Standage writes this week about the telegraph, a revolutionary technology that transformed the flow of information in its era. It linked two continents and was forecasted to create a world where everyone would be connected. The flow of information was faster and more efficient, allowing for an entirely new media environment. Standage describes how professional journalists would race to get the newest stories to print in order to best their competitors in the early 19th Century. The change that resulted from the telegraph reminded me of Shirky’s argument on professionalism being threatened by amateurization due to new media.
Shirky posits that traditional journalism will be threatened to stay in business because the institution will no longer need to be present to absorb the organizational costs that a professional institution handles. Standage points out that there was a growing public fear back in the mid-19th Century that the telegraph would bring an end to the business of journalism as well. For a similar reason, information became more readily available to the public using means not exclusive to the traditional media that put the journalists at the time on an “equal playing field”. They believed that because journalists were not able to compete for the first publication of an event, the newspapers would go out of business. This creates a parallel in predictions from then to the current situation: the predicted demise of traditional journalism institutions due to the opening of access to information because of a new technology.
This goes to show that social implications of newer technologies are not easily forecasted and that the effects of a new source of information into the media environment are not black-and-white. Standage makes a clear statement that summarizes this miscalculation at the end of his 6th chapter. “Better communication does not necessarily lead to a wider understanding of other points of view; the potential of new technologies to change things for the better is invariably overstated, while the ways in which they will make things worse are usually unforeseen.” The effects of social media are still unknown and could possibly be overstated as a revolution to overthrowing the current informational regime.
Do you think that the projected effects of social media on traditional journalism are correct? Do you think that journalism institutions will see their end soon or just go through drastic changes to adjust to the new environment?