Media no more (by Jeff Jarvis)

Jeff Jarvis and his insight on the importance of digital media compared to traditional media:

We are headed into the post-media age.

When you think about it, media are the artificial inventions of their means of distribution: Books begat authors; fast and cheap presses enabled reporters and press barons; TV bore anchors. But there is nothing to say that these media are preordained as the best methods of sharing knowledge and getting things done in society. They were the convenient ways. Emphasis on the past tense.

The natural means of interaction and of sharing information is, of course, conversation, through the ability to ask and answer questions, to impart and collect knowledge. I’m not one to make allusions to primitive life as if that describes the natural state of man, but I will in this case: When you listened to the tribe storyteller, you could remix before passing on; when you heard from the town crier, you could stick your head out the window and ask for details; when you set the price of a good or service, you got to haggle with the seller. This is why Socrates said that education is a conversation, and why Luther said that prayer is a conversation, and why Cluetrain says that markets are conversations, and why I say that news is a conversation. That is the natural order of things.

Media changed that. Media made society one-way.

But now the internet drains the one-way pipes of media and pours us all in the same pond together. The internet enables conversation.

The internet is not a medium. It is the thing that challenges media.


What got me thinking about this Fred Wilson — who, oddly, often acts as my muse — marveling marveled that journalists like Walt Mossberg and Glenn Fleischman were commenting on his blog posts about what they’d written. Now that’s conversation.

But there’s something more happening here. We keep hearing that blogs and the internet are media. But is Fred’s blog media? Or is it a representation of him? Is Fred publishing? Or is Fred — are Fred and Walt and Glenn — just talking?

The old definitions — and limitations — of media are becoming irrelevant. And that’s what made me see that we are using our new tools to recapture the conversation. We are entering the post-media era.


The point is that the closer you can get to a conversation — the farther you can get from one-way isolation — the more successful you will be at anything you try to do in society: gathering news, making products, selling products, selling services, getting elected, enacting policy, teaching….

That is the point that Cluetrain made so well about markets. That is the point that I am struggling to figure out how to make about media and more here and in the book I’m (kind of) starting to work on.

Transparency… open-source… distributed data… aggregation… search… links… All of these enable the conversation. None of these are characteristics of media as we have known them.

This revolution is not about changing media. It is about moving beyond media.


What I’m saying pertains to factual pursuits, to nonfiction — newsreferenceshoppingreligionpolitics … in short: life.

But I do not think this pertains to fiction. When interactive media became possible, many prognosticators told us with no doubt that before we knew it, we would be creating our own endings for movies. That’s absurd, always was. I don’t want to make up my own ending to a book or movie; I want to be entertained and surprised. I’m paying for the other guy to do the work. From artists, I want art. And art is not a conversation, it is a creation.

So media will not die. Novels and dramas and comedies will continue flowing out of those one-way pipes.

But for the rest of our interactions and transactions — getting the news, learning a subject, making a purchase — conversation will beat media every time. That is the lesson for journalists, marketers, executives, politicians: The closer you get to rejoining the conversation, to looking your public in the eye, the more successful you will be. Think past mass, beyond media.

Commentary from Stephen Baker of Bloomberg Businessweek:

Books do create conversations in our day and age. But most of them aren’t on the Internet. Ever heard of a book group?…

…From a reader’s perspective, only a fraction of a percent has to be great to justify a trip to the bookstore or the library. In that way, books are a little like blogs. And how do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find the good books? That’s where the Internet helps.

Related link:

There is No New Media: It’s All New Consumption by Om Malik (GigaOM) – in short, the media industry is getting digitized (that is, encoded as a stream of bits)


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