Stephen Johnson on Media Deserts and Rain Forests

Writer and fellow Brooklynite Stephen Johnson posted a great essay (it was actually a speech at SXSW) about the new media ecosystem and the changing ways that we get our information. Nothing in it is earth-shattering, but true to form, Johnson makes disparate examples and arguments cohere into a whole. He stays mostly focused while talking about the concepts of media “deserts” and “rainforests,” and how the web has helped us get to know issues on a much more granular level than ever before.

…today’s media is in fact much closer to a real-world ecosystem in the way it circulates information than it is like the old industrial, top-down models of mass media. It’s a much more diverse and interconnected world, a system of flows and feeds – completely different from an assembly line. That complexity is what makes it so interesting, of course, but also what makes it so hard to predict what it’s going to look like in five or ten years.

His first example is the state of Macintosh news in 1987, when you had to wait for Macworld to arrive in your meatspace mailbox every month to inhale the latest geekery. Now, there are dozens of blogs parsing every utterance out of Steve Jobs, and Mac nerds can Twitter along to news conferences.

To use that ecosystem metaphor: the state of Mac news in 1987 was a barren desert. Today, it is a thriving rain forest. By almost every important standard, the state of Mac news has vastly improved since 1987: there is more volume, diversity, timeliness, and depth.

The same holds true for politics and news. Johnson describes this all better than I could, so get it from the source.

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