This week, On the Media - in its current incarnation, turns ten years old. And so a look back, at what a decade hath wrought and at the sweet innocence of youth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In our December 3rd show, I uttered this sentence:
[SOUND OF TAPE BEING REWOUND] WikiLeaks tweeted a link to a video posted on YouTube of excerpts from a speech by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 decrying government secrecy. “WikiLeaks tweeted a link to a video posted on YouTube?” Would you even know what that meant a few years ago? That sentence made us realize that the tenth anniversary of this incarnation of On the Media was upon us, actually this very week, ten years of mindblowingly accelerating change, which makes sense, as computer scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil told us in 2009.
RAY KURZWEIL: Information technology grows exponentially, basically doubling every year. What used to fit in a building now fits in your pocket, and what fits in your pocket today will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years. And that gives you some idea of what will be feasible.
BOB GARFIELD: So we thought we'd round out our tenth, that is to say, our tin anniversary, by looking at ten years of media transformation through the lens of On the Media. Why not start with Craigslist? It began to expand outside its San Francisco base in 2000, eventually becoming a global repository of free classified ads and gobbling up revenue that once flowed to newspapers. Looking back at our archive, we find a range of experts blaming the decline of the daily newspaper business on Craig Newmark.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One expert, in particular.
[SOUND OF REWINDING TAPE]
BOB GARFIELD [ON ARCHIVED SHOW]: Now, Craigslist which is free has rendered the classified business, you know, almost irrelevant.
BOB GARFIELD [ON ARCHIVED SHOW]: The only details he failed to foresee were Craigslist and the collapse of the entire business model.
BOB GARFIELD [ON ARCHIVED SHOW]: Craigslist pretty much killed the classified ad business.
BOB GARFIELD: So I saw the chaos and I called it. You got a problem with that? [LAUGHS] Also, across those years we saw the growing power of blogs, which didn't play much of a role in the cultural or political life of the nation when the decade began but, oh baby, pretty soon they were bagging some pretty big fish, such as when blogs caught Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott saying this at Strom Thurmond’s hundredth birthday bash in 2002:
TRENT LOTT: I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him.
[LAUGHTER] And we're proud of him!
[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE] And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.
JOHN PODHORETZ: I think what we're seeing here is the ripening of an entirely new journalistic form.
BOB GARFIELD: Journalist John Podhoretz told us that by highlighting Lott’s tribute to an erstwhile segregationist, blogs showed their ability to uncover or amplify what the mainstream media barely cover, or just plain miss. Trent Lott had to leave.
JOHN PODHORETZ: As is always the case when new media start, it's the people who are willing to sacrifice their time and effort out of passion that makes something viable, because they want to become part of the national debate.
BOB GARFIELD: Each election, the power of blogs to raise hell and campaign funds increased, not to mention their ability to marshal the wisdom of the crowds to unearth truths and the foolishness of crowds to propagate lies. It was all about information, tailored to particular tastes, giving rise to the dreaded echo chamber, a notion that’s since become a cliché of the new media age.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But to use or abuse an avalanche of information, we need a portal. It’s hard to imagine our lives without Google. Launched in 1998, by 2002 the American Dialect Society chose to “google” as the most useful word of the year; 2002 also saw the birth of Google News, when algorithms replaced editors as gatekeepers and served up the world’s press for free. Here’s Slate’s Jack Shafer, back in 2002:
JACK SHAFER: Well, I think that there are a lot of news functions that are better served by machines. What Google is doing is they've found a new way to bake the cake. If you want to gather and experience news from a multiplicity of sources, from 4,000 sources, and have it constantly updated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Google News is your baby.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Then Google launched Google Book Search in 2004, terrifying publishers, and Google Maps in 2005, annoying entire governments by letting the people decide what places were called and which nations ought to claim them. Washington Monthly editor John Gravois:
JOHN GRAVOIS: Google is now producing the world’s most important map. That used to be something nation states did. And what’s happening in all these geographic disputes is that Google’s getting confused with a nation state, and not just anyone, a really important one, a powerful one. The whole time Google is kind of shrugging and saying, we're showing as many claims as possible.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Doesn't that raise the question, what is it we want our maps to be now, if no longer a single authoritative view of the world?
JOHN GRAVOIS: It’s almost like we shouldn't use the word “map” anymore. It’s a completely different thing that are just sort of repositories of a bunch of different opinions, or even conversations. That’s neat, but the process of adjusting to that new norm is going to be really, really hairy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Then along came Google Translate in 2007, crossing the language barrier, and Google Street View, allowing us to virtually traverse any street, anywhere.
BOB GARFIELD: Enough! We can't devote the whole segment [LAUGHS] to Google. Podcasting came along in 2004, allowing people to time shift radio and enabling non-professionals to become audio stars. Actually, On the Media was the first public radio show produced for national distribution to podcast in its entirety early in 2005.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Also in 2005, YouTube, creating new media tropes and new media stars. Remember Lonely Girl?
“LONELY GIRL”: I'm having certain issues with my parents right now, which I can't talk about. So, I thought I would bore you with a metaphor instead. My parents are unable to see things from my point of view, no matter how much I try and explain it to them. I learned how to see the world from a completely different point of view when I was four, so why is it so hard for them?
BOB GARFIELD: Uh, those were heady days. And let's not forget the world-changing role cell phones have played in recent years by allowing people everywhere to capture video and then post it on YouTube, drawing the world’s attention to global injustice - and piano-playing cats. And, of course, the second half of this decade also saw the emergence of social media’s 900-pound gorillas: Facebook, launched quietly at Harvard in 2003, now engaged in world domination, and Twitter, which played a role in Iran’s Green Revolution.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Just think, when we were talking about social media back in 2003, we were musing about Friendster. Jad Abumrad, now host of WNYC’s Radiolab, did a piece for us where he talked to a guy named Jordan who was trying to shed people who'd Friendstered him.
