Friday, February 13, 2009

Why the Internet Beats Television for News and Information

I'm something of a news junkie but I must be a different type of news consumer than most of the television audience. Last night, in case you missed it somehow there was a plane crash near Buffalo, New York. Fifty people were killed in the crash, it appears to have been an accident. For me, that's all I need to know but the reporter on CBC Newsworld just said "this is our only story". What else is there to say? It's not an ongoing story. It was an accident and it is certainly a tragedy but it's over and there are other things going on in the world.

There is a difference with an ongoing story. Take the Mumbai attacks for example, or the Israeli attack on Gaza those stories are complex, ongoing and political. There is are a number of different aspects and angles to cover. For a freak accident though or a crime story there just isn't much to say. Perhaps I'm not curious enough, or interested enough in trivia, but there just isn't that much I need to know. The biggest example of this was the O.J. Simpson trial (the first one.) What I needed to know was that O.J. Simpson was accused of a crime, what he was accused of, when the trial started and what the jury decided. That's all. Like the plane crash in Buffalo it was tragic, but just isn't that important to my life.

On any given day, somewhere in the world there are crimes and accidents - there is constant tragedy but it's a big world and there is a good deal going on in. If it is an ongoing situation I'll follow it. If it is a recurring systemic problem I'll look at the problem but if it's a one time incident I just can't devote that much time or interest.

So, for me, given that television news likes to dwell on such incidents the internet is far better. I can get the basics of dozens of stories, and even look at a few in greater depth in the time it takes television news to interview the neighbors about the sound of the explosion. There is a ton of information produced in the world:
"The world produces between 1 and 2 exabytes of unique information per year, which is roughly 250 megabytes for every man, woman, and child on earth."
This was as of 2000 - the amount has grown exponentially since then. To me this means that there must be some discrimination. If you're going to absorb the information you need you have to decide what is important and what is not and be ready to move on as soon as you have the information you need. Television does not allow for this, the internet does. Generally when there is a story like the plane crash all of the television news stations are covering it simultaneously - on the internet there are enough different 'channels' that you can always find some interested in something else and even if every web site in the world decided to cover this story, you can skip that part of the web site, there will be other information there as well.

The customization, the ability to skip around and the interactive capabilities are what ultimately will allow the internet to absorb television rather than the other way around.

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