Healthy measure of web scepticism [‘If web 2.0 flattens everything to the level of whim and self-actualisation, then it will have done more harm than good’]: check
Emotive comparison example from expert [the lone blogger v professional journalistic teams]: check
Flashy attention-grabbing headline [‘Break free of this world wide delusion’]: check
All the ingredients for the Sunday paper web rant articles that have been doing the rounds lately (think Henry Porter, for example) and used in generous quantities again today by Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times:
No, Bryan Appleyard, I don’t think you’re a luddite. I can disagree with you on some points without falling into a generalised category of people ‘who cannot think for themselves’ defined by you. Although someone I follow on Twitter, the Guardian’s director of digital content, Emily Bell, directed me to your column, I imagine that most of us who followed the link took time to read before expressing views. You’re right, there is is a fair amount of band-wagoning in the web 2.0 world. Like you say: the web is diverse and hosts both good and bad. We’re not, therefore, all members of some blindly-following ‘cult’: many of us are critical readers who like to share ideas via the web.
Appleyard’s column, as Mark Ng pointed out, is far more nuanced than the normal Sunday columnist strawman web rant. Two things I particularly agree with Appleyard on:
His use of Edgerton’s quote: “”The internet”, says David Edgerton, professor of the history of technology at Imperial College London and author of The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, “is rather passé . . . It’s just a means of communication, like television, radio or newspapers.””
And this, the last part of the final par: “…the web is just one more product of the biology, culture and history that make us what we are. In the real world, it is wonderful, certainly, but it is also porn, online brothels, privacy invasions, hucksterism, mindless babble and the vacant gaze that always accompanies the mindless pursuit of the new. The web is human and fallen; it is bestial as much as it is angelic. There are no new worlds. There is only this one.”
BUT. It strikes me that Appleyard has generalised – the very crime of which he accuses the ’cult’.
Who is calling the web revolution a universally wonderful thing? Since this is the very thing he’s arguing against, it’s odd he doesn’t name the main proponents of this argument. Instead he quotes this: “”Why not?” say the Californians. “This is paradise, the individual set free.”” Now, I’m not disputing that there are those who do believe in widespread democratic benefits of the web, but it would be helpful to have some names rather than a vague reference to a Californian cult. [NB: Clay Shirky often gets held up on this charge (he’s not mentioned in Appleyard’s article), but Shirky does admit that his views have shifted and the web is as subject to manipulation by special interest groups as the offline world.]
Appleyard says it’s a ‘means of communication’ but then lumps in all the aspects of the web in one article. How possibly can you deal with Wikipedia, journalism models, aggregators, social networking, ‘bloggery’, search, flash mobbing, shopping and classified ad. sites all in one relatively short article? I don’t know, but it would surprise me if he attempted such an exercise for printed material, which theorised about various types of books, newspapers, magazines, political pamphlets, advertising flyers, encyclopedias etc… all in one article.
So if Appleyard is trying to get away from the over-generalised web utopia model, why present the article in the way he has done? I like how Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC Technology correspondent has put it:
“[Appleyard’s article] is a corrective to “web changes all” utopianism but then wails about huge impact of web”
PS: I’m trying to gather some more thoughts on UK regulation and convergence. Please drop me an email or leave your comments on my post over at BeatBlogging… “Why UK regulation stands in the way of newsroom convergence”.