The “laws” of technology and journalism

In his book We the Media, Dan Gillmor discusses how technology and social media are transforming the world of journalism. In chapter 9, he describes three “laws” that affect the convergence of technology and journalism.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law, named for Intel cofounder Gordon Moore in the 1960s,  “…says that the density of transistors on a given piece of silicon will double every 18 to 24 months.” Essentially, this means that technological devices will continue to get smaller but more powerful over time. This law has a major impact on the field of journalism because reporters rely on these devices to continue to improve what they can do in the field and in the newsroom.

Metcalfe’s Law

Named for Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, Metcalfe’s Law states that a communications network is as valuable as the square of its nodes, or end-point connections. Gillmor explains this law in terms of devices connected to the Internet:

“Each new Internet-connected computer is a node. So, increasingly, is each new mobile phone that can send and retrieve Internet data. And in a few years, it’s probable that most of the smarter devices made possible by Moore’s law— everything from refrigerators to cars to computers—will be a node,” Gillmor writes.

The sheer amount of devices connected to the Internet make it an extremely valuable network.

Reed’s Law

Perhaps the most relevant law, in terms of social media sharing, is Reed’s Law, named after David Reed. The law states that because people online often communicate with many other people (instead of just one), these groups of people also constitute a node. And each person in each group can share that communication with many more people. Therefore, Reed’s Law says that the value of a network is the number of groups factorial (I’m not going to try to explain factorial, so click here if you don’t know what that means). In other words, the more people you share information with online, the more it will spread, and eventually a very large number of people will be exposed to that information.


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