Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tanned, Rested and Ready

Well, rested, anyway. That’s how I’ve started off 2007. I had 2 weeks off from the fulltime job (which at this time of year isn’t really fulltime, given the scarcity of print jobs that trickle through the department), so I devoted my time to rest. Which translates to allowing my sleep schedule to drift later and later until I’m so far behind that when I get back to the usual routine I have a case of self-induced jet lag (without benefit of pictures or stories to tell).

I read the Time Magazine issue that proclaimed the “Person of the Year” to be “You, the reader.” Mirror on the cover instead of a picture. Get it? If they didn’t have a valid point, this would be the ultimate in what has long been the standard marketing practice of appealing to what one professor of mine called “the big You.” And a clumsy, obvious & cheesy effort, at that. But of course they do have a point, and that is that the developments of blogging, YouTube, and the globally-distributed interactive network of culture, etc., make the average person (by first-world standards) as likely to be a mover and shaker as any political leader or cultural icon. ABC's 20/20 had a 2-hour special on the same topic (interrupted, frustratingly enough, by the real news about Saddam Hussein's execution).

The question is, is this a mostly-good thing or not. In journalism classes we were taught that certain people, by nature of their work or position or notoriety, are “public figures” who have fewer moral and legal rights to privacy than the average citizen. In other words, Britney and George W. and John Gotti are open targets because they’re famous, so have at it. It’s OK (by journalism standards) to say things about them and publish pictures of them that would otherwise bring a lawsuit to the journalist or the paper or whatever. On the positive side, this promotes a free press and progress through exposure of corruption; on the negative side, we get the National Enquirer and Entertainment Tonight.

For me, the best summary of the “public figure” policy is in an episode of “The Simpsons.” Homer tells Alec Baldwin & Kim Basinger after they complain about his invasion of their “love nest” by curious Springfielders: "If you didn't want people searching through your garbage and snapping photos of your private moments, then you should have never tried to express yourselves creatively!"

Of course the democracy-promoting nature of the Internet (“Web 2.0”) is obvious. The down side of all the uploading is that so many people don’t have the same respect for privacy these days—their own or others’. They (we?) also tend to act on emotion, and accept visual information as truth. Combined with the instantaneous and global aspects of the ‘net AND the technical potential for total manipulation of pictures and video to create things that never were, the potential harm to individuals is troubling. And I'm not just talking about embarassment. On the other hand, who can get enough of those videos of fat 20-something dudes jumping around and lip-synching techno songs in their bedrooms? Am I right?

That I was reading about all this in a magazine I got for free for giving customer feedback on an online CD purchase, and now I’m blogging about it (and now I’m blogging about how I’m blogging about it…and now…well, you get the picture); seems entirely appropriate somehow.

I think I need some sleep.

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