When you ask Esther Dyson, who began her career as fact-checker/reporter for Forbes, about the challenges facing media, she inevitably answers in a complex and nuanced way. Media, she’s quick to explain, is not one thing. For example, mass media is a church, while news media is a pew in that church. It makes sentences like “the media“ or “the media is responsible“ complicated.
“I do not worship in the church of the media, but rather in the religion of journalism/truth. Media is a church that has been corrupted with the media metabolism that’s money-hungry” she says, taking aim at a business model that prioritizes profits over truth and accuracy. “All these private companies are trying to own more and more of our lives. And as our lives become more virtual, they’re saying, wow, you know, there’s a real opportunity.”
For Dyson, the metabolism of media is ravenous. Like many industries built to serve public markets, the driver is profitability at almost any cost. But as she sees it, that creates unique and dangerous problems for both the makers of, and the consumers of, media.
“Everything you do is being watched, and then you’re being sold stuff,” she says. “So it’s really about the privatization of human beings’ time, whether they’re spending it on games, in education, trying to read the news, trying to find something. And the challenge, is how do we take that power back, so instead of being manipulated the whole time, we have the power to manipulate ourselves?” says Dyson.
“Most people who publish hate stuff are actually motivated by ads rather than by hate. I mean, it’s interesting, if you go to misinformation and you ask people about their business models, they’re not very political. They’re focused on the money. I think we need to understand that this is more about the money metabolism and the fact that hate and gaming, and all forms of addiction, are extremely profitable.”
At its core, Dyson says the business model is broken. And she’s not alone.
“This isn’t a tech story. It’s not a business story. This is an everybody story” says legendary internet investor Roger McNamee. “This is a catastrophe that we’re all facing, and we don’t necessarily have a vocabulary for it, because the business model that Facebook…