Duncan Riley Takes on an Ill, 88 Year-Old Nobel Prize Winner: Take a Guess Who Actually Has a Point

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:

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!

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11 Responses to “Duncan Riley Takes on an Ill, 88 Year-Old Nobel Prize Winner: Take a Guess Who Actually Has a Point”

  1. Mr. Crash on December 10th, 2007 6:37 am

    I think i’m in love…
    Or at least a state of mutual distaste for Duncan.

  2. Jenny Ryan on December 10th, 2007 7:17 am

    Scathing, but right on par. Her speech was absolutely beautiful, heart-wrenching and profound. Thanks for posting an intelligent, considerate response.

  3. Garth on December 10th, 2007 7:36 am

    Well said … the arrogance of the Web 2.0 crowd is sometimes too much.

  4. Michael Camilleri on December 10th, 2007 8:21 am

    My immediate response to Duncan’s comments is that he’s missed the point entirely. Her speech has almost nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with the importance, indeed necessity, of literature. You get the feeling even he realises it when he throws in lamely at the end of the post:

    The Guardian has the full text of Lessing’s speech here, which I note aside from the internet comments is a great, and often inspiring read.

    However, to give Duncan’s argument more credit than it deserves and to try to engage with it, I think you miss the biggest problem with his post, Drama, and that’s to say he does nothing to counter Lessing’s point in that paragraph: the Internet is, for most people, made up of a lot of very short, inane, unimportant content and this content does nothing to enrich their lives. That people are sharing a lot of very short, inane, unimportant content with a whole range of other people in a way they weren’t able to do before does not make the content any richer than it was when only those at the dinner table were subjected to it.

    It also does nothing to disprove her point to say there are valuable sources of information on the Internet. She would only be wrong if this was what the Internet was for the majority of people. But it’s not. It’s MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and blogs about fragments of culture that interest them. It’s not about expanding their world: it’s about more deeply immersing themselves in their own little corner.

  5. Ben on December 10th, 2007 1:08 pm

    Duncan Riley headed towards the DeadPool!?

  6. Eric Rice on December 10th, 2007 3:37 pm

    We should not mistake the existence of volumes of information with the presence of knowledge and wisdom.

    /shaking my head at this one

  7. Debbie Davies on December 11th, 2007 4:36 am

    What’s to pick apart in Duncan Riley’s posts? He’s perfect for Techcrunch. So is the new recruit Erick Schonfeld. Mike knows what he’s doing with Techcrunch. He’s making money, not trying to win a literary prize. That’s why Techcrunch is written for the masses by semi-literate idiots. Please Drama 2.0, write about something else or write nothing at all.

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.