Remember 1993? Bill Clinton was sworn in for his first term at the beginning of the year, the Mogadishu debacle took place in October, and the fighting in Bosnia was getting worse. You followed these issues in the newspaper, by radio, or on television. It’s not likely you received your news on-line. After all, 1993 was the first year of the World Wide Web. By the end of 1993, there were only 623 websites.
Ah, those were the days. The world was at your fingertips. With Mosaic, the first web browser, you could visit the entire Web in a couple days of intensive mousework.
Now, according to an article I just found through Wikipedia, there are more than 11.5 billion web pages. The Web is reproducing faster than the human population.
Wikipedia itself didn’t even exist until five years ago. It now has 1,343,574 articles. Weblogs or blogs began back in 2003. For the past three years, the blogosphere has doubled in size every six months. There are now over 50 million blogs. The verb “to google” debuted not too long ago. OhMyNews, the largest grassroots news service, began in 2000 with 737 citizen reporters. It now has over 41,000 throughout the world.
So, what’s the relationship between foreign policy and the tremendous upsurge in information and opinion available on the Web? Traditional media have not disappeared. We still read newspapers and watch the television news. But the foreign policy content in these traditional sources has declined (except for the occasional spikes around war). U.S. media coverage of foreign affairs has declined by as much as 70-80% over the last two decades. Foreign news bureaus are downsizing (or simply shutting down).
That’s where the Web comes in. We now have a virtual infinity (a googolplex, to be precise) of sources to learn about the daily slog of war, poverty, and repression. If you don’t like The New York Times, you can get your news from hundreds of alternative sources. And if you don’t like depressing news, well, you can personalize your news delivery so that you receive Brangelina 24/7.
All of this information is enough to make anyone’s head spin. And create a new syndrome: info vertigo. Now everyone can be as time-crunched and info-inundated as the average policymaker.
So, is Foreign Policy In Focus part of the problem or part of the solution? Are we adding richness, nuance, and subtlety to your understanding of foreign policy? Or are we just adding more white noise to the info-barrage you receive on a daily basis?
Let’s say that you have the right intentions to read all of the FPIF content, but you simply don’t have the time. Then you might like our new feature, 60-Second Expert. You give us 60 seconds and we’ll give you 250-word versions of key articles on our site. For instance, check out the talking points version of Stephen Zunes’ analysis of the Lebanon ceasefire. You don’t have to be a busy policymaker to take advantage of this new service.
Don’t worry: this is not FPIF Lite. We will still provide you with in-depth analysis of the stories behind the headlines. This week, for instance, you can read FPIF analyst Saul Landau’s piece on U.S. misperceptions of Cuba, which appeared at TomPaine.
Before this week’s edition of World Beat begins to add to the info overload, I’ll sign off until September 5.
FPIF, August 28, 2006