19 December 2006

Pervasive News Proximity

McLuhan called it the global village; I refer to our times as being characterized by UCaPP - Ubiquitous Connectivity and Pervasive Proximity. In contrast to Gertrude Stein's famous "there is no there there," the UCaPP concept suggests that there is no there at all, since everywhere is here, that is, what happens there affects me in a real, complex - albeit indirect - way here. In my work, I speak of a Theory of Effects that necessitates stepping out of an ego-centric standpoint to (begin to) understand the totality of effects that we each enable and bring about around us. Think of it as a digiSelf out-of-body experience, during which we step out of ourselves into a cognitive anti-environment that allows us to observe all of - or at least more or - what we contribute to our complex world.

The same thought processes and principles should apply to the newsmedia, as well. Although most of us are surrounded by more news and information than we can possibly assimilate in a conscious fashion (think of all the newspaper boxes with their screaming headlines, public space news screens, news tickers, not to mention news and political blogs that invade our consciousnesses each day), much of it is essentially linear. Each story follows the previous one, usually ordered by some editor or producer somewhere, that silently suggests causal connection (the latter being an artefact of literate linearity - the way we with Western cultural conditioning have learned to construct narrative). Newspapers (in their day) were a prime exception to this rule; McLuhan observed, "People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath."

Today, what is needed might be a gestalt of the news - something that scans the various news sources and presents the news of the moment in a way that can be instantly grokked - not necessarily the content, mind you, but the relationships and effects. Two that have been around for a while - one of which just recently came to my attention - are Newsmap and 10x10.
Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator. A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information. Newsmap's objective takes that goal a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe.
Newsmap does not pretend to replace the googlenews aggregator. Its objective is to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media. It is not thought to display an unbiased view of the news; on the contrary, it is thought to ironically accentuate the bias of it.

Every hour, 10x10 scans the RSS feeds of several leading international news sources, and performs an elaborate process of weighted linguistic analysis on the text contained in their top news stories. After this process, conclusions are automatically drawn about the hour's most important words. The top 100 words are chosen, along with 100 corresponding images, culled from the source news stories. At the end of each day, month, and year, 10x10 looks back through its archives to conclude the top 100 words for the given time period. In this way, a constantly evolving record of our world is formed, based on prominent world events, without any human input.
But, of course, prominent world events - and their complex, interlocking relationships - are all about human input.

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