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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Us Vs. Them: The New Digital Divide

Some thoughts on how media are evolving were focused in a conversation with Mathew Ingram yesterday as we met in a downtown Toronto coffee bar.

Mathew is one of the more interesting thinkers about where media are headed as can be seen in a recent posting about how magazine apps are still "walled gardens" here.

There seems to be a limitless horizon for new approaches to social media: as the recession appears to recede, the outgoing tide is leaving some interesting new artifacts (aka apps) on the new digital shores.

The number of social media apps seems to proliferate daily: spot.us, ushahidi, SwiftRiver and ripple are a few that fell into my computer only recently. Like many other, I suffer from apps anguish, wondering if I can possibly keep up with them all. Dozens, if not thousands get invented and appear daily.

It's worth looking at the definition of an app: In computer science jargon, an application (or "app") is simply a program designed to help people perform an activity. An app differs from an operating system (which runs a computer), a utility (which performs maintenance or general-purpose chores), and a program language which creates the original program.

Depending on the activity for which it was designed, an app can manipulate text, numbers, graphics, or a combination of these elements. Some app packages offer considerable computing power by focusing on a single task, such as word processing; others, like integrated software offer somewhat less power but include several apps.

Inventive capitalism at its finest. Now a lot of smart people have taken to designing apps which then can be sold to large software firms who can market the apps to be sold to the rest of us.

But as a recent article in Wired magazine stated, the implication of apps and the promise of the Internet seem to be moving in opposite directions.

Apps as Mathew states, continue to segment society even as the Internet promised to create communities.

Dennis Haarsager (another very smart thinker about these things) recently wrote about how IP ("Internet Protocol") for public radio is changing as apps allow the traditional audience to access content in new ways.

What is being left behind is the sense of real community that public radio once created. Instead, apps are also increasing the centrifugal tendency to atomize and disconnect the audience from its larger sense of self.

While this may work for the business model, it may have unintended consequences for cohesive communities such as public radio that now are seeing their core values being dissipated in the rush to obtain the newest toys for the coolest kids.

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