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Thread started by Dave Winer on Friday, April 26, 2013.

The message of Boston

This post was written quickly.

It was an interesting week to be in Boston, as in the Chinese proverb about living in interesting times. But not for the reasons people think.

I learned this last night, in a big way, at the Berkman Thursday meetup. We had about 15 people there, some original people from the old days, and some new people who totally fit in. Having new people there makes sense, because the Thursday group was like that. Every week we'd have a fair number of returning friends, and always a healthy number of newbies.

One man, whose name I didn't catch, said something that I found surprising at first. He said that the press got the story of Boston wrong. The people weren't cowering in fear in their houses as was reported on TV and on Twitter. That was a lie. I admit I found it irrational. Boston is probably about the size of Queens, in geography and in population. If someone was holed up in Astoria, people in Flushing probably wouldn't be too worried. It wouldn't make sense. It would be like worrying that you'd get hit by a bus on any given day. There are a lot of days when no one gets hit by a bus. And even so, the chances of you being that person, well, it's not a smart thing to spend a lot of time worrying about. (Though please, look first before you step out into a street!)

Everyone in the room who was from Boston immediately agreed, enthusiastically. They didn't like that they were being portrayed that way by the media. So we explored the actual story, what was really going on among the people of Boston. The answer was, they were working together to make their city safe. The city hadn't shut down on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the bombing. But on Thursday night, when the bombers were on the run, the police asked everyone to stay off the street. And the people did what they were asked to do, because that's what people do.

One person explained it this way: The police wanted to take all the pieces off the board. So if the bomber started moving he would stand out.

This goes back to one of the themes of my talk on Wednesday night at the Boston Globe. People feel a need to be part of the world they live in. Most of us feel like we're on the sidelines, spectators, consumers, eyeballs, credit card numbers, and that's not what we want. We want meaning. We want to make a contribution. We want do do good and have that good make a difference. If you look at what people actually do, not the stories you read in the paper or hear on CNN, this is obvious. The bombings not only worried people, for a short time when the scope of the danger was unknown, but people also saw the opportunity to get some of the precious stuff, meaning and relevance.

Why was this a theme of my talk at the Globe? Because the news industry has the ability to offer people exactly what they want, but they won't do it. Their view of the world is that we're out there and they're inside. They talk, we listen. They are relevant, their lives have meaning. The meaning of our lives is not important to them. As long as they view it that way, people will continue to be frustrated by them, as long as they pay any attention. And more and more they're chosing to not pay attention.

This week the people of Boston learned something about the press because they told a big lie not just about a handful of them, but all of them, collectively. This presents a unique opportunity for a whole city to wake up and take over. I suggested at dinner that the people of Boston buy the Boston Globe, and give it a new direction. You know a city the size of Boston could buy the Globe. And you know what, it's actually for sale. :-)

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