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Writers Strike- Internet Revenues

Posted by Mort Greenberg on February 16, 2008

Strike unleashed Internet ire

Mob mentality rules on talkbacks, boards

Squabbling over Internet revenues was at the heart of the writers strike, but it was squabbling on the Internet that contributed to the vitriolic tone and rhetoric flung about during the dispute that will leave a bitter aftertaste.Although hardly Hollywood’s first strike, this has been the first conducted in the Facebook/Gen-Web era, underscoring the sometimes ugly, insular and semi-delusional worlds the Net can perpetuate — a seldom-discussed drawback amid its blessed convenience and abundant economic potential. In that respect, the Internet’s supporting role in the strike is another reminder of the way the Web has inadvertently helped pollute society, coarsening the level of discourse and incubating online communities prone to wildly lash out at enemies real and imagined.

Cultural critic Lee Siegel advanced this point in his book “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” maintaining that the Web represents “the first social environment to serve the needs of the isolated, elevated, asocial individual.”

The book met with some derision, in part because Siegel overreaches on certain fronts. Yet the criticism, which the New York Observer underscored by misleadingly headlining its review “How the Web turned you into a schmuck,” downplays a more salient point — namely, how the Web allows small groups of schmucks to delude themselves into thinking they have plenty of company.

Such criticism hardly represents a Luddite plea to retreat back to the days when we spoke breathlessly about the “information superhighway,” even if that were possible. It is, rather, a wakeup call regarding a reality demonstrated throughout the strike — that new media, like scientific or medical breakthroughs, has crept into our lives without much thought regarding its unintended costs. Nor is it mere elitism to observe that the Net’s egalitarian ideals have also yielded some negative consequences.

Take gray old newspapers that once had to partially guess at what caught readers’ eyes, but are now preoccupied with tallying online hits. Because fluff and gossip thrive in that space, this works against serious reporting and heightens pressure to behave like Britney-obsessed schoolgirls or newsstand-driven tabloids. When an employee dared ask about news standards at Tribune’s newspapers, new owner Sam Zell glibly dismissed such concerns as “journalistic arrogance.”

After a brief experiment with being LinkedIn to colleagues and acquaintances, I found the process to be a time-wasting annoyance with no discernible benefits. Yet social-networking adults continue to emulate teenagers, which seems a dubious goal at best.

PBS’ “Frontline” recently explored the wired-world’s impact on teens in “Growing Up Online,” a sobering documentary that found the most egregious online behavior stems from teens assailing peers, transitioning cruel schoolyard taunts into an uncharted new dimension. A few such instances of “cyberbullying” have led to suicides.

The MySpace revolution has also exacerbated the unnerving erosion in conceptions of privacy. Teens and young adults are especially susceptible to such excess, but no one is immune. How often do you see someone saunter into Starbucks blathering away on the cell phone in lurid detail, never engaging the person behind the counter — a form of rudeness emblematic of the media-encased bubbles in which many unwittingly reside.

For some, the Web fosters an unrealistic sense of how widely held their views are. As an example, a woman indignantly responded to a recent review I wrote by emailing that “the purpose of your job … is to relate to viewers like me, the general public. Get to know what we tend to like.”

Most revealing is her presumption (increasingly common in such correspondence) that she is the general public — harboring nary a clue that there are now thousands of “publics,” each possessing their own specific menu of preferences.

Many striking screenwriters have acknowledged that their recent sacrifices probably won’t be offset by short-term gains, saying they endured the financial pain on behalf of future generations.

For their sake I hope that’s true, and that the moonbats frequenting chat rooms can return to being schmucks minus the “too much time on their hands” excuse. Still, if those shrill voices or the kids tormenting peers online are even marginally representative of what we can expect from Net-immersed generation for which they’ve fought, if I were a screenwriter, I’d want that hard-earned cash from the studios right now.

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