Finding Accidental Media

There has been a fair amount written about one of the big challenges of the increasingly on demand, roll your own media consumption would we’ve entered into. I’ve talked previously about avoiding information ghettos, and today’s NYT Magazine has a very good article that looks at what happens when world’s collide – in this case, when the founder of Little Green Footballs decided that he should repudiate much of what had been on the site previously.

As I look at my own media consumption, what strikes me is that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for me to find accidental media – stories or articles or photos or video of things that I’m not really looking for. In my car, i still listen to NPR, but as often I’m listening to new music on my ZuneHD. At home, I get the magazines and newspapers I subscribe to, but they are thinner than once they were. Online, i read the RSS fees that I’ve tagged, see the twitter updates of people I follow, read books that I’ve downloaded on my Kindle, see the web sites I’ve bookmarked and follow the links that I think I’m interested in. My “found media” quotient has dropped sharply – little time in bookstores, fewer new publications to look at, and so on. At one point, the wonder of blogs and RSS and then Facebook and Twitter was the promise of exactly this – more accidental media. And for a time, this was true. But the signal to noise ratio for any new medium can get pretty high pretty quickly; Anil Dash touched on this when writing about the Suggested User List; as did Jeff Sandquist. My experience is similar, as the numbers go up (and I’m not anywhere near the same league as either of the folks I mention above), my ability to actually do anything with what I see flowing through degrades steadily.

There truly is such a thing as the serendipitous piece of information, accidentally found while actually looking for something else, which fires the mind and the imagination. I read a great profile on Neil Gaiman in the current issue of the New Yorker this weekend. He described the genesis of what became “Stardust” thusly:

In 1991, an issue of “Sandman” became the first comic to win the World Fantasy Award for best short story. The awards ceremony was held in Tucson. After winning, Gaiman went to a party in the desert to celebrate, and happened to see a shooting star. Watching it fall, he says, “I just did that thing where you’re following a chain of thought, and you go, That looked like it was really near. What if I went and it wasn’t a meteorite but it was actually like a big diamond or something? Wouldn’t that be cool? And I thought, What if it was a person? And then suddenly it was like a little chain of dominoes.” He went to Charles Vess, the artist who had illustrated the award-winning issue of “Sandman,” and told him the idea. That became “Stardust,” a nineteenth-century-style fairy tale that was first a four-part miniseries for Vertigo, with illustrations by Vess, and then a novel for William Morrow, and finally—after the model Claudia Schiffer read it and implored her husband, the director Matthew Vaughn, to make it—a movie starring Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer.

“Following a chain of thought.” Huh. Unimpeded by texts or phone calls or emails. There is something to be said for this – maybe I actually will have to work/plan to find my accidental media. I’m on the hunt!

2 Responses to “Finding Accidental Media”

  1. David Treadwell Says:

    What about the mod-sharing sites like Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, SlashDot, etc? Lots of opportunity for found media on them, and it is typically much more diverse than the historical sources.

    • fxshaw Says:

      good point….I sort of lost faith in Digg and its ilk a bit ago because it felt like there had been a real slide in terms of interesting content — I’ll take a look again.

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