Arnold Kling  

Communications Media and Institutions

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The Misanthropic Magisterium... Goldberger Explains Why My Ref...

Marc Pesce delivers a few facts and a lot of breathless prose.


Somewhere in the last few months, half the population of the planet became mobile telephone subscribers. In a decade's time we've gone from half the world having never made a telephone call to half the world owning their own mobile.

...fifty thousand years of cultural development will collapse into about twenty...each behavioral innovation is distributed globally and instantaneously...Any fringe (noble or diabolical) multiplied across three and a half billion adds up to substantial numbers. Amplified by the Human Network, the bonds of affinity have delivered us over to a new kind of mob rule...the more something is shared the more valuable it becomes...All of our mass social institutions, developed at the start of the Liberal era, are backed up against the same buzz saw. Politics, as the most encompassing of our mass institutions, now balances on a knife edge between a past which no longer works and a future of chaos.

Pesce claims that cultural change is going to accelerate. I wonder what this means for educational and political institutions.

In terms of reading matter, people seem to be looking for information in smaller chunks. See, for example, Kevin Drum's suggestion that books and long magazine pieces now strike him as padded. Most of Tyler's commenters agree.

I wonder if college students would say the same thing about the courses they take. Maybe they get the point after a few weeks, and the rest is padding.

Pesce asserts that our political institutions are not congruent with the new technologies. I agree that there is a lot of tension between a political system where control is highly concentrated and a communications system where control is highly dispersed. Pesce seems to foresee people assembling into mobs, with a lot of conflict among them.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (5 to date)
agent00yak writes:

I agree re: college classes. It isn't that I understood all of the (engineering) material after a few weeks. It was more that the lectures could generally have been 10 minutes instead of 50 minutes with very little negative side effects.

bgc writes:

There's something terribly wrong about this padding idea. The padding in communication is there so that the important stuff gets attention and gets remembered.

When I give a 50 minute lecture there might be three things (if I am lucky) that students remember - but if I just told them the three things in three minutes (or e-mailed them a list) they would neither understand nor remember the three things.

If journalism consisted of bullet points, no-one would pay any attention - and if they did they would neither understand nor remember.

Part of the problem is focusing on mass media with mixed audiences - the congitive capabilities and interests of people are incredibly diverse, and the more mixed the audience the more 'padding' is needed. But the mass media are declining, arent they?, and people get more information from specialized and focused outlets. These can afford to be concise, because they can assume that audeinces are interested and knowledgeable.

It's like professional jargon. This can be both terse and precise; but only if you have the requisite knowledge base and socialization.

The British upper classes could/ can communicate volumes with just a few well chosen words and a subtle facial expression - and can have what amounts to a secret conversation in the presence of others, in which the implied meanings may be the opposite of the literal words. But this only works when there is a prolonged and homogenous socialization - for example by a relatively small and interconnected group of elite schools.

To ask for less 'padding' in mass media communications is just a covert hankering for an elite audience.

dearieme writes:

@bgc. Mm.

stan writes:

Most textbooks are padded. I assume the authors get paid by the pound?

Andy M writes:

As a college student, I disagree with the padding of classes. Obviously my opinion is merely anecdotal, and I am mostly studying the natural sciences.

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