Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Web 2.0: Jedi or Sith?

Photo from purplemattfish

Hopefully the Star Wars fans out there will appreciate the "two sides of the same coin" thinking here rather than a straight good versus bad analogy.

I blogged yesterday about Danny MacAskill. If you've not checked out the video yet then please, brighten up your day by doing so. Then brighten up someone else's by sending them the link, then they can see how this works?

That was after I'd read an article in The Sunday Times by a chap called Bryan Appleyard. If you follow the link , you too can read it. The wonders of the World Wide Web, eh? Basically what he was saying was that yes, the internet (as the general public understands it, Google,, Amazon, Facebook, Hotmail, etc, the "www bit") is, basically a good thing.


(You just knew that was coming)

He goes on to deride second coming of the web, "Web 2.0" - the communication and interaction side of the internet as wrong and dangerous:

[from the Times Online article] Twenty years have passed since Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web. From 1989 to 2000 it grew exponentially. Then it crashed, and...from the ashes emerged web 2.0, a cult created, engineered and run by Californians. This can be defined in many ways, but its principal features are, as with everything else in California, freedom, personal expression, letting it all hang out and making shedloads of wonga.

Blogging, Twittering and Facebooking, he contends, all give the individual the unprecedented opportunity to blather to the entire world. And this, Bryan, is a bad thing is it?

Yes. Of course there's any amount of inane rubbish out there. This post being, I'm under no illusions, perhaps another example. There's also, though, any amount of good stuff too - whether it be the mundanity of a restaurant recommendation or the wonder that is the Smithsonian's online museum collection. Similarly, and here I think is the point Mr. Appleyard may be missing - though I don't for one second think he's not aware of it - there's good and bad stuff out there in the "real" world too. It's a case of trying to find the diamond in the coal as a wise man once said.

Just because a book, CD, film or event exists, that doesn't mean you have to read, listen to, watch or attend it. There's choice there. There's freedom there. The moment you start to say this is good - we'll keep it, this is bad - let's destroy it, you move from critique to censorship.

There's a very engaging debate ongoing at the moment around freedoms (of speech and the press) in connection with The British Chiropractic Association and some claims they have made in connection with the efficacy of such a practice. Read more via Dave Gorman and Jack of Kent.

I'm not suggesting Mr. Appleyard is in favour of censorship per se - though he does appear to want to subdue the will and enthusiasm of the individual:

Institutions — publishers, newspapers, museums, universities, schools — exist precisely because they can do more than individuals. If web 2.0 flattens everything to the level of whim and self-actualisation, then it will have done more harm than good.

He then goes on to suggest that, in fact, the internet (or does he mean the World Wide Web?) may actually be harmful to, at a basic level, the evolution of human intelligence:

“There seems to be an inverse correlation between technological speed and intellectual diversity,” observes Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy.

I'm no great fan of MySpace - unless it's telling me when the next King Creosote or Phil Campbell gig is - or Facebook. But I accept their right to exist and the right of people to use them. Sure, you could just go and meet your pals in the pub for a beer and tell them your news and find out theirs rather than Tweet or Blog it but, and here's the thing, some of us have children, jobs, housework, in short, life to contend with and those student afternoons of pints, coffee and games of pool with your mates in the union are a long way away and even if they're not - it's good to talk. For some, sharing their thoughts can be a laugh, for others it can be cathartic or even therapeutic - a way to make sense of a troubled life.

If a problem shared can be a problem halved, then why can a joke shared or a new musical discovery shared not be a laugh or a singalong doubled, quadrupled or infinitely multiplied?

Appleyard again: The cult is the problem. I know that this article — it always happens — will be sneered at all over the web by people who cannot think for themselves because they are blindly faithful to the idea that the web is the future, all of it. I will be called a Luddite.

No Bryan, I'm not sneering, just tilting my head to one side and thinking, hmm, maybe Mr. Appleyard you need to get some nice people to follow on Twitter or watch the brilliant first appearance by Kate Nash on Later or read a life-affirming article by Roddy Woomble to see what you're missing by rejecting the social media aspect of the web.

He concludes the piece thus: it [the web] 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.

Yes Bryan. All those things. It's called life.

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