Welcome to Generation M 

E-books on your phone? Amazon reviews as lit-crit? Hey, it's a brave new world.

Here's a horrifying thought: Kids ages eight to eighteen are apparently being called "Generation M" by the people who go around naming generations other than their own. The "M" is for media, because we are now so supersaturated with information. We've found ways to cram it into the most unexpected places.

Such as your phone, whose informational output was once just a dial tone. Nowadays, if your phone or personal digital assistant — Treo, BlackBerry, Sidekick, et al. — has Internet or text-messaging capabilities, you can download news and traffic updates, music, video clips, games, even entire e-books if you care to squint. Some of it is repurposed from traditional sources, but an increasing amount is designed specifically for the phone. Verizon, for example, has a special package for fans of The OC featuring interviews, bloopers, and animations not found on the actual show. Even your MP3 player does more than play music — now there are textcasts and podcasts, which have essentially turned anyone with a computer and a microphone into a radio commentator.

The podcast's print forerunner, the blog, is of course one of the millennium's biggest new providers of original content, as is its brother in arms, Wikipedia, the communally edited online authority on everything. Lacing these disparate bits together are online news aggregators: RSS feeds that comb your favorite Web sites for updates and funnel them to your inbox, or portals like Yahoo News or Google News that consolidate headlines from elsewhere. Google, of course, has become the king of making everything viewable online — Google Earth displays satellite maps, Google Scholar lets you search research texts, and Google Books digitizes, well, books.

Retailers have a long tradition of producing "advertorial" designed to entice, but their copy has added clout now that everything is searchable and interactive. (A good pre-Web example is Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer, the pamphlet that shows up in your mailbox semi-annually describing new treats in stock.) Then e-mail brought us innovations like San Francisco's Aquarius Records' legendary and massive new arrivals list, in which store staffers expertly critique each newly released album. Now we have staff-written Amazon.com "editorial reviews" and reader-written "spotlight reviews," both fairly accepted forms of literary criticism. (Book sales ranks provided by the site have become another oft-used set of cultural data.)

But take heart: If you find parsing all of these new information resources — sometimes biased, sometimes conflicting, sometimes downright trivial, a little overwhelming, and even disorienting — you can always rant about it on your MySpace page.


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