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Minow’s ‘Wasteland’: How The Web’s Problems Are Those Of Television Half A Century Ago

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As the Mosaic browser turns 26 this year, having ushered in the modern web a quarter century ago, much of our conversation about the web turns around how rapidly it has upended, revolutionized and reinforced our access to information and the world around us, but also how it has undermined and destroyed traditional ideals like our trust in that information and the underpinnings of democracy. When we speak of the web today we talk of it in almost mythical terms, of an entirely new medium utterly unlike any that have gone before. Yet, if we look a bit more closely at the evolution of television into a similarly disruptive force and its devolution towards unadulterated commercialism, we see the trajectory of the web today bears much in common with its predecessor nearly a century ago.

One of the most famous speeches on the evolution of broadcast television over the years was that of FCC Chairman Newton Minow nearly 58 years ago in May 1961 to the National Association of Broadcasters. In his speech, Chairman Minow laid out the challenges confronting television broadcasters at the time, from their blind pursuit of profits over the good of society, to the limitations of popularity ratings, children’s screen time, the impact of news, the loss of the focus on local and most importantly, whether television would be a force for good in society or whether it would destroy it.

In short, all of the biggest issues confronting the web today. In fact, replace each occurrence of the word “television” in his speech with “web” and one would be forgiven for thinking he gave his famous remarks just yesterday.

As we talk about live streaming and the ability to witness events in

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