People used to live their lives. Now they shoot video of other people shooting video of them…

I found this video of editor Colin Myler’s last address to News of the World staffers interesting — not so much for anything he said (the sound’s not great) — but for what it shows of what we’ve come to culturally in this century.

Nobody just goes ahead and experiences anything any more. They’re too busy shooting video and photos of it. Everybody is doing it — the central figures in the event, and the onlookers. The event itself is delayed while pictures are taken.

It’s pretty weird. Nobody looks at anybody, because they’re all looking at their viewfinders. It’s like the thing isn’t really happening. And when you go back and look at the video you shot, all you’re going to have is video of a bunch of people shooting video.

It’s beyond weird.

It wasn’t like this in the first century and a half of photography. Used to be there’d be a few people taking pictures, and everybody else experiencing the thing. Cell phones did this. Everybody always has a camera on hand now, so every moment has to be captured. Even when the fact that everybody is doing so sort of ruins the visual effect.

This struck me really powerfully last year when the Gamecocks won their first national baseball championship. During the parade, all of the players — or quite a few of them — were busy shooting video of the parade, rather than simply experiencing the moment.

It makes me wonder whether, in the future, anything of moment will ever just happen without all of this looking into a mirror image of a mirror image of a mirror image, etc.

8 thoughts on “People used to live their lives. Now they shoot video of other people shooting video of them…

  1. Burl Burlingame

    When the Star-Bulletin’s fake “owner” showed up in the newsroom to tell us he was killing the paper because it was only making a 20 percent profit return instead of the 30 percent he wanted, we were sure glad we shot video of it, because no one could believe it and he denied it later.

  2. Doug Ross

    Hmmm… if newspapers were a good investment, wouldn’t a bunch of smart investors be getting into the business?

    The owners of the stock saw the handwriting on the wall. It’s an industry that proved unable to change business models or create a product that people felt was worth the price. I’m sure the last few telegraph operators were talking about how profitable their business should be… just as the owners of Yahoo (and AOL before them) talked about their profits before the wheels fell off.

    Adapt or die.

  3. Brad

    It’s so quaint to go back and read stuff I wrote about this back in 2005. Back then, we worried about making our budget, and there were cutbacks, but we still took it for granted that each year, the newspaper would bring in more revenue than it had the year before.

    That changed incredibly quickly. The bottom fell out of advertising in the summer of 2006, having a stunning effect on newspapers, and never came back. By the time of the September 2008 crash, we were weak enough to be the canary in the coal mine. Six months later, I was canned for the sin of having too big a salary.

  4. Brad

    Doug, who said newspapers are a good investment?

    I thought I just said something really, really different from that.

    Actually, what happened was that investors WERE investing in newspapers, 10 years ago, and their expectations of profit were too high, and they put enormous pressure on papers to cut back, which translated to cutting back on the thing that gave newspapers value, because there wasn’t anything else big to cut.

    What the hell does “adapt or die” mean? Newspapers have been adapting like crazy. It’s really kind of sad to see how desperately, frantically, they’ve kept trying to invent the New Thing that’s going to save them. But there wasn’t any way to do it. If there had been, someone would have found it. YOU certainly don’t know what they should have done, because there ISN’T anything they COULD have done.

    The business model of newspapers DISAPPEARED. Marketers ceased to be interested in mass media, choosing to market directly to selected customers. The entire IDEA of mass media — a general circulation newspaper.

    Somebody pulls a gun and shoots someone right in the head at point-blank range. Doug looks at the body lying in a pool of blood, and says “he should have adapted.”

    Someday a new business model for paying for the collection and distribution of news on a local and state level will emerge. It hasn’t yet.

    Focus on that, Doug. With all the thousands of entities out there in the vaunted marketplace, NO ONE has yet come up with the new model that newspapers should have “adapted to.” Nobody.

    So it’s more than a little irritating for you to say to me that newspapers “should have adapted,” when you really, truly, don’t have any idea what actually happened.

  5. Brad

    But did he deliver his speech, or first shoot video of you waiting for him to deliver his speech?

    By the way, I would have believed him. But then I spent a bunch of years looking at numbers like that.

    And no, I’m not revealing proprietary information here. This isn’t about any particular newspaper I ever worked at. This was the basic math of the newspaper business, at publicly traded companies, at least until about 2005.

    Knight-Ridder ceased to be because its investors had come to expect 20 percent profit (and you only get numbers like that if some papers in the group have much higher numbers, while other have lower), and the year before it fell apart and was sold, it had only had 19.something profit. Really. And Walmart thriving on a 3-percent margin.

    I wrote about this in the paper back during all the turmoil, the Gotterdammerung of San Jose.

    It’s not that newspapers chose greedily to keep making such margins (back when they could). It’s that the owners of the stock, many of whom didn’t give a flip whether you published a newspaper or not, demanded such a margin.

  6. `Kathryn Fenner

    Everything doesn’t have to be profitmaking, Doug. Certainly not a “good investment”–there’s more to life and a good society than that, as you well know!

    Newspapers, or better yet, quality journalism, is vital to a democracy.

    In a related story, the Philly newspapers are packaging a discount tablet computer with a one or two year subscription to the e-edition.

    We didn’t get out print paper yesterday, so I read the facsimile edition online–much more satisfying than the online seek-and-find version, except for the really small, but crisp, type.

  7. martin

    Have you heard about Bob Lutz’ new book “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters, The Battle for the Soul of American Business” ?

    Saw him on Morning Joe talking about it the other week. This may apply to newspapers too. His basic premise was that the car business tanked when MBAs replaced guys who loved cars as the the managers in the auto industry.

    I don’t think I have to go any further than that to make the point that if you love doing something and you work in that field or start a business based on that, it probably does better than one that somebody goes to work in or starts because they think it’s a good money making idea.

    I’ve seen a couple of articles about the book. One of them talked about the tech companies and how the most successful are the ones who still have techies in charge, specifically how Apple did when the MBAs took over when Steve Jobs left the first time and how it rebounded from that debacle when he returned.

    Another thought it was a good sign that China is establishing a lot of business schools to turn out MBAa. A good sign for the USA.


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