Everything That Rises Must Converge

SXSW 2000 Interactive Festival

An Interview With Denise Caruso

Denise Caruso likes to say she's been writing about technology since before the Macintosh. Those writings have appeared both online and in print -- from Wired to The Wall Street Journal. We spoke to her briefly following her keynote address at SXSW, titled "Of Bonding and Bondage: Cult, Culture, and the Internet."

Austin Chronicle: You've been talking about the Internet as a cult factory for some time. How have people in the industry been reacting?

Denise Caruso: I thought I'd get more bricks and bats. It's these people who don't think it matters as long as you make money.

AC: But this is a bigger problem, not just peculiar to the Internet.

DC: It's sad, I think. The Founding Fathers certainly didn't intend to have this problem between capitalism and democracy. I don't think they intended to let industries police themselves. It's not in [the corporations'] interest to do so. The corruption of culture has been going on for a long time. In the beginning of multimedia, the big companies got slammed and jumped into the business, co-opting it before it was even born.

AC: And your message to the interactive community is ... ?

DC: You have to start by telling the truth. Telling the truth is a way out of it. If the commercial ventures tell the truth, it gives viewers/consumers a context to make informed decisions. If you're saying you're giving people a choice when they really don't have one -- like AOL/Time Warner -- it's not good for anyone.

We need to ensure they let us know who their business partners are, their investors -- who they are. It's an editorial decision. Real journalists are used to this. They call it standards and practices. The difference between advertising and editorial. The corporations are having a field day because these standards aren't there online. There are some like C/net and ZDnet which are very good about making it clear, labeling what is advertising, but too many aren't.

AC: But do consumers really care?

DC: Consumers would care if they knew. Look at Double Click. People got angry. We need to be able to look behind the screen. Understand how our choices are limited. The Internet is not the repository of the world's knowledge. All the search engines, at most, are giving you maybe a third of what's out there. You're not getting the whole picture.

Media has an anesthetizing effect on people, sure. There's a certain point where you hold up your hand and simply give up, believing every message you hear. It's a serious problem. Just solving it for the interactive community isn't going to change everything. But it's a start. And it's my back yard.

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