Monoliths and Their Causes

Axiom No. 1: Everything new appears monolithic.

Axiom No. 2: Nothing is ever monolithic.

Axiom No. 3: Time doesn't break monoliths down; understanding does.

Axiom No. 4: Journalists write about monoliths when they first appear, 2001-like, looming on the horizon because they lack the time to learn and the sophistication to understand, and predict their audiences won't understand either.

Axiom No. 5: If it's business or financial market related, Axioms 1 to 4 go out the window.

I've been troubled for years that fellow journalists tend towards writing about each new technology as if it's first incomprehensible (picture the apes in 2001), then monolithic (ah, it's a big rock), then, and only then - often much later - the subtletly emerges, much of which was there the day the rock started to glow.

In 1994 and into 1996, from when the commercial Internet began in earnest to when ecommerce became a commonplace word, I spoke to many, many journalists who couldn't mentally break the Internet down into its constituent parts to better describe it. Rather, the Internet had a capital I: it was one being, one entity, one group of long-time users (academics), one group of new users (newbies), one group of sophisticated newer users building businesses (dotcommers).

Of course, it was much more complicated than that in 1994, and it took a couple years before mainstream journalists would stop making howlers like claiming 1,000,000 hits meant a million people visiting a site, or that DNS propagates (that last one still comes up...hmm).

Meanwhile, of course, the subtlest new business point gets analyzed, reanalyzed, reported on, synthesized, suggested, editorialized. Axiom No. 5 should probably read: Business news is always worth figuring out the technical details of, while technology news can be wallpapered over, no matter how lumpy the wall.

This monolithic reporting comes up all the time with blogging. There are a few, very few, journalists who, without becoming bloggers themselves, have managed to express the breadth of the communities that blog: individuals with no connection, groups, sparking points, pundits, technolgoists, egoists, etc. There is little connection between most bloggers in terms of what they do or why they do it; the connections between bloggers are social and business links, which don't imply an actual relationship. (Take that, NPR!)

The reporters who get it right often focus on one aspect of blogging, like warbloggers or journalist bloggers, but they make it clear that they might be talking about a pool of tens or dozens of bloggers out of hundreds of thousands of blogs.

The ones who get it wrong see the monolith sending its scary signals into space, and they start smashing heads with thigh bones. You know the bones: Sullivan, Kaus, InstaPundit, etc.

Others see the monolith and become early rejecters: oh, yes, a monolith. Well, I'm sure it's a fad, and I'm sure that serious newspapers and books are much more interesting than the real voices of a hundred thousand people talking about what's important to them which tens of millions of people are reading. Yawn.

Lucas may have borrowed from Campbell in generating his Star Wars mythos, but The Force is still out here: the interlinkedness of all things on the Net, every day becoming more so, drawing us into a multilithic universe.