Monday, August 16, 2004


The Man Who Knew Too Much

The information revolution is fine, but when during an Olympiad, there's something nostalgic to be said for the low tech era. If one is not on the supposed wrong side of the Digital Divide, one will find it difficult to follow the games of Athens on American television. This is because one's cellphone, iPod, Internet browser, ISP, radio station, televised news and every other channel of communications is competing to tell one first who captured (or lost, in the case of U.S. men's basketball) what medal before the others can. The newsbreakers stand behind the premise that the Games are news, that they are only doing their job, and that the networks of NBC (including CNBC and Bravo) are their competitors. All of that is technically true. However, one of the reasons Bob Beamon's flight, Nadia Comaneci's dimes and Kerri Strug's courage were so compelling is that they were unexpected. Imagine a world wherein Mark Spitz's seventh gold or the Dream Team's romps were learned of before your lunch break. Had there been a "Yahoo" in the days of "Ironside" and "Julia", it, not Jim McKay, would have told us John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave a Black Power salute on the victory stand after the 200 meter dash. Wouldn't you wanted to watch Wilma Rudolph, Olga Korbut, or Janet Evans without knowing what they were going to do? In 1996 many of us were not online, and for those that were, the proximity of Atlanta made the stories of the bombing, Michael Johnson, and Matt Biondi very immediate. While I don't hope for a terrorist act or a Munich massacre, I do avoid certain favorite talk shows and web browsers in fear of the Phelps Watch. I'm glad Marion Jones isn't going for triple gold, I'd know the results before she would!

Some sort of medium has to be reached. The Info Superhighway has long outgrown network t.v. (though 98% of the world's population don't own computers). Remember the presidential elections of the 1980's, when Californians would hear states, and even the entire election, forecast for a candidate before the West Coasters had a chance to leave work and go participate in the process? Remember 2000, when networks placed Florida in the Gore column (thus awarding him the popular vote, and even the White House)? Those leaps to be first had a more significant effect on American life than does a medal count.

We wait four years to know who the heroes of an Olympiad will be. Who will meet expectations and who will exceed them? Who will enter (or grab) our hearts? We want to get up close and personal, but not ahead of our viewing habits. If we can wait four years, can the journalists wait four hours? Most of us want to see a dramatic soccer kick, not read about it (hey NFL fans, would you watch if you heard the weekly results before the pre-game shows aired?). I feel like The Man Who Knew Too Much (too soon).

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