“On newspaper opinion pages, including this one, a shrill keening sound can be heard…”

Today Hugh Linehan in the Irish Times today channels the commonplace American role of reader’s editor, taking on two of the papers most respected columnists, John Waters and Davy Adams. I think this goes in the lesson boxed marked write about you know (don’t write about what you don’t):

On chat show panels and newspaper opinion pages, including this one, a shrill keening sound can be heard. The sky is falling on our heads. Newfangled fads with absurd names are threatening the fabric of our civilisation. Apparently it would be for the best if we a) just ignored this stuff in the hope it’s a fad that will go away, or b) instituted some sort of punitive new regulatory system (because, obviously, that would be a really good use of public money at the moment).

For the many hundreds of thousands of people who use these communication systems daily for professional and personal purposes , and who actually understand their strengths and shortcomings, this apocalyptic talk seems laughable, but in a way it’s a symptom of the same failure of traditional journalistic standards which led to RTÉ’s presidential debate Twitter fiasco.

Appropriately tough talk, which I hope will put to bed once and for all the useless carping of an wilfully ignorant elite about the teching and smarting up of the formerly ignorant masses. And finally, why does it matter?

All this blathering might be funny if it didn’t fall so abysmally short of the standards of analysis we need as readers and citizens. Because very big questions do confront us. The digital communications revolution poses real and serious challenges to many traditional concepts that underpin our civic society and to long-cherished rights to privacy, personal integrity and protection of the young. It places huge power in the hands of a small number of corporations whose business models are based upon “monetising” you by exploiting your personal data.

These are all serious issues, but all we seem to get (with a couple of honourable exceptions) is wilful ignorance and cheap histrionics, often weirdly mirroring the very sins the dreaded “internet” is accused of. A few months ago, John Waters wrote that: “there is something about the internet that provokes in many users utterly out-of-kilter responses towards events and other people”.

Indeed there is.

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  • David Crookes

    Recent events show us how much things have changed. Disaffected activists have inscribed far more words on the public consciousness than the elected politicians.

    Twenty years ago no local politicians read Slugger O’Toole, because it wasn’t there. Now…..

    It’s a pity that so many of our politicians experience the internet only as readers. We need articulate politicians who can write under their own names on internet forums, and argue their case in atttractive language.

    Every press release that I’ve seen for the last month has been a pitiable case of death by abstract noun.