We watch... so you don't have to.

Information Bath

I was thinking today -- yes, it was my day on -- and it came to me that Gulf War II shows how much my information sources have changed since the Gulf War I.

I was in college during the last war, during Bush I's reign. Dawn and I would lie in my bunk bed in my dorm room and watch the war on broadcast TV every afternoon or so. I had a PC in my room hooked up to the Internet, but this was in those dim dark days before the World Wide Web; we mostly used the Internet for making sexual innuendoes with strangers, goofing on the occasional MUD, and downloading random things using FTP. All of our information about the Gulf War came from the television and radio. It was a dim time, indeed: Everything we knew about the war was pre-packaged and summarized.

Today I've seen almost no TV coverage of the war. In fact, I'm realizing I get almost none of my information from the TV these days. I'm finding that I use the Web as my main information source. And I'm finding that I'm just as in the dark about this war as the last one -- but this time it actually hurts.

In the last 12 years, I now know, I've come to expect information at my fingertips. I expect to be able to go on the Web and find up-to-the-minute photos, audio, video, and text explaining in context whatever is going on, pouring information into my head. I expect to be able to check a site every hour and find some new tidbit of information, some new piece I can fit into the puzzle.

And there's plenty of war stuff on the Web. But it's curiously distant. It's muffled, like I've got cotton in my head. It's not as up-to-the-minute as I expect, and it's strangely disconnected. The fog of war, or maybe the fog of disinformation. I heard, for example, about the video footage of American casualties and POWs. I'd expect to be able to find these on the Web, but instead all I can find is a page explaining why the American site which had them up was taken down by its ISP. The site has found a new host, yes, but it's not back yet.

I can find a few first-person accounts of living in Baghdad. Mostly they talk about being afraid and buying vegetables. It's interesting and important but very limited, of course. And naturally there's government-approved video and photos and everything on sites like CNN.com. But there's something pre-digested about all of that. I want to know what's really going on.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe the war is as transparent as it can be. Maybe I'm just not paying enough attention. What amazes me, though, is how much of an information bath I've come to demand.

[Editor's Note: Like Chris, I've found that my information needs have changed dramatically in the past 12 years. I rely on the Internet for far more news than I used to; I also rely on TV a lot less. But... unlike Chris, I find that for war coverage, TV reporting is much more interesting than Web coverage. So much of the interesting developments in this war are either live shots from embedded reporters out in the desert, or new breaking information that's immediately mentioned on the air on network broadcasts.

Meanwhile, CNN.com has been really lacking. Normally I really like CNN.com, but clearly it's a site geared toward small, chunky stories -- the equivalent of TV packages on its sister network. The New York Times and Washington Post coverage has been better, but still pretty slow on the uptake and lacking the punch of watching it on TV.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I find myself watching TV news far more than I have in years. And watching live TV on the TiVo more than ever, too. Yes, what I get on CNN is largely nutrient-free -- it's still TV crack -- but it's enthralling. I'm watching a lot of it, morning and night.--Jason Snell]


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