Sunday, June 04, 2017

Noah Smith on the shouting class

The shouting class Excerpts:
"Everyone has problems with something in society. And everyone sometimes complains about those problems, which Albert Hirschman called "voice". But for many people, voice is contingent - as soon as the problems are satisfactorily resolved they stop complaining and go back to living their daily lives. But a subset of people will never stop complaining. When a problem becomes less severe, they switch to a different problem. And they will always find some problem that they feel requires their vocal complaint. That subset - the people who will never stop complaining and giving negative feedback - are the Shouting Class. (Of course, this isn't really a binary distinction; there are shades of gray, as always.).........

Consider life before social media. If you wanted to complain about something, you could do it in person, but you'd suffer reputational and other risks. You could write a letter to the editor, but it was subject to editorial filtering, and you could only get letters published occasionally. Same with calling in to radio shows. You could start your own media outlet and pass it around, but dominance of large newspapers, radio shows, and TV stations limited the circulation you could achieve. Even in the early age of the internet, shouting was a lot harder than it is now. You could make a website, but because of the lack of social sharing, it would be relatively hard to gain a large audience. Forums were highly fragmented and also lacked the sharing option.

In other words, shouting just wasn't nearly as easy in 1987 or even 2007 as it is in 2017. Social media, especially Twitter, has changed the game entirely.
....That history suggests that even without all the fancy sharing and matching and instant-response technology of Twitter and Facebook, media fragmentation can give a bullhorn to the Shouting Class. It hints that there are cycles of media fragmentation and concentration, where new information technologies create an explosion of independent producers that gradually (or suddenly) gets crushed back into oligopoly.....

So what do we do if we decide that rule by the Shouting Class is suboptimal? The old titans of old media aren't coming back - we will see no return to Edward R. Murrow, and the big newspapers will probably continue to drift toward their future as niche publications.
But as I see it, some kind of concentration is needed. Informational anarchy is always ruled by the Shouting Class, so the only way to curb the Shouters' power is to end the anarchy. Maybe social media platforms themselves will become the new quality filters. Maybe algorithmic blocking will use robots to shut down the Shouters. Maybe people will just stop using Twitter, and stop joining political argument groups on Facebook. Maybe everyone will make their profiles more private, and learn to unfollow people who engage in callout culture.

Or maybe everyone will just grow a really thick skin and we'll all just sort of learn to ignore each other.
Or maybe the country will fall apart and our new totalitarian leaders will nationalize social media like they effectively have in China. I must say, I hope that doesn't happen."

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