Saturday, November 05, 2005

Time Delivers - Part 2

This post has been in draft form for over a week, and it's starting to get stale. So I figure I'd better post it before it's completely obsolete.

Part 1 described how Time magazine presented a surprisingly progressive view of gay teens. In Part 2, I review (briefly) the surprises of the next three issues.

The issue after Gay Teens contains a cover story featuring alternative medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil on Living Healthier Longer. It's not the first time Time has featured him on the cover, and it's a pretty generic story, but still it makes Time look more like Alternative Medicine than the bland corporate magazine it has always been.

The next issue (October 24, 2005), which features a cover hagiography on Steve Jobs, also contains a well-balanced article on the fluoridation debate, the first such article I've seen in a mainstream magazine to actually present both sides of the argument with open-minded respect. Remember when fluoridation opponents were generally branded as sociopathic kooks?

The same issue contains some amazingly forward-thinking prognostications about the future from superstar futurists like Esther Dyson and Malcolm Gladwell. Most notable, for me, is the discussion with tech publisher Tim O'Reilly about the "collective intelligence" of the web (what he refers to elsewhere as the architecture of participation). This includes such user-created databases as Wikipedia, a massive online encyclopedia which anyone can add to or edit.

I have a little bit of experience with this particular site, having contributed in small ways wherever I've found a hole. For instance, after my recent reminiscence about Ormond McGill, I checked over at Wikipedia and found (to my surprise) that there was no entry on this legendary hypnotist. I promptly added a brief entry, and also added him to the Deaths in October, 2005 page under "October 19th." I also sent this information to Ormond's closest colleagues with the invitation to modify or expand the entry as they saw fit.

The Architecture of Participation, the structure of the Internet that allows millions of people all over the world to contribute to the ever-growing database of human knowledge, is only beginning to reveal itself. How progressive of Time to give such a concept even a little bit of room in its pages!

But nothing could have prepared me for the cover story of the October 31, 2005 issue. The headline is The Great Retirement Ripoff, and it has the subheading: Millions of Americans who think they will retire with benefits are in for a NASTY SURPRISE. How corporations are picking people's pockets--with the help of Congress. Hello! When's the last time you saw Time magazine take a specifically anti-corporate and anti-government position? Beautiful! And that's the cover; you don't even need to read the article to get the message of the story. "Picking people's pockets" -- that's a crime! Time is accusing big corporations and Congress of engaging in quasi-legal but nevertheless criminal behavior! Is this Time or Mother Jones?

I can't prove this (and I'm unwilling to go digging to do so), but I believe that, oh, five years ago this story would have looked something like this: "Is Your Nest Egg Safe? How bottom-line pressures may be jepardizing your retirement benefits." In other words, a nice alarmist story about economic pressures and a changing world rather than a hard-hitting indictment of corporate greed and Congressional malfeasance.

What changed? The Web. Blogs. Free Speech. Time is a follower, not a leader, but at least it now looks like the leader they are following may just be the truth.

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