25 July 2004

The fox and the crane

Lawrence Lessig posted an analysis of a debate, broadcast on Fox News, on whether the documentary OutFOXed (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes) presented valid arguments against them. Their conclusion was predictable. Lucky for us, Lessig's around to set the record straight--but then "us" is a miniscule sub-section of the population.

I remember reading an article about the future of media [link?]. It discussed the subject of custom content and suggested that, taken to a realistic extreme, such customization would separate people further by isolating them in only those beliefs that they already had. That concept has stayed with me. I've since read it in many other forms and forums [links?], so the meme appears to have been effectively absorbed into the public awareness.

A similar argument is often made surrounding our use of search engines. In contrast with the days of card catalogues, search engines take us directly to the sentence we're looking for. We once found 10 books covering the general subject of interest, each with very-high-level indexes, each index covering 10 to 50 pages within each book. We now Google for the terms of interest and Ctrl+F for each occurence on the page. Ten-to-50 pages times 10 books is 100 to 500 pages we would have to read or at least have to skim with some concentration. Think of all of the seemingly random information outside your narrow focus that you would be forced to confront, even if only superficially.

Join automated searching with simple AI heuristics to customized content, and what seemed like a good idea deforms into a system that creates only inbred thinking.

But could anyone call the introduction of indexes to books at around the Renaissance [link?] anything but genius? That small step in organizing thought in larger forms for the benefit of others was an important part of the rebirth. And the introduction of libraries in general and public libraries in particular, with their quaint card catalogues, was probably like handing Ctrl+F to the world. Could simplifying access to information in any way be detrimental? I'm sure what Lawrence Lessig, involved in Creative Commons, would say. For that matter, I'm sure what I would say.

So Fox News is watched primarily by those who accept and accede to the bias. Criticism is made and read by those who disagree. The separation is continually reinforced.


I may never find or remember the sources for the missing "links" referenced above. So much for the power of the search engine. The problem would be solved if I had better memorization: something regularly praised and valued in pre-Renaissance times and represented by skills such as the art of memory, where you organize information to be recalled as objects organized within a building. As you walk through the building, the objects help you recall the ideas associated.

The Fox and the Crane reference may be obvious, but I'll hammer it home. In the Aesop fable, the fox ignored a guest's needs by offering only that which he himself could enjoy. The crane returned the insult when the fox was a guest, and so both, focusing on their own interests, mocked the differences around them. (Weird non-sequitur: the fox in the story originates the insult and is female; the crane is male.)

[ posted by sstrader on 25 July 2004 at 6:22:29 AM in Culture & Society ]