Thursday, January 25, 2007

One trillion spimes, nobody home

Two hundred forty thousand gallons of anhydrous ammonia leaked out of the train producing a vapor plume that floated over the town. Limited exposure burns the eyes, the skin, and the lungs. Larger doses can shut down the human respiratory system. The chemical leak in Minot, North Dakota ended up killing one person and hospitalizing hundreds. But questions remain to this day over how the crisis was handled and the role played by media consolidation.

The radio giant Clear Channel owned all six commercial stations in Minot, North Dakota. None of them broke into regular programming to provide emergency information to the city’s residents.
Democracy Now. The interview with Eric Klinenberg points up an often overlooked feature of consolidation and what is perhaps best referred to as the propaganda of corporate efficiencies of scale: namely, that drawing together lots of formerly independent local media outlets might have saved Clear Channel fucktillions of dollars, but the robotizing of local eyes and ears and voices deprived entire communities of the ability to hear and see and speak for themselves, as was seen in the Minot, North Dakota emergency, as well as in many other instances uncovered by Klinenberg in the course of researching Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media.
KLINENBERG: It used to be the case that there was no company that could own more than forty stations in the country. Now, Clear Channel owns 1,200, and others own hundreds. They have replaced live local talent, deejays, talk show hosts, programmers, with automated programming, oftentimes faked to sound like it's local, even though it’s programmed in a remote studio thousands of miles away. That night in Minot, North Dakota, there was no one in any of those six stations. They were all consolidated into two offices, and the result is that when the Emergency Alert System failed, there was no way to get the word out.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are the human beings?

ERIC KLINENBERG: That's the question.

The not very hard to imagine next step: if this is the fruit of corporate consolidation of local broadcast media, what will be the case if/when the FCC or its futuristic-but-equally-nimrodic clone enables widespread corporate control over spimes calling to us from our underwear:
Right now a pilot project is going on in Ginza, the Tokyo Ubiquitous Technology Project, which will see little transmitters planted around key streets, sending local information which can be picked up by normal cell phones. Presumably later on we'll all have wearable computers sewn into our clothes, heads-up displays superimposing RFID information on what we see with our eyes, or brain implants. We'll be able to pass through any environment as we currently pass through the internet, gathering incredibly precise information, leaving a paperless papertrail behind us. Click opera

Something will know something, it just won't be anyone who gives a damn about us. Unless:
KLINENBURG: This happens maybe once every twenty years, and it’s something we all should know about: Sometime in April or May this year, the FCC will open up a window allowing communities with standing in the places where they live to apply for a full-power broadcast license, to do full-power radio programming. If you're interesting in doing something like this -- and you'll have competition from organized religion, you’ll have competition from organized business -- but if you want to have your own station, get in touch with the Prometheus Radio Project. Go to their website. Go to Find out how you can apply. We have a crisis in our communications system right now, and the only way that we will replenish it is if Americans learn about the opportunities that are there, whether it’s in broadcasting or in the digital frontier.


Blogger Juke said...

Or whatever shoves "its futuristic-but-equally-nimrodic clone" out of the way and slips into the driver's seat.
It's a great dream, citizen broadcasting, and I'm saluting it right now. But how wonderfully scary that pig consciousness grows to be, as more and more of the unwashed dim plug in and link up, merging with the exponentiating young born and raised on the wire, all with no experience of anything like a meadow that hasn't been compeletely dominated by human engineering.
A vast dull intelligence with eyes in the back of its head and the soul of a ten year-old suburban American consumer.
Songbirds and amphibians go away for good and these numberless beeping noises rise like sung prayers into the neverdark.

1/26/2007 7:14 AM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

Timt to act ...

Someday I presume that a critical mass of humans in North America (and yes, I believe it to be similar but less intense, elsewhere) will judge it more important to have a relatively free flow of real information as opposed to narcotizing muzak, propaganda and advertising, and a first question will NOT be ...

"where's the money" ... but rather

"is it accurate, verifiable, and free of corporate or governmental spin ?"

Otherwise, it's just a matter of (rapidly shrinking) time before a cross of Idiocracy and Brave New World is our daily, and inescapable, reality

1/27/2007 3:03 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

It's the same problem over and over in media criticism: no matter what forms of new media develop, they will be subject to large defining acts of judgment that will determine whether they can in some sense qualify for baggy descriptors like "open," "diverse," "verifiable," "rigorous," etc., or whether they amount merely to an infinite series of balkanized clones repeating "me too" at their mirror images in perpetuity.

1/27/2007 11:41 PM  

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