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Monday, February 26, 2007

Emergence & Convergence

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Walski is in the process of reading a very important book. It's called The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. Walski is sure you've at least heard about it, but do try to read it, if you haven't already done so. The progress through this book, however, has been tediously slow, because of time constraints. Where Walski is now, it just finished talking about the emerging technologies that have flattened the world.

Original 18-wheeler pix from Edmunds.com, cartoon image hosting by PhotobucketMore importantly, though, what really made the world flat, according to Friedman is the convergence of events related to the emergence of these technologies, and not merely their emergence in isolation.

Walski sees parallels between this realization and what's happening with blogs, vis-√°-vis traditional media, and governmental response, here in Malaysia.

Emergence of blogging has really been explosive in the past two years or so, with the number of blogs worldwide growing almost exponentially. Walski doesn't have the hard numbers for this, but he's read about it somewhere or other. Malaysia-based blogging is no exception.

Blogging provides an avenue for individuals to really have their opinions and voices heard. More so than via the traditional press, which heavily filters its content.

Particularly in Malaysia, where the press, to borrow a phrase from fellow blogger I am a Malaysian, "the mainstream media's hands are tied", as told to Walski in person recently.

But the real power of blogging is only now starting to be felt. Why just now?

Well, first off, this is Walski's own observation, drawn from seeing the happenings in the bloggerhood, and from talking with members of the Malaysian press.

Some in the mainstream press, the archaic and sometimes antagonistic NST, for instance, are of the opinion that blogging is trying to unseat the mainstream print press. This is, of course, a typical knee-jerk view of those who are trapped in a dying paradigm - that of a tightly state controlled press.

But the real power of blogging is in its role complementary to the traditional press, and not against it, and definitely not displacing it.
(more press-ing thoughts in the full post)

Because the mainstream press reporters have a ricebowl to keep filled, and because the prevailing legislation empowers the government to act/react pretty much how they want to act/react (including in very drastic ways), the press generally practices self-censorship, and try not to probe too, too deeply, particularly when it comes to areas concerning the government, or political parties the government is associated with.

There is, however, a situation in which the press can probe deeper (if they wish to) - when there already exist "evidence" in the public domain, with which they can follow up on. And this is where the role of bloggers come in. The mainstream media could, if they found it warranted, follow up on leads provided by the bloggerhood. Particularly in cases of public interest.

This has started to happen only of late. It's what Walski calls the Convergence of the Interested. Examples of this include the recent Government VVIP jet purchase issue, and closer to Walski's heart, the Takaful Malaysia Deepavali greetings prohibition saga last year (because of Walski's involvement in breaking the story lead).

We blog it, the MSM follows up, and hopefully the end result is full disclosure. And this is where the real power of blogging lies, in making sure that transparent governance is practiced, regardless of whether we are talking about the Government per se or even the corporate world.

Gone are the days when facts and figures can be quoted by the relevant parties, and the rest of the country accept it lock, stock and barrel. With Internet access making information more democratically accessible, it is becoming more and more difficult to hide inconsistencies and obfuscate the real story. Letters to the Editor usually just don't work in getting to the truth.

If the end result, which Walski hopes is what all of us want, is to make Malaysia a country governed in a truly democratic, fair and open manner, a convergence between ordinary citizen bloggers and the established press has to further develop. We are only seeing the start of that relationship today.

But change is not without resistance. Change disrupts not only the we-are-so-used-to way that things get done - this change also disrupts the perceived position of power-centers within our society. No longer can claims of this, that and the other go unchallenged. And this has some quarters scared.

The ongoing NST et al suits against bloggers Jeff & Rocky are cases in point. In Walski's view, the NST, playing the role of Governmental mouthpiece, doesn't quite get it when it comes to the potential synergy that could be fostered between the press and bloggers. Instead, they feel they are in the position to dictate how citizen reporters should behave, write or even link - see this analysis done by Walk With Us.

And why the resistance? One can speculate a lot of things, but to Walski, it's because full disclosure means doing the right things the right way, and the Government doesn't seem to be quite ready for that yet.

In flattening the world, the convergence Friedman talks about is between the emerging technologies and the change in the way we do things. IT technology, for example, if used with the same processes we use in an analog, paper-record world, will only go as far as allowing us to store and print better, but not necessarily provide productivity improvements. In other words, the work processes themselves have to change, to take advantage of the possibilities that the new technologies offer.

The same thing goes with the blogger-press convergence - the building blocks are already there, but our collective mindset has to undergo some change as well. And perhaps that's the most painful part. Chaging the way we perceive the role of the press, and the press changing its own processes for its own continued credibility and survival.

Like it or not, the democratization of information has far-reaching implications. For the mainstream media, it's an oppotunity to realign itself to the changing realities of the world around us. Resisting change is, in the long run, counter-productive.

Just ask the dinosaurs. It would probably have been a totally different world today if the dinosaurs knew better to get in from the cold. Or invent central heating.

But that, sahib, is another story, for another day.

Walski's important disclosure & discovery statement: The gist of the thoughts presented here have apparently been voiced by Steven Gan of Malaysiakini, in an earlier editorial, dated February 13, 2007 (read the full article at Susan Loone's Blogger's United site). Walski wanted to disclose this finding and to state that he did not plagiarize Steven Gan's editorial. Sometimes the convergence of independent ideas does occur...