Tuesday, June 26, 2007
So I had my two debates yesterday - on Radio 4 and at the ICA - with Andrew Keen. The radio one was, according to Simon Collister, 'a most depressing piece of listening' and, Collister adds, Keen thinks in 'a stupid, stunted, snobbish and condescending fashion'. At the ICA, the questions from the audience, with a couple of exceptions, were very hostile. Disagreement is one thing, outright hostility another. So why does Keen provoke the latter rather than the former? His broad argument is that Web 2.0 is destroying mainstream media and all systems of authority and replacing them with clamorous amateurism and vacuous self-promotion. One cannot argue that these things are happening, but one can argue - as I did at the ICA - that Keen is massively overstating his case, that he takes too seriously the frequently rather thick boosters of Web 2.0 and that we are merely in a transitional stage after which the mania and mayhem surrounding Web 2.0 will subside. But, as I said in my previous post, the hostility comes, in part, because webbies have so closely identified themselves with new web technologies that they take any dissent as a personal insult. But also, I realised at the ICA, we are dealing here with utopians. This refers back to my assessment of John Gray. Utopianism is a recurrent delusion based on the idea - patently false to any rational observer - that history tells a story with a happy ending. Its persistence and ubiquity are astonishing. Every few years, for example, utopianism infects financial markets with the conviction that the secret of perpetual economic growth has been discovered or that some new way of outwitting the markets has been revealed to the initiated. Many hedge funders and private equity zealots are currently gripped by this delusion. Utopianism