Hip about time

This week’s Net Report went live today. Unedited copy below, or read the edited version here.

An early scene in Easy Rider strobes the shot of a wristwatch being thrown on the ground – discarded, unnecessary. “I’m hip about time” Captain America muses later in the film. By contrast, in the forty years since the making of this movie, the news media have clung closer and closer to time, to the extent that now even stories about time itself – and in particular, the merits of British Summer Time – appear on the radio and in newspapers as regular as clockwork.

Strangely, in the commercial world of news reporting – which is essentially the communication of the unexpected to the uninformed – predictable events have a market value. “News planning” allows busy editorial teams to fashion a proportion of their content ahead of time, leaving more resources free to cope with unforeseen events on the day a broadcast or broadsheet goes out. As news media resources diminish, so we have seen a steady growth in “anniversary” news, its most galloping form being the commemorative orgy that was last year’s awarding-winning Radio 4 series “1968: Myth, or Reality?” and this year’s series on the events of 1989. One imagines producers are already scheming what to celebrate next year – is it too early to commemorate the Millennium? Did anything cool happen in 1910? Helpfully for any rookie producer or editor, the Wikipedia community maintain a record of prominent anniversaries – listing at least twenty for every day of the calendar year.

Beyond Wikipedians, however, the internet does not care for calendar news, to the extent that it appears largely to have forgotten its own 40th birthday. Reports commemorating 40 years since the first message was sent over a telephone line between two computers have been echoed to a limited degree around the blogosphere. And the Guardian’s “People’s history of the internet” looks like it has had some success in crowd-sourcing a history of the last forty years in technology. But this online activity is still driven by offline media.

Perhaps it is no surprise. To justify our attention, news media must present the world around us as an unfolding narrative, a sequence of discrete events upon which only it has the power to report. The web, by contrast, is multi-linear, a cacophony of conversations about events past, present and future into which we can choose to dip at any time. On the web, it seems, we are just a little more hip about time.

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