Diana's saga was a perfect match for the maelstrom of media bandwidth

The events of the past week make me sure the world has changed forever. It's not because Saturday's funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales, was probably the biggest human event in the history of our planet, with 2.5 billion people watching television coverage of the service.

It's not the countless tons of newspapers and magazines that were devoted to her, or the thousands of Web sites that, even now, are churning out tens of thousands of pages on the topic of her amazing life and tragic death.

It's most certainly not the spammers, e-mailing offers for Diana memorabilia.

It's bigger than that - the very nature of communication media, the very phenomenon that has itself gone from horseback to satellite, has utterly changed. It happened slowly while we were distracted with the very events those media convey.

Many commentators called Diana's death a defining moment, in the way John F Kennedy's assassination in 1963 was. In the case of JFK, writes Hotwired's Jon Katz, we realised that television had grown up and become the medium of record for important events.

In the case of the Princess of Wales, I, for one, believe the revelation is that all media have fundamentally changed, as have we, the media consumers.

Old-style media was about the record, the news, the facts. In days when the media were few, imperfect and relatively slow, only the most pertinent facts moved to, and were featured in, newspapers, newsreels and early radio broadcasts.

Media space was scarce, its use at a premium. Big news events were nothing short of the declaration of war, market crashes or the deaths of leaders whose very names were synonymous with whole nations struggling through their darkest hours.

Readers and listeners, battered by generations of war and economic decline, wanted most news that, it was hoped, could help them steer towards a future of plenty and peace.

The Internet has added near infinite capacity to a planet already wired for thousands of television channels, where global networks feed thousands of publications distributing millions of copies. In 1997, gigantic oceans of information wash ceaselessly across our planet.

This vast media capacity has created a perpetual, global, slow news day. There just aren't enough affairs of world-shattering import to regularly fill all the media, all the time.

Media consumers of the 1990s, buoyed up by 50 years free from global war and widespread economic ruin, are focused on the challenges of daily life in a world that is becoming ever more complex, at an ever-accelerating pace. Modern media organisations desperately seek ways to create compelling content that interest this increasingly well-informed, and media-jaded public.

The stakes are huge - commanding the interest, and thus the eyeballs, of a large part of humanity, is a highly marketable commodity. Corporations will pay huge sums to place their advertising before reliably large and alert populations of potential buyers.

Into this space came Diana, Princess of Wales. Her story blossomed, expanding from its fairy-tale beginnings to fill the ever-growing media capacity. Editors struggling to fill space found in turn a royal fairy tale, courtship, marriage, children, Palace intrigue, infidelity, disillusionment, divorce, depression, bulimia, personal triumph and reincarnation.

Her life became one of the most durably interesting stories of all time - 44 covers in America's People magazine alone. Diana became perfectly mediagenic, and was always painfully and joyfully human.

Her struggles and triumphs were a modern, serial parable for a bewildering, complicated world where things so often don't work out as planned.

She wasn't President, Prime Minister or Queen. She didn't cure cancer or invent the Internet. Yet, she became part and parcel of our late 20th century lives.

Diana's saga was such a perfect match for the maelstrom of media bandwidth that her life and its coverage became ever more entwined. Media interest grew and fed upon itself, enlarging her to mythic proportions. Legitimate media began covering her like tabloids, and tabloids pushed to almost obscene lengths to fill ever more space in more sensational ways.

And that didn't change when her life and two others came to a tragic end in a Paris traffic tunnel.

Every media outlet on the planet covered her death and funeral, and most of the people who could, half the planet's population, watched, or listened or read or clicked the hyperlinks that traced her last journey.

The coverage of her funeral briefly united the planet in silent grief, perhaps one of the grandest memorials of all time. Her loss also brought great anger directed at the very media to which we clung, never more eager for the messages, nor more willing to kill the messengers.

I, for one, will always remember the power of those moments when a whole planet stood unified, even if in grief. Would that this glimpse drive us to dedicate our thousand channels always to a connected, united humankind

cg@gulker.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: 3D CAD Designer - Exhibition Stands

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Rapid growth has seen a number ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor