Recently an interesting article was published called, “Sarah Palin, Ezra Klein, and the Unexpected Permanence of the Web.” There the author discusses something we’ll call “virtual permanence.” An idea that’s paradoxical if you think about it, but nevertheless, is becoming truer than we perhaps originally thought possible.
For instance, the author mentions the Virtual Library, the “oldest catalogue on web.” Also, while not mentioned in the article, services like the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine let you search over 400 billion cached pages — even if they’ve been taken down by the respective site owners for years.
So what does this all mean? It used to be that if you held a book and kept it on your shelf for 50 years, this was a sign of permanence at least of the physical book (remembering the contents was always a concern). But now, without owning walls filled with books, or at least going to the library to do research when needed, everything is still right there online. Although we’ve probably turned our computer on-and-off a few times since last we read the article, it’s still there waiting for us in case we are ever interested in it again.
The author quoted from Ezra Klein’s vision to capitalize on the permanence of the web (and the ability to click around) in his Vox Media announcement. So we thought to do the same:
New information is not always — and perhaps not even usually — the most important information for understanding a topic. The overriding focus on the new made sense when the dominant technology was newsprint: limited space forces hard choices. You can’t print a newspaper telling readers everything they need to know about the world, day after day. But you can print a newspaper telling them what they need to know about what happened on Monday. The constraint of newness was crucial. …
The web has no such limits. There’s space to tell people both what happened today and what happened that led to today.
What’s New About the News?
If you’ve read this quote only once, you may want to read it again. Effectively what Ezra is saying is that what we think is new, may not be the most informative, beneficial, and rewarding aspect of the story.
To say it another way: If you think that history repeats itself, or at least is predicated on a succession of events from the past, then just reading the newest rendition, the newest headline, is missing the point.
Where Nate Silver and Ezra Klein’s Approaches Meet
Either as we said in our Nate Silver article, new headlines are an opportunity to discover what actually happened in the past (or crunch numbers related to the future), or we can take Ezra’s approach, which we’ll call the evolutionary approach to journalism:
Since the new events we observe are the results of a chain of prior events and circumstances, then by explaining all these prior stories, we will gain a better appreciation of how the present headline resulted.
For those following along according to Kabbalah, Nate’s approach relates to chochmah (wisdom), and Ezra’s to binah (understanding). But maybe we’ll save the explanation as to why for another article.
As for now, the present headline, For more on for more on how history repeats itself, please read here.
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