It’s hard to know what to expect when you get an interview request from Pitchfork Media. After all, the Pitchfork folks are the cooler-than-thou indie music geeks who are embarrased for you that you don’t know your Boards of Canada from your Fountains of Wayne. I mostly listen to old vinyl records of electric kora music… what could I possibly say to these folks?
Turns out Chris Dahlen writes a regular column – “Get That Out of Your Mouth” – for Pitchfork which, based on past issues, seems to focus on pop culture and the political. Turns out it’s pretty good, which wasn’t much of a surprise for me, as my conversation with him a week or so ago was one of the best chats I’ve had with a journalist in the past year. That conversation makes up much of issue #32 of his column.
Chris asked an interesting question, the sort of thing I’m psyched to research when I’m not neck-deep in fundraising and legal structure questions for Global Voices: is there more information availble in the sexy, Web 2.0 corners of the web about virtual worlds than there is about corners of the real world? Specifically, he looks at the information he’s able to find on YouTube, blogs and wikipedia about Star Wars, versus the information he’s able to find about Africa.
I got myself in trouble with my Wikipedian friends when I asked this precise question a couple of years back. And this time around, I was careful to let Chris make the Tatooine/Tunisia comparisons. (SJ has pointed out that doing straight wordcounts on articles is a tricky business, as good Wikipedia articles have often been subdivided into sections… which raises the question of when we’ll see a page on the political economy of Tatooine…)
The conversation turned into a discussion about the importance and challenge of bridgeblogging, a subject I’m always happy to talk about. It touched on some of the main points I’m trying to make about bridgeblogging these days – that more mature blogospheres seem to bridge less than small ones, the difficulties of getting people to care about people they don’t have personal connections to.
The most interesting aspect of the discussion to me was the idea that Chris brought to the table – that we might pay more attention to imagined worlds than to the real one. First, this helped me understand precisely why I find the Second Life hype so disconcerting – I find it deeply odd that journalism is expanding into these illusory spaces while it’s shrinking in the real world. I think the answer may be that these new spaces – whether SecondLife, World of Warcraft, the culture of fanfiction or machinima – are far more coverable than many events in the real world. Chris uses an example I offered about the difficulty of finding out what’s what in Somalia – there are literally hundreds of situations in the globe where, despite political importance and the impact on human beings, we’ve got very little idea what’s actually going on. By contrast, virtual and pop-culture worlds are knowable in a deep, comprehensive, net-friendly and encyclopedic manner. That, plus fewer vaccinations, could make anyone want to be a virtual worlds correspondent rather than a real-world journalist.
Chris used a quote from Rebecca MacKinnon that’s stuck with me since she wrote it a few weeks back: “My last three years living back in the U.S. really brought home to me just how unreal the rest of the world seems to most Americans.” If there’s a single topic I’m most interested in, it’s trying to figure out how to break down that sense of unreality.