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Nirvana memo bolsters skepticism in digital age

By From page B1 | January 11, 2013

Earlier this week, a music criticism site posted what it said was a leaked “secret memo” regarding the reissue of Nirvana’s final studio album, “In Utero.”

The site, Collapse Board, claims the memo is geared at music critics and tells them how to paint the picture regarding the album’s 20th anniversary reissue.

“The Nirvana/Kurt Cobain legend must reinforce again and again the idea of the reluctant star, the uncomfortable voice of a generation,” it reads in one passage.

Other language, however, makes the text seem implausible: “One last thing: is 2014 too early for a 15th anniversary of the first White Stripes album or should we wait for the 20th anniversary?”

The veracity of the memo remains in doubt, but the fact that’s even an issue got me thinking about how the Internet has reinforced a skepticism that was already in bloom for me.

I’ve always been afflicted with a healthy dose of doubt. I hope more information will come to light regarding Jack White’s 45-minutes-and-done headlining performance at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in September. Rumors swirl that he was unhappy with the sound quality, but at the risk of fanning flames, that sounds like a white lie.

With White, the memo and more, it feels like there is more to the story than what we got. Even if Collapse Board’s Nirvana memo is a real document, why would media-savvy public relations representatives go to such lengths to pantomime the tone and flavor of coverage for critics? Surely they would know how that would be received.

It’s instances and questions such as this which make me doubtful of many things I read online.

In its infancy, I held the naive hope that the Internet would eliminate a certain level of cultural superficiality, such as rushing to judgment during Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech.

The reaction to his speech was precisely the kind of thing I thought the Internet could prevent because contextual information would be readily available. Instead, the opposite occurred – Dean’s entire campaign was reduced to a four-second video clip of him shouting, so he was deemed unstable to lead.

Perhaps the most flagrant offender of my inner skeptic these days are items in my Facebook news feed.

I sit in disbelief when my news feed runs amok with the news I’ll soon be forced to pay for Facebook, despite the fact the login page states, “It’s free and it always will be.”

It has devolved into a paradise for chain letters and serial postings. People spammed news feeds recently with the copyright status hoax: “I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, crafts, professional photos and videos, etc.” and so on.

My first reaction wasn’t to copy and paste, but to find out more about the issue. The truth smelled like something and, unlike Nirvana’s biggest hit, it was not teen spirit.

It doesn’t add to our cultural discussion. Nor does Collapse Board’s choice to post a memo with an unknown author, unclear audience and questionable honesty. It muddies it with something meaningless and, worst of all, it clogs my news feed, dang it. They’re brief, meaningless diversions.

True currency for me in the digital age is truth. A reputation is built on the knowledge that the information disseminated has meaning, value and worth. It’s what distinguishes Billboard from any old Music Blogger Joe.

I don’t expect our collective thirst for information to diminish, but I hope the Internet can be a tool to entertain, educate and enlighten us even while maintaining a necessary dollop of skepticism.

One of my journalist heroes is late CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow. Although he was speaking about the television, his words would be equally true regarding the Internet and computers: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”

To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.

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