Technology with attitude

Sharing the gloom

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New York Times media columnist David Carr speculates today on the extent to which the now all-pervasive, instantaneous, 24/7 electronic media environment might be spreading and heightening the fear and gloom about the economy:

Every modern recession includes a media séance about how horrible things are and how much worse they will be, but there have never been so many ways for the fear to leak in. The same digital dynamics that drove the irrational exuberance — and marketed the loans to help it happen — are now driving the downside in unprecedented ways…

With unemployment, auto sales, home foreclosures and consumer confidence all benchmarking historic levels of distress, news outlets are hardly making it up. But the machinery of the economy began to freeze in place far more quickly than it has in the past, in part because so much scary data is circulating so much faster than it used to. This recession got deeper faster because we knew more bad stuff quickly.

“Our collective hive-mind gets into a tizzy over other things that suddenly zoom into focus,” said Xeni Jardin, one of the editors of the blog Boing Boing. “It’s a hurricane! OMG, salmonella in the hamburgers! Wait, we’re all fat! There is an escalation of attention that feeds itself, because this recession is appearing throughout all forms of digital human expression. And unlike any of those other topics, this affects everyone.”

Carr may have a point. No question there’s a tough recession out there, but the universal anxiety seems much worse than in the serious 1970s and 1980s recessions, when people had only their own experiences and a handful of old media to make them nervous.

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