JORDAN: I'm getting messages from like high school people that I haven't talked to in years.
JAD ABUMRAD: There’s a reason he hasn’t talked to them in years, because he doesn’t like them.
JORDAN: I just - I always accept friendships ‘cause I feel like it'd be too rude. [LAUGHS]
JAD ABUMRAD: This may be one of the tradeoffs in a world where everyone can access everyone. See, Jordan is a victim to what sociologists call "the familiar stranger phenomenon," which is this: Often in our daily routine we'll see the same people every day, like on the subway, and we won't say anything to them, because they're strangers, and it would be strange to say anything. But if we see these same people in say, Spain, we're like, "Hey, how's it going?” And Friendster may be just enough of a new environment to bring out all the familiar strangers in Jordan's life, which is bringing him down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That was so cute.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] I'll tell you what’s really cute, how excited we were almost exactly ten years ago about – DVDs.
[SHIMMERY MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD [ON ARCHIVED SHOW]: The DVD has penetrated the market twice as fast as the CD, almost three times faster than the VCR. Some 20 million players are predicted to be in American homes by the end of the year. The national fascination with DVDs has everything to do with what they manage to cram onto those little discs.
BROOKE GLADSTONE [ON ARCHIVED SHOW]: DVDs have immense storage capacity, so much so that the DVD of Terminator 2 is able to include three complete versions of the film, plus an audio commentary with 26 members of the cast and crew. Fantasia 2000 has an additional eleven hours of programming.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So entranced with the technology, we were only three months into our jobs here when, with the help of Mike Pesca, Arun Rath and Rex Doane, we produced a mock DVD director’s commentary of George W. Bush’s 2001 State of the Union Address.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I know Congress had to formally invite me. And it could have been a close vote.
[LAUGHTER] So, Mr. Vice President, I appreciate you bein’ here to break the tie.
“COMMENTATOR”: We had so many more laugh lines at the top.
[OVERLAP IN VOICES]
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to thank so many of you've accepted my invitation –
“COMMENTATOR”: Right! What was it? He thanked the Supreme Court?
“COMMENTATOR”: Right. The line was, “And if the other side wins, we'll take it to the Supreme Court.” And he thanks Bill Clinton for keeping the heat off of him –
[CLIP PLAYING IN BACKGROUND]
“COMMENTATOR”: And the, and the Surgeon General, or something?
“COMMENTATOR”: No, no it was a surgeon general, because I'm going to be doing so much butt-kissing to get this thing passed, I'm going to need a lip transplant. [LAUGHS] It was -
“COMMENTATOR”: Funny, funny stuff! But there's nowhere to go from that.
“COMMENTATOR”: No, the Cheney line was the best.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our parks are places of great natural beauty and history.
“COMMENTATOR”: At this point, almost exactly halfway through the speech, we cut away to a montage sequence of Bush at play in the parks with Walking on Sunshine underneath it.
“COMMENTATOR”: Katrina and the Waves.
“COMMENTATOR”: Exactly - George frolicking at Old Faithful, George teasing a family of bears, George drilling on a mountaintop. And you pull back, way back. It's an homage –
“COMMENTATOR”: Oh –
“COMMENTATOR”: - to the opening shot of Sound of Music.
“COMMENTATOR”: Sublime. It's in the added features at the end of the disk. [KATRINA AND THE WAVES: I’M WALKING ON SUNSHINE/SINGING UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: DVD commentaries? What’s the big deal? Didn't they always exist? Didn't Craigslist, YouTube, Facebook and the iPhone always exist? I mean, come on! Didn't Google?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ten years is a long time. In fact –
[CLICKING SOUNDS] - according to the Wolfram|Alpha Computational Search Engine –
[CLICKING SOUND/SINGING] - it’s 87,600 hours.
BOB GARFIELD: I knew that. Happy tenth, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Back at you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: And a happy tenth to Katya Rogers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Who got us through it all.
[I’M WALKING ON SUNSHINE/UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this decade’s show. On the Media has been produced over the last ten years by Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Nazanin Rafsanjani, Alex Goldman, P.J. Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Megan Ryan, Mark Phillips, Tony Field, Arun Rath, Mike Pesca, Janeen Price, John and Dylan Keefe and Dean Cappello. Our interns this week were Andrew Parsons and Carlin Galietti, with more help from Elizabeth Zagroba. And, as always, the show was edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Rob Granniss.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.
[I’M WALKING ON SUNSHINE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: At, at this moment of, of reflection, can I just say one thing that you do that – sometimes just – really drives me a little crazy, which is you –
BOB GARFIELD: No, you can say that, ‘cause there’s probably only one thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah, there’s only one thing.
[BOTH AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: So I – you know, I feel – I feel – I feel confident enough that since there’s only -
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If –
BOB GARFIELD: - there’s only one little thing –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s just the one little thing.
BOB GARFIELD: - that probably it’s the only thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You always say, So-and-So, “as always, thanks very much?”
BOB GARFIELD: Oh yeah, that’s like if they’ve been there more than twice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or even if they’ve only been there once before, and a couple of times I’ve had to cut it out because they haven’t been here at all.
BOB GARFIELD: Well yeah, as I always say to people –
[BROOKE LAUGHS] - as always, I’m saying to people who have never been here before.
[BROOKE LAUGHING] That’s it?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s it. That’s the only thing.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s all you got for me?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s it, that’s the whole thing. That’s it!
BOB GARFIELD: It’s gone. FUNDING CREDITS]