James Fallows must be one of the lovelier guys working in journalism, because his viewpoint always seems to be so very optimistic. His latest in The Atlantic,Â Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media, is like textbook Fallows. It analyses “old media” and its horror and despair at the emergence of new media journalism – its belief that the only things that can work online are shallow, celebrity-obsessed and cynical. Fallows makes the point that the s0-called “golden age” of American journalism – roughly from the 1950s to the 1970s – was in fact an anomaly, and that we are returning to an older, rougher world in which telling people the news was a heady blend of sensationalism, shucksterism, hustling and fighting. He also makes the rather good point that it’s way too soon to tell how all this stuff is going to pan out.
All of which is true. But what really struck me about the piece was that the default mode we need to adopt in the face of these massive changes is cheery optimism. Anything else shuts you down and makes you look stupid in the long run. Better to ride the tiger with a soppy great grin on your face than sit on the sidelines frowning at the kids and their silly ways. You’re going to be wrong most of the time anyway. Why not be wrong and enjoy it?
(There is a downside to this, which I’m carefully putting into brackets. The downside is what we could call SXSW Syndrome. It’s a gateway to a happy-clappy land where people hail the iPad as the saviour of mankind, make crazy claims about how all content creators can be happy and successful in a blissful interconnected future, and open ThoughtLabs and IdeaStudios which are mainly there to create things which other ThoughtLabs and IdeaStudios can link to from Twitter. But this is OK. In fact it’s desirable. Without SXSW Syndrome, we’d all crawl into our shells and wait for another network hammer to fall. SXSW Syndrome is actually just Category Optimism).