NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: Why I love my Twitter addiction

The internet has put a printing press in every house, meaning no one has a monopoly on publishing opinions

Today, we can plug directly into a constant stream of news. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Today, we can plug directly into a constant stream of news. Photo / Sarah Ivey

People worry a lot about becoming addicted to social media - getting hooked on Twitter, unable to avoid checking their phone every few minutes.

But the ability to plug directly into a constant stream of news and public debate is something we've been talking about for decades. It seems like a very exciting time to me.

Cyberspace, the information super highway - these were just ideas in the 1980s and 1990s. We're living them now.

As the Herald this month marks 150 years in business, the anniversary has provided an opportunity to ponder how the media has changed.

The radical pace of change in the past decade has caused financial problems for media organisations, no doubt. But newsrooms have always run on tight budgets, otherwise I'd argue that this is an especially good time to be in the business of journalism.

Looking back at historic editions of the Herald you can see that shocking news about murder and tragedy, inspiring stories of personal or national triumph and editorials about what the Government should be doing were as central to newspapers then as they are now.

But what has changed dramatically, and perhaps more so in the past 10 years than in the previous 140, is public access to sources of information.

The volume and value of raw information available to the public have changed radically.

Mainstream media once had a monopoly on things like the rugby scores and election results.

One hundred and fifty years ago - from what I've seen of those papers - the business news was basically just price information.

Price information is always vital for those doing business or investing.

What price cattle or wheat was going for at the latest auctions around the country was a fundamental part of a newspaper's offering.

Now the prices of stocks and commodities and currencies can be accessed in real time online.

So as much as possible the business news these days is about adding meaning and context to that price information and telling the stories driving the changes in that raw data.

If there is a trend that will keep mainstream media relevant for another 150 years it is that we live in a world overloaded with information.

There is too much to digest in a day.

If you want to keep an eye on China's latest economic policy moves, understand why Xero shares have surged again or why Chorus shares are plunging, then the Business Herald, where we have dedicated specialists paid to follow and decipher these stories, isn't a bad place to check in.

The exciting part about the way the media works now is in the ability of the public to really pick up on a story and take it in new directions.

The internet has put a printing press in everyone's house and there is now no exclusivity around the ability to publish an opinion.

Readers have no doubt been complaining about Herald headlines and articles since 1863.

One of the functions of the media is to provoke a reaction and in doing so help people define their own views.

And such is the complexity of human opinion that writing something which coincides exactly with the views of a reader is rare.

More often than not it is the columnists I very nearly agree with that annoy me most.

For more than a century media consumers had little voice. If they were lucky they could get a letter published a few days after the offending article.

Now consumers can comment directly on online columns or they can respond with a blog of their own or take to Twitter to lampoon the hapless journalist.

We journalists really don't mind. It is part and parcel of the trade.

In the 1980s the sci-fi author William Gibson described cyberspace as "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation ..."

At the time it was difficult to describe an online world without imagining we'd all be wandering around together in some sort of virtual reality video game. But as a description of something like Twitter, it really hasn't dated too badly.

Later in the 1990s as the internet started to become a reality the term Information Super Highway became popular.

It sounds hackneyed now but the only thing wrong with it at the time was that technology was too slow - what we were on was more like an information obstacle course.

There is truly a vast information super highway now. And there are downsides to it, obviously. It provides open access to the best and worst of humanity.

I feel especially for this current generation of teens who are negotiating what was always a stressful and complex period of life through an online revolution where social rules and mores are still being established.

I hope that it will get easier for coming generations who are growing up with the online world in the background from day one. They will hopefully be highly literate in the subtleties of social media and understand the extent to which it can be abused and can enable abuse.

Meanwhile for those of us just trying to keep up with the technological change, one of the biggest problems seems to be its ability to distract us from things we should be doing.

While I was trying to get this column written, Twitter has distracted me with a provocative article from Wired magazine (Is the internet conscious?) - a stupid picture of a man holding a cat so it looks like a Batman mask and a lively debate between one of my Business Herald colleagues and a politically active blogger.

But while I've been online I've also managed to watch the highlights from the All Blacks' game against England while streaming a classic jazz album from YouTube - all without leaving myseat.

I feel completely plugged in and I love it. I'd say I'm an addict but this column is done, the kids are getting rowdy. It is time to unplug and head to the park.

On Twitter: @liamdann

- NZ Herald

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NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann is business editor at large at the New Zealand Herald. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy. He hosts The Economy Hub video show every Thursday.

Read more by Liam Dann

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