SAN ANTONIO -- All media is local, and it's been that way since the beginning: the rumor mill, the town crier, the news bulletin printed on a hand-cranked press. The more technology is involved, the wider a message's potential reach. Distribution networks, moving pictures, automation, and any tool too expensive for a local outlet enhances media authority as national and global. But everything happens in only one place at a time, and each single perspective is a local one. But many of these add up to a big picture.
The power of a media outlet is gained through aggregation, but exercised via filtering. It's up to the entity to decide what is important and what is less so, and items are arranged accordingly. But the Internet has changed things, and has allowed people to become actively involved in the filtering process with things like RSS feeds, Google Reader and selective social media. Each major outlet, no matter how big, can be reduced to a simple wire service now. consumers can make decisions about which outlets are reputable, honest, fair and above all, entertaining. That's real
This shift, which only took a decade or so to occur, has been devastatingly disruptive to the Old Media model. Many outlets' internal logic has collapsed. Lower marketplace worth leads to lower advertiser income, so they can't pay writers and producers to gather like they used to. Faced with irrelevance and extinction, they empty the engines of real fuel -- local reporting -- and substitute something as common as water: national opinion.
Reportage and story deepen understanding. Expert opinion is an unnecessary distraction. It forces a viewer to pit what they already know and hold true against what a presumably more erudite person believes. I often feel that in my own ongoing knowledge quest in the dark woods, I'm constantly assaulted by people popping out from behind trees, all of whom want to have one-sided exchanges of ideas.
Substituting opinion for narrative steals the power back from the readers. It allows megamedia outlets to calculate exactly what the audience wants to hear, as well as the direct opposite. If you agree, your own local opinion is validated by a higher source ("Thank you,
said what I've been feeling.") and people always gravitate towards the like-minded. If you disagree, you're angry and engaged, and they've got your attention. Either way, nobody's learning anything. But either way, you're not switching it off, are you?
But this is why certain people still have jobs, despite all that wondering you do about how they manage to keep them. * * *
The first decade of the 21st Century solved the Old Media-New Media battle (New won), but not much progress has been made resolving the difference between the big and little pictures. It's not print vs. digital anymore, but there are two kinds of expert now: the local chronicler and the global analyst. Nowadays, both sides are empowered with the tools and means to get their messages out to whomever wants to receive them.
But this has become a cybermindwar, but not exactly the kind that the sci-fi writers envisioned, with finite expertise on one side and overreaching generalization on the other. "I know everything" versus "You don't know what you're talking about." The two sides need each other, but they're too proud to realize it. Both have something the other needs: recognition that the small thing is important in a larger context, and a greater understanding of each specific little picture. Both are easily possible now, and 20 years ago they weren't quite so.
This is all applicable to "news," certainly, which has always been a global hierarchy of local events. But this entire architecture can be ported over to the sports world, which is where we live. It takes a special level of hubris to present oneself as a national-grade expert opinion on political matters, but that pales in comparison to the focused megalomania needed to get on television or the Internet and predict future game results. It's difficult to understand why people take these folks seriously, but many do.
Expert opinions in college basketball come from players Our Game has hurt
and passed by, 100 bellies hanging over 100 belts, or former coaches who can't get coaching jobs. Or fans who watch a lot of games and feel qualified to comment from the dais. They will all tell you what you just saw, and then what you're about to see, even if they didn't see any of it. They're not idiots or morons, they're just local-level experts who insist they're not. And the real local-level experts sure do love to point out when they're wrong.
There's a great gulf in between the two sides, the map-readers and the pushpins. The space between is unknown, as in the literal "I don't know."
More exploration into this area has been done by Eastern thinkers than Western ones, but I've heard American Buddhist teachers (specifically Jack Kornfield
) refer to this state as "Don't Know Mind," a realization that reality is far too complicated to calculate with a human brain, which is an acceptance that's much more surrender than transcendence. It's knowing that we have no power over the future, but that we can be part of God in small ways with our small actions.
Recent events in the NCAA Tournament have been so unprecedented and illogical, they may push more and more people into Don't Know Mind. I hope so. There might be fewer brackets filled out next year, more As-You-Gos. Analysts might stop trying to predict the future, throw their hands up, and start using words like "random." Look around you, it's already happening. Local fans might stop making this event about what Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale say, and focus on the beauty of the event itself. And it is so beautiful.
VCU is in the Final Four.
Butler is in the Final Four. Again.
I saw both teams win their Regional Semifinals with my own eyes, and I don't really know why any of this happened. And we're going to take next seven days and try to figure it out how to truly explain it, but we won't. We're just going to continue to not know, and enjoy it anyway.