A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Person of the Year: Me

According to Time Magazine, the Person of the Year is me. And all the other bloggers, podcasters, youtubers, myspacers, open-source-software programmers, and others who contribute content gratis to the World Wide Web. According to Time, 2006 is "a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes."

I've been having a running argument with a few people I know about this cover story. Also reading other media reviewers' opinions online. Many say that Time was being buzzy, pandering to the public, just trying to sell more magazines.

My fellow blogger over at Pragmatism Refreshed longs "for the good old days of idiosyncratic press barons." He feels that "substantive choices [like Rumsfeld or Ahmadinejad] might have impelled whoever wrote the cover story to give a distinctive twist to the politico-religious turmoil of our past year, and our troubled world in general." Others lamented that YouTube and MySpace were just crass commercial sites pandering to our narcissism, and that in naming the reader Person of the Year, Time was doing likewise. Still others said that users have been contributing content to the web for years: that Time was behind the times.

Hmmm. Time trying to sell more magazines. The big media pandering to the public. Those are givens, people! Yes, YouTube is now owned by Google. Yes, MySpace is infested with ads. But none of that invalidates the point.

2006 does seem to me the year that user-generated content reached critical mass. Of course many people are merely feeding their egos. Of course the business sector is trying to figure out how to make money off of everybody and everything. None of that negates that fact that millions of people are posting content as part of a community effort to increase the fund of general knowledge.

I use the internet every single day to assist me in virtually everything I do. When I was in the market a few months ago for a car cover, I read hundreds of customer reviews before choosing a brand and model. Thanks to all those people posting their experiences online, I ended up with a product that is performing exactly as I need it to. The woman just diagnosed with breast cancer can find instant advice, support, and consolation from others with stories of their own to tell. My son, inexplicably bored all of a sudden with video games, can start learning about space in the middle of the night from videos posted on YouTube, then check reader reviews of books about stars before going to the library, and then post questions of scientists on public forums.

The ubiquitousness of digital video and still cameras, coupled with the internet, has put dissemination of news into the hands of the people. I can capture almost anything--a news conference, a tsunami, a crime being committed--on my cell phone camera, and broadcast it worldwide minutes afterward. Yes, Big Brother is watching us. But we're also watching him. Everybody is watching everybody these days.

Donald Rumsfeld=war. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad=war. No matter how many or how few people get killed, war isn't news. It's as old as mankind. Global communication is news. Do we know how to harness it, how to use it to solve the problems that the Rumsfelds and the Ahmadinejads cause? Maybe, maybe not. But it's undeniable that it will change our world as dramatically as anything ever has.