When nothing goes out of print, old and new lose much of their meaning (Lessons from The Long Tail)
Two lessons springing from the long tail (the idea that the digital age makes permanent publication of everything more possible).
ONE: Shame, public consequences, satire
Particularly interesting last week was the flameout of Pax Dickinson, the Chief Technology Officer of Business Insider. For those who missed the brouhaha I point you to the summary at Popehat, which includes two excellent pieces approaching the scandal from opposite perspectives.
In some ways, I do not need to add to this discussion. Ken and Clark do a great job covering both angles. But I also want to highlight something John Scalzi wrote on Twitter (which I saw when John Walter RT’d it):
As Clark pointed out at Popehat, Dickinson’s Twitter feed was quote mined in the article that started the whole brouhaha. His most infamous tweet was a direct satire of Mel Gibson’s drunken ravings to a police officer. But out of context it just looked shockingly rude. Ken points out the more important issue, that some of Dickinson’s tweets weren’t just bad taste, but legally troubling (such as one about hiring practices in IT departments).
For me, the whole thing reiterates two key traits for New Media users:
- It’s worthwhile to do research and reserve judgment until you know what the facts are. While I find Dickinson’s satire quite troubling and obnoxious, the clear evidence of the satirical attempt ameliorates many of the more disturbing posts he’s made. By reserving public scorn for a few days, I don’t find myself in the position to apologize or retract my writing.
- The long tail remains a tripping hazard. Dickinson’s entire Twitter history establishes his intent, but it also becomes a rich vein from which quote miners can dig all sorts of terrible gold.
TWO: The strange landscape of this summer’s music
NPR’s Planet Money did a great episode (#472, “Top of the Charts“) back in July about how two of the three “songs of the summer” were old songs. Both Macklemore and Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” and Iconopop’s “I Love It” were released more than a year ago, but they wound their way to the charts via rising YouTube fame and a key television spot, respectively.
Another popular song that has a similarly strange route to the top is Anna Kendrick’s “Cups,” which was originally performed by the Carter Family in the 1930s and updated by Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009. Kendrick’s star power (and the song’s role in Pitch Perfect) drove the song into the spotlight and pushed it steadily up the charts.
I suspect this phenomenon, in which an old song finds a slow route to popularity and/or a regular return to prominence will only accelerate as the line between new and re-new continues to blur, and the availability of everything published continues to expand.
When nothing goes out of print, old and new lose much of their meaning.