Media on Media

A roundup of recommended takes on the media, by the media.

Silicon Valley Ditches News, Shaking an Unstable Industry

Facebook will turn 20 in February, and the run-up to that occasion is seeing a major transformation of the relationship between social media and the news business. Mike Isaac, Katie Robertson and Nico Grant offer a clear-eyed overview of that change in a Times piece on how, and why, social networks are ditching news—and how news outlets might fill the substantial void.  

The share of traffic that top US new sites get from social networks fell from 11.5% to 6.5% between September 2020 and September 2023. Intermediate platforms like Apple News and Flipboard are picking up some of the slack in what the article’s quoted experts call the “post-social web.” But journalists are spooked, even as they voice optimism that the hunger for accurate news will remain as readers fill their plates via less toxic platforms.

Skimming, Scanning, Scrolling—the Age of Deep Reading is Over

“Any monk still producing calligraphy after 1492 probably sensed he was working in an outdated form. I write texts of more than 30 words, so now I fell the same.”

So begins Simon Kuper’s alarming Financial Times piece on the swift decline of deep reading in the digital age. People may have access to more words and information than ever, Kuper concedes, but skimming and swiping in rapid fire bursts has not only contributed to declining literacy rates and reading scores, but could also undermine the empathy that led deep reading, and the sort of thinking it compels, to inspire the Enlightenment and a slew of human rights battles.

The frequent loss of nuanced perspectives in shallow reading, and its minefield of misinformation, make Kuper’s lament all the more chilling.

How to Cancel “Cancel Culture”

In a book review, The Economist nimbly questions the rise of authoritarian thinking on the political left without resorting to reductive screeds about “woke” social justice warriors that have become the norm. Indeed, the critic points out early on that many of the “woke” people often demonized by the right “aspire to improve the world, and many of the injustices they rail against are real.” Still, the recent tendency of hardcore progressives to quash dissent has had a silencing effecting that runs counter to democratic ideals. How can a democracy flourish if just 25% of American college students are comfortable discussing controversial topics with their classmates?

One argument offered by the reviewed books is that group psychology, exponentially inflated thanks to social media, is to blame. The anxiety of US liberals during the Trump years compounded the problem, perhaps understandably. But the Economist convincingly argues that there was an overcorrection, and that a return to universalism over tribal identity politics can only be achieved through a retooling of an education system that was central to universalism’s erosion.