Holiday Leftovers

A platter of updates and ideas to get you started in the New Year

Holiday Leftovers

Some leftovers are better than the original meal, with the flavors being given more time to commingle and the consumer possessing a level of anticipation that hones the senses again.

During one of the quieter times of the year, news was sporadic, but ideas and events occurred nonetheless. Here’s a passel kept from the past few weeks, ideas that may contain hints of what’s to come in 2023 and beyond.

Gatekeepers’ Defenders Grow

As Twitter continues to melt down and people reflect seriously on the criticisms of gatekeeping as a concept, it seems the transgressive idea that gatekeepers must be disintermediated is losing steam, as gatekeepers are gaining defenders. After all, look around you — gatekeepers are everywhere, and they are usually looking out for your best interests. From editors to producers to inspectors, they do their best to keep the bad, uninteresting, or unproven away. Are they always right? No, but they spend hours every day on the tasks, and that teaches them a thing or two — that is, in the best cases, they are professionals with the temperament and skills to do it well.

Is that paternalistic? Patronizing? No, it’s a fiduciary arrangement, one that we all engage in at our best. Do you share a photo of every meal, or just the best ones? Why choose? Because you don’t want your reputation as a gatekeeper to suffer. We are all gatekeepers of our reputations and social circles.

The rise of Post as a Twitter alternative has reinvigorated the role of gatekeeping, as something the owners of Post must deal with, and one which Post’s nascent community is wrestling with afresh.

It’s a reminder that what most people want is safe, reliable, interesting, useful information — and that requires gatekeepers. If the past decade has proven anything, it’s that liars, grifters, spammers, hackers, criminals, and misanthropes are everywhere, and gates must be kept, or they can overrun us.

Anti-Intellectualism From Intellectuals

Yesterday would have been Isaac Asimov’s 103rd birthday (he died in 1992 at the age of 72). A quote of his circulated in conjunction with the date, and it caught my eye:

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

It’s a timely quote, and it struck me that a slice of intellectuals has merged into the anti-intellectual movement, having been conditioned to a state of self-loathing and performative irresponsibility. Celebrated as pseudo-rebels, they have gained inordinate control of systems and processes designed to elevate and support intellectual activities. This has led to a dramatic undermining of intellectual life, as now anti-intellectualism — dressed as democratization — has eroded intellectual pillars like peer review, gatekeeping, and user-centered information design.

Anti-intellectual in the information space is actually anti-consumer, which makes it essentially anti-democratic because it fundamentally seeks to impose itself by disrespecting others.

But I guess anti-intellectualism isn’t known for its adherence to logic.

The Importance of Local News

The saga of George Santos — the serial fabulist who is due to be sworn into Congress today despite having lied about his work, education, family history, and finances — was flagged some months ago by the local paper covering his campaign, writing at one point before the election:

In 2020 Santos, then age 32, was the NY Director of a nearly $20 million venture fund called “Harbor City Capital” — until the SEC shut it down as a “Ponzi Scheme.” Over $6 million from investors was stolen — for personal luxuries like Mercedes cars, huge credit card bills, and a waterfront home — and millions from new investors were paid out to old investors.

In a story about a story in the Washington Post, the importance of local news becomes obvious. Yet, due to consolidation, a gutting of jobs, and profiteering, local news is in dire straits. Worse, nobody is really paying attention to it at the national level, which is even more shameful, as the Santos story has been there all along, if only someone had bothered to scratch the surface.

How Santos won an election based on obvious and known lies — and mysterious financing — is a story that is bound to unfold more in the coming weeks. But the information was out there, thanks to local news coverage. Sadly, it is in such a state of disrepair that it mattered not.

Maybe it’s not so much about access to information that matters so much as information’s ability to cut through the growing amount of clutter, and our willingness and ability to act on information that matters.