Posted on December 10, 2007
Filed Under Culture & Technology |
I haven’t picked on Duncan Riley at TechCrunch for some time. I guess I simply got used to his inane posts and have been preoccupied with other things. But after reading his latest post, in which he takes on Doris Lessing, who was just awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I felt like it was worth picking apart Duncan’s illogical drivel if for nothing other than old time’s sake.
In her acceptance speech, Lessing decries the “inanities” of the Internet and expresses concern about a global society in which more and more people seem to know less and less about the world they live in. As an author, it’s not surprising that she’s saddened that young people are reading less and spending more time on the computer.
Duncan, of course, takes point with any suggestion that the Internet just might be contributing to our ever-increasing stupidity. He launches into a classic ad hominem attack, calling Lessing’s acceptance speech “the ditherings of an ignorant old woman” and claims that anti-Internet speeches are becoming more frequent “as the cultural elite in society continue to have their previous (often born-in-to) positions eroded.”
Duncan goes on to state:
The likes of Andrew Keen and Doris Lessing ignore the many benefits the internet has provided in expanding access to knowledge to many, many more people than who may otherwise have had no access before. Whilst it may be easy to mock the utterances of hundreds of millions of bloggers and social networking site users, the 21st century will be remembered as the time that communication was democratized, a time where the power of a few was replaced by the power of many. Let them eat their elitist intellectual cake, because the world is changing for the better, and there is nothing they can do to stop this.
He then suggests that anybody who might be at risk for never having read anything of substance go to Wikipedia.
My response to Duncan’s arguments:
- While access to communications networks like the Internet (and through them information) has increased dramatically, this access, and its impact, isn’t nearly as great as it might seem to Americans who are out of touch with the realities of the world. Half the people in the world (over 3 billion people) live on less than $2 a day. Nearly a billion people are illiterate. Apparently Duncan doesn’t know these facts (which would support Lessing’s argument that people are increasingly ignorant of the rest of the world), or Duncan simply wants to overlook these facts so he can claim that the democratization of communication is making the world a wonderful place. I’m sure the more than 1 billion people who don’t have access to clean drinking water are as thrilled as he is. Perhaps when they get their $100 laptops they can log on to the Internet to look up the symptoms of waterborne diseases.
- The power of a few has not been replaced by the power of many. and in May 2005, the three richest people in the world had assets exceeding the combined GDP of the 47 countries with the lowest GDP. Since that time, the gap between the rich and poor has only increased, including here in the United States. Duncan may get goose bumps knowing that masses of geeks can “digg” their own news supposedly at the expense of evil moguls like Rupert Murdoch, but anybody with common sense can analyze the quantitative and qualitative information that exists in abundance and come to the logical conclusion that not only are the masses not taking over where it really counts, the elite are growing more powerful. I can assure Duncan that international financiers, industrialists, royalty and heirs and heiresses (all members of Duncan’s “cultural elite”) are not waking up every morning worrying about their eroding power. But I’m quite sure that they’re quite content if you want to believe that.
- While the Internet does expand access to knowledge to those who can access it, this does no good if people do not have critical thinking skills necessary to analyze and interpret information. Because almost everyone is capable of being a publisher on the Internet, having the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is crucial (I suspect there is now more methane being emitted by the BS produced by a handful of bloggers than all the cattle combined). Unfortunately, if the state of the education system in the United States is any reflection, our country is producing fewer and fewer critical thinkers.
- The Internet has the potential to do great things, and great things are being done, but like all mediums before it, the Internet has been and will continue to be exploited by commercial interests much more vociferously than it will be exploited by non-commercial interests. The bottom line is that society as a whole is continually being dumbed down by our consumer culture and the Internet has not been immune to its encroachment. Take YouTube, for instance. While there are some highly-informative and educational videos being posted, by far, the average YouTuber is too busy watching music videos and videos of people doing stupid, useless things to notice. So while the amount of good that can be accomplished with the Internet is substantial and some people are using it to accomplish good, average Internet users afflicted by consumerism simply use it as a source of entertainment. The Internet is the new TV.
Duncan Riley represents the prototypical Web 2.0 idealist who sees nothing but rainbows when he looks at the world through the lens of the Internet. I do not deny that the Internet is a great thing. Hopefully its potential to make the world a better place will be realized on a greater scale. I personally do not think the world is changing for the better for most of the people on this planet, but regardless of my own beliefs, an intelligent evaluation of whether the world is changing for the better or changing for the worse probably weighs other factors, like economics, much more heavily than it does what’s happening in Web 2.0.
Duncan’s belief that the Internet is making the world a great place actually serves as a great example for one of the points Lessing made in her speech. When she commented that it’s “common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.” Lessing was making the point that even educated people are so wrapped up in a small number of things (either professionally, educationally or leisurely) that it keeps them from having a more well-rounded understanding and perspective of the world. Unfortunately, Duncan, from his own narrow perspective, rushed to conclude that Lessing was insulting the intelligence of computer geeks. This is clearly not the case. I doubt that Lessing would call a brilliant computer scientist “stupid,” however I do think she might lament the fact that he could very well be ignorant about many things outside of his chosen specialty. And while information about a lot of those things can be found on the Internet, it doesn’t have them all and not everything worth reading is going to be found on Wikipedia or in a blog post. It just might be found in a classic (gasp) book that takes more than 2 minutes to read and digest.
Finally, I have a message for Duncan: as for your personal attack on Doris Lessing, I would only suggest that you refrain from insulting Nobel Prize winners until you have one of your own. Once the cultural elite are completely gone, I’m sure the masses will demand nothing less than your nomination. Until then, while I eat my elitist intellectual cake, please note that while I love the entertainment you provide, I hate to see you degrade yourself too much and hope that you don’t take on any other Nobel Prize winners. Thanks buddy!
Print This Post