I‘m just finishing up You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier’s paper-and-ink manifesto on what’s wrong with the Web 2.0, and with the culture it’s in the process of creating — or destroying. It’s a complex book, and a lot has been said about it, so I won’t spend a lot of time paraphrasing. I’ll just a mention a couple of the points I found particularly incisive.
First, the tyranny of the mob when it comes to online forums and comment sections. We’re all well aware how this works: any coherent opinion on any topic takes about three comments to degenerate into a vulgar and vicious flame war. It turns out the cloak of anonymity does not bring out the best in people. The effect of this is mob rule, and the stifling of individual thought and accountability. These days, we can’t afford to lose a lot of individual thought. Lanier recommends people stop posting anonymously, and I concur.
Ditto with the tsunami of social media, stuff like Facebook, and Twitter, and YouTube — and yes, blogs like this one. One of Lanier’s bullet points carries a sting:
“Pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise. Online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.”
Ouch. That’s what most of us do online, isn’t it? Just react to stuff somebody else has said or done or created. Or mashed up. It makes you wonder what we’re hoping to accomplish. Maybe we want people to look at our profiles. But Lanier says that’s not such a great outcome either, pointing out that we are all more nuanced and complex — more individual — than the insipid categories imposed upon us by the Facebook profile. And remember, those arbitrary categories exist solely to make us easier targets for advertising. Think about that next time you take one of those quizzes.
But there I go again, reacting to something somebody else created. Don’t listen to me. Check out the book, and see if most of it doesn’t ring true.