The Matthew Effect & Search Results

by John Holbo on September 19, 2009

Some thoughts, related to Michael’s ‘going pro’ post and Kieran’s recent post on impact factor. To what extent is the whole internet afflicted with the Matthew Effect? “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” If you want to be a bit more specific, to what degree are search results afflicted by it?

Let me illustrate with a couple cases I’ve personally noted, which I suspect are representative. [click to continue…]

Angelus Novus

by Henry Farrell on September 19, 2009

One of the odd and not-very-well-known-by-non-Irish-people things about Ireland is that every day, at 6pm, the main television station broadcasts the Angelus – one minute precisely of church bells ringing – for people to pause, reflect (and at least according to the original intentions of those who instituted it), pray.1 Back when I was growing up in Ireland, and the vast majority of my compatriots claimed that they went to Mass every week, the Angelus bells were accompanied by still shots of paintings of the Holy Family. As the country began to modernize a bit in the 1980s and 1990s, the Angelus gradually became more pluralistic, titillating religiously adventurous viewers with the occasional picture of a Russian Orthodox icon or whatever. But what to do after the supplanting of Roman Catholic hegemony by a bog-standard West European post-religious society? The “Irish Times”: has an interesting short article on the politics of the Angelus in the modern era.

bq. THE ANGELUS will from next Monday be changed – though not utterly. Under a revamping of the evening pause for prayer on RTÉ One television, the gongs will remain the same. …the same ones as have been heard since the Angelus was first broadcast on RTÉ radio in 1950, and which originated with the bells at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral … seven “episodes” in a new Angelus mini-series of visual reflections … oblivious calm amid the hue and cry … while he sketches an image of a pair of praying hands. … mother in Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, as she polishes a memorial stone to her drowned son … grandparents Tess and Pascal Finn feeding fussy swans on the Shannon at Limerick and Enniscorthy fisherman John Keating, who is shown out at sea in his trawler … Namucana Nyambe from Zambia as she gazes contemplatively towards the Phoenix Park … grist to the mill for those avid letter writers who have been campaigning for years to get the Angelus taken off the schedule of the State broadcaster.

It’s interesting how little bits of the previously dominant religious culture can weather the storm of progress – but only through the transfiguration of their content. If the Angelus didn’t already exist it would never be instituted in a society like contemporary Ireland – but since it does exist and would be difficult to get rid of without upsetting people (still-believing Catholics; once-were-Catholics who fancy they would miss it if it were gone) it has been gradually transformed instead into something that maintains the form of the original (still the old church bells), but few of the original religious valences.

1 Italy’s _Rai Uno_ has something similar as I recall (although timed not to interfere with the celebration of the true national religion, soccer).