Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Cursed Web-Based Rabble

Here's Andrew Keen waxing iconoclastic about the web's effects on culture:

... the web is fragmenting society into a billion intimate hamlets, dragging it back into a discordant pre-Enlightenment dark age where all truth is personal and all knowledge local.
To whatever extent it is genuinely difficult to distinguish expert opinion and analysis from novice bloviating, the problem existed before there was an internet and will exist for as long as people interact in group settings.

In fairness to Keen, the parallel objection applies to the pro-internets boosterism side of the argument: the mere fact of more content that's more readily available to more people does not, ipso facto, increase the odds that any web-browsing individual will successfully pluck a valuable insight from the morass.

The web can be seen as an enlarged, accelerated version of the water cooler at work, the town square, the county library, the television, the radio, etc. It's a place where people can go to get better informed or to get considerably less so.

Keen continues:
Digital utopians have crowned the“citizen-journalist” as their bereted hero of the insurrection – the Trotsky 2.0 of this brave new digital world. But, rather than the self broadcaster, my hero of the Internet age is the citizen who acknowledges his ignorance about things, who keeps her mouth shut, who uses media to learn about and enjoy the world from other better informed and more talented than themselves.
Keen's distrust of utopians and their -isms is sensible enough, but it fails to carry the weight Keen wants it to carry. It fails to validate his distaste for the caucophony of voices the web's openness makes possible, and moreover gives off a strong scent of straw. There is unquestionably a great deal of idiocy and navel-gazing on the web: any five-minute stretch of miscellaneous browsing around youtube, let alone myspace, will establish that to anyone's satisfaction. But is there really someone out there making the argument that all the squalor and noise of the web is creating a utopia? Or more modestly that it is rendering education -- or judgment, or critical thinking, or checking sources -- obsolete? If so, the only person taking such claims seriously would seem to be Keen himself. The rest of us clicked away from that nonsense a long time ago.

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