I remain fascinated by the state of journalism and news today. The Internet has turned everything upside down, the game has changed, and everyone is still trying to sort out the rules. Newspapers and magazines used to be the primary means of staying informed. Today we have TV, radio, and everything on the Internet. Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO) shares his perspective on what online communication means for us today (John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, and Paul Sagan, “The New News Business” Fortune, July 22, 2013, pp. 78–82):
“We’re building this global town square. What I mean by that is, if you went back to ancient Greece, the way that news and information was passed around was, you went to the agora after lunch in the town square. There was this unfiltered, multidirectional exchange of information. I might go into the agora and say to Martin, ‘Hey, my aunt died.’ Martin might say, ‘Euripides’ goat passed away.’ We would exchange some information. By the way, the politicians were there. The musicians were there, etc. There was this multidirectional, unfiltered exchange of information, which was interesting in all sorts of ways.” (p. 82)
I like Costolo’s perspective because that is exactly what we are experiencing today. What you tweet, post on Facebook, publish on a Web site, or otherwise launch into the virtual world, is by definition and design multidirectional and unfiltered. This is partly on purpose and partly by accident.
Similarly, which agora you happen to wander into on any given day after lunch is dictated by factors such as preexisting relationships, geography, and motivations. These very same factors affect our online communications. Just as I have often been delighted to meet interesting people in my physical world, I have been equally delighted to meet interesting people in my virtual world. Both realms have been driven by similar factors.
On the other hand, the two big distinctions I see between the physical world and the virtual world are these:
1—Time Convenience. The physical world demands a synchronization of time with the people I meet. The virtual world renders all such meetings asynchronous. I can transmit any information, in any form, and at any time. Such capability produces tremendous convenience to all users.
2—Unbounded Geography. The physical world demands submission to geographic boundaries. Meetings implicitly negotiate geography. The virtual world instantly puts me in touch with anyone on the planet. Geography’s shackles are removed.
Our new virtual town square is quite interesting. It promises to become even more so.