Sunday, October 26, 2008

musings: paul preston + google/facebook

The blog title may seem incongruous, so let me explain myself. Earlier this past week I´d attended a talk by Paul Preston, British historian and expert on the Spanish Civil War. His most recent book is just out, titled "We saw Spain die: Foreign correspondents in the Spanish Civil War". I will make one general note here on the talk, and then link up with my reference to Google/Facebook.

My first concerted exposure to notions of war journalism was years ago in my reading about George Steer (in Nicholas Rankin´s excellent work "Telegram from Guernica: the extraordinary life of George Steer, war correspondent". See a review here.) Preston´s book should be an excellent expansion of that knowledge. Interestingly, Paul Preston noted that there were about 1000 foreign correspondents in Civil War Spain, of whom about 15 were women. He also quoted Herbert Matthews as saying "Good journalism is the first draft of history."
So I sat there thinking whether this could (still) be said, about journalism in general, and whether it could (ever) have been said about tech journalism in particular. As this talk happened on the Monday, during much of the week that followed, I couldn´t help but notice the very frequent references to Facebook making the headlines. Sometimes the articles dealt with Facebook in particular, and at other times, it was more in a style of facebook-as-representative-of-the-downside-of-tech (even though, and of course, Facebook was touted in the catchy headline). (Hey, probably the week/month before it had been Google´s turn, right?...) And when Manuel Castells said later the week that the human mind functions in metaphor, I thought wryly, "but must it then be always in the lowly form of synecdoche?"...

Example of a piece dealing with Facebook:
"The internet grows up: Social networking sites like Facebook are now more popular than porn sites, but does that mean we want real relationships?"

Example of a piece where Facebook is referred to merely to gain one´s attention:
"37 países alertan de la indiscreción de Facebook"
(Translated: 37 Countries warn about the indiscretion of Facebook)
[Comment: The actual story here is about one of the resolutions (Resolution on Privacy Protection in Social Network Services) adopted by the most recent international meeting of the Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, warning about and advising on the risks of social networking per se, and not Facebook in particular.]

Example of a piece somewhere in-between the above two extremes:
"Boss uses Facebook to catch skiving worker: A call centre employee has been caught malingering after his boss checked his Facebook status"
[Comment: contrary to what it asserts, to me this piece is not about how managers are using SNSs to catch or vet employees. Rather, it seems to me a case of the blurring of the private and the professional, and also the private and the public.]

Returning to my point then about whether journalism here is the first draft of history, I can only say with a tiny sense of despair that this doesn´t necessarily apply to writings on technology. Of course, some would here invoke notions of technopanics, and that this journalism was representative of that dynamic at play. But still, it leaves me pondering which sources to ideally follow as one tries to do relevant work in this "Internet studies" domain.

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