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Monday, March 14, 2011

a new narrative

From James Fallows' Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media in The Atlantic this month:
“But what if the answer to a false narrative isn’t fact?,” Denton says. “Or Habermas? Maybe the answer to a flawed narrative is a different narrative. You change the story.” Which is what, he said, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have done. They don’t “fact-check” Fox News, or try to rebut it directly, or fight on its own terms. They change the story not by distorting reality—their strength is their reliance on fact—or creating a fictitious narrative, but by presenting the facts in a way that makes them register in a way they hadn’t before.

Jaron Lanier, author of Digital Maoism, was blunt when I asked him about Fox’s ability to assert a “truth” and have it echo through digital media. “We have created a technology that has wonderful potential, but that enormously increases our ability to lie to ourselves and forget it is a lie,” he told me. “We are going to need to develop new conventions and formalities to cut through the lies.” Stewart and Colbert have developed one such set of new conventions; others will emerge.

The new media is terrible for addressing problems like confirmation bias but it's a new type of narrativity and the old type had its own weaknesses. I'm optimistic about the possibilities for people who really want to know what's going on and are willing to put in the time but pessimistic about the content the average person will digest. Then again, no-news seems as attractive as confirmation biased news and that's not so unsettling.