Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 10 January 2009

News 24 - Judgement Day

"We were in uncharted territory, making up history as we went along..."

News 24 is in serious danger of creating the very news it craves. As I write, reporters are bringing live footage of a riot developing out of today's supposedly peaceful protest against the military action in Gaza. There is some dispersal, they say, as those who want to avoid violence leave the scene; now consider the converse for a moment.

Discontented, bored or outraged, anyone who wants to get involved can see at a glance where to go for a piece of action. That such people exist has, alas, been shown again and again throughout history and 24 hour live news coverage gives them the means to identify trouble spots and arrive there within minutes.
In 1973, Larry Niven's novella 'Flash Crowd' featured rioting and looting as the unforseen consequence of teleportation; in the near future, we may see it happening as a result of 24 hour rolling news. If this seems a little far-fetched, consider Robert Peston's reports on the Northern Rock crisis; within minutes of the first report, people who saw the queues on television had rushed out to withdraw their savings in their turn.

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