Sustainable data flow, or digital runoff?

[October 15, 2010]

What are the editors of Wired.com wired about? It’s hard to tell. From the manic display of topics, all you can gather is a generalized excitement about things technological. Otherwise this e-mag is simply a free-for-all of news and information.

Of course, there’s a definite appeal to this cornucopial approach to journalism. It’s heartening, in a sense, to know “Gee Whiz” enthusiasm still survives—even if only in a niche market.

But as infectious as this mood may be, it does nothing to contribute what Wired.com needs most: structure and a coherent voice. With no apparent frame of reference, the energy each headline generates quickly dissipates into an indifferent shrug.

A random array of articles: no news there.
As is true of the vast majority of online journalism, the factoid feast begins at the top, mitigated somewhat by colorful photography, and quickly descends into a list of lists by the bottom of the home page. Questionable in its own rite, this practice would make even the most devoted readers glaze over and click away.

Obviously, this is not an issue destined to keep present presidents or future futurists awake at night. But in terms of managing, collecting and coordinating the tidal wave of ideas that wash across digital space every minute, I think web sites like Wired.com have the potential to do the world a great service. If they could find a way to distribute this vast wealth of information, infotainment, editorial, advertorial and analysis more coherently—we’d all be a bit better off.

Why? It would contribute to a more rapid assimilation of the thinking behind technical developments by non-technical folk. The issue here is not just a matter of improving Science Education in the U.S. (a worthy cause on its own) but of preparing U.S. citizens to make informed decisions about the impact of technology on society and the environment.

The flood next time…
So, while there’s an undeniable glee in jumping from a news article about WikiLeaks, to a human interest story about Atomic Tom, neither article prepares Generation Goo-google to grasp major planet shifting developments like “Vertical Farming.”

Not that any of this is Wired’s problem. For Heaven’s sake, they’re free to publish any kind of e-mag they want. If their focus is entertainment, if their market niche is people with unbridled enthusiasm for what’s new, cool, and/or disturbing—so be it.

But looking at the unreadable blur of article links at the sides and on the bottom of every page, it’s hard to believe a large portion of the magazine’s diligent, incisive reporting isn’t going to waste. As it stands now, whether you’re an iPhone idolater or a devotee of the Droid, if we can’t find a way to organize and channel the flood of unfiltered data, your next best hope is for Hammacher Schlemmer to develop a digital poncho.

Because absent a better way to manage the flow of information, much that is good, useful, insightful and, in many cases, life-changing, will simply get washed away.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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