Last Friday’s #DigitalLunch was ostensibly about 9/11, and the effects it has had on society, or at least how society has changed in the meantime. Whether those changes were consequential or not is a moot point.
Certainly in the realm of human communication technology and culture have never been more closely entwined. Blogs in 2001 did exist, but they had yet to find a broad cultural or political purpose.
The traumatic events of that morning and afternoon in the US spurred many thousands of citizens to give their own accounts and explanations of a set of events the scale of which looked like it had to have been fictional.
We were lucky enough to be joined by Gabrielle Laine-Peters. She was just returning to her apartment just across from one of the towers when she picked up news of the first plane’s impact came through from the BBC News ticker tape on her computer.
But she also recalls the supposition of friends who’d been crossing the bridge at the same time, that this was yet another filmic escapade in downtown New York so beloved of the then Mayor Rudi Guiliani..
Indeed, as James Moffat argues, 9/11 was the last great event in which Television was the uncontested medium. The blogs only came after. And with the truther conspiracies, many of them using televisual footage as their primary evidence.
We were also lucky enough to be joined by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen from the Cardiff School of Journalism, who introduced this question of the shift in perspective that has taken place.
She draws some insight from her own PhD on the pre digital role of the letters to the editor page. Most interestingly she noted that for journalists these heavily curated pages often only confirmed their view that the wider public was ignorant and a bit mad.
That underlines the kind of of culture shock many older journalists are ongoing now that, in Yeats’ words, ‘mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’. In depth and on scale.
But as she notes, this mere anarchy does not mean that our ability to detect ‘untruth’ or ‘misinformation’ is enhanced by such such popular overturning of the older complex power relationships.
Which took us to a consideration of truth in the news, post 9/11. A contentious argument at the best of times. For me, I always got back to Jerry Fodor’s excellent review in the TLS in 2005, where he argues that truth is a semantic notion:
Go ahead: try to build a theory of mental or linguistic representation without it; I’ll bet you’ll find that you can’t. The consequence is that, pretty inevitably, philosophers who claim they can dispense with a robust notion of truth are required also to claim that they can do without robust notions of mental and linguistic representation.
My own view is that to try to explain anything in this increasingly complex life requires just such a robust ‘notion of truth’, though not necessarily one that holds any single given ‘truth’ to be pristine and incontestable.
It was a fascinating and much wider ranging conversation than I have conveyed, and well worth taking the time to watch at YouTube…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty