December 11, 2008
My Awareness Modes
I started to post this on Newsless, but I think it might be more Snark-appropriate.
I’m trying to articulate some of the values and expectations I bring to my media consumption. I wonder whether my tendencies are typical, or how I might benefit from cultivating different values and expectations.
When I visit most local news sites, I have this sense that the editors of the site are trying to foster a sort of “ambient awareness.” That is, there’s not really an organizing purpose behind the information they provide. I suspect they don’t typically expect me to do anything with this information, but they just thought I should be aware of it, or that I might find it interesting.
Although I care about Minneapolis, I don’t really have a strong desire to be ambiently aware about it. Having very shallow information on a vast range of Minneapolis-related topics actually makes me a little crazy. I’m not sure if this makes me a bad citizen or an idiosyncratic news consumer or what. But it’s a filter I find myself employing when I read a local news site.
There are many domains in which I value ambient awareness. I think that’s what I get out of my New Yorker subscription, for example — not particularly deep knowledge on any given subject, but a sort of conversational familiarity with a well-curated variety of current affairs. I like to think of myself as ambiently aware of what’s happening in things like video games and Web development and gay culture and Minneapolis arts.
But in the domain of local news, I seem to value information that makes me “functionally aware” — that might actually affect my behavior or circumstances. So I’d pass over a headline like “City likely to OK $5.3M for Target Center green roof”, but “Paperless boarding passes coming to MSP” interests me.
Besides local news, I seek functional awareness in a few more specific contexts, such as Web design and health and nutrition. I read publications on those topics that keep me informed of products or practices or developments that might affect me.
And then there are a select few topics on which I’m looking for what I might call “expert awareness.” Online journalism, for example. And at this level, communities, not publications, are my highest priority.
I think my tendencies might be unique in several regards, but I wonder how many folks are like me. Is there a generational thrust to this sort of thing? And if everyone were like me, how would we draw attention to boring-but-important stories?