
For my part I think the immortal words of Bill and Ted sum up my hopes for the future of blogging, and online interactions in general, as I pray that we all learn how to be excellent to each other.