The Quantum Theory of Mass Media (II). Content: a shift from chunks to a flow

The internet has shifted the news from a portioned to a streamed mode of consumption. A news feed in social media is an example of such an information stream. The news teasers in social media represent, in essence, the wave–particle duality of streamed media consumption. Шредингер кот2

Continuation. See the beginning here: What is the unit of media consumption?

The good old times dealt with fairly large “sizes” of media content, not by choice, but by virtue of the available technologies. For the printing or broadcasting of media outlets, editors had to pack news into transferable and economically efficient portions. Periodicity was inherent to these technologies, and that predefined the “size” of the issued media content. The key thing here is that these technologies taught the audience to consume the media in chunks of pre-processed and carefully organized information.

The internet has shifted the news from a portioned to a streamed mode of consumption. A news feed in social media is an example of such an information stream. The news teasers in social media represent, in essence, the wave–particle duality of streamed media consumption. Thanks to the quantization of content down to the level of news teasers, media content can now be consumed both as a particle (a piece of information such as a news teaser) and as a flow (a constantly updated news feed), at the same time.

This is great for consumers, because news, in its nature, never actually exists in chunks – it has always been a flow. Journalism used to slice pieces out from the flow, because that’s what the old technologies demanded. These days, having achieved a new dimensionality of quantization, the news can be delivered and consumed in such tiny pieces that it can look like a flow, as they are in their nature.

However, for good old journalism, it is too early to give up. Strange as it may seem, the audience is quite used to consuming the news in batches, and may become irritated with the current, streamed mode of news consumption. Indeed, a never-ending flood of oncoming details can annoy people. Where is the end of each story, if it’s all just flowing endlessly? Yes, something is always going on, but what, finally, happened?

The old-school finality of each piece of media content could actually turn out to be the last stronghold of journalism, odd as it sounds. The old technologies demanded that a journalist have the skill to wrap up the story and put a period at the end, even if just artificially (actually, always artificially). It is quite possible that the narrator’s ability to put in that period is now one of the last professional commodities of journalism.

Nonetheless, the process of media content quantization is irreversible, whether media orgs welcome it or not. The evolutionary “goal” of this process is to grind up the media content into such small bits that they can be fed to the consumer in a flow (as events and opinions occur in their nature). But this process has a side effect: being refined into a social media news teaser, content tends to flee from the media platform that produces it. The publishers lose their own product through the extensive and successful effort to refine it.

The legacy mass media can and should hold on to the teasers they produce. For instance, it is now becoming critical that publishers mention their media brands inside the teaser. But the issue here is not with what publishers do or do not do. The issue is regarding the other side – it is about what the readers do. And the readers don’t care much about publishers and their problems. The readers will consume their quanta of media in a stream mode, because people don’t chase information anymore; quite the contrary, now it is information that chases people.

Andrey Miroshnichenko

Author of Human as media. The emancipation of authorship – available on Amazon

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Categories: Decline of newspapers, Future of journalism, Future of news, Media ecology

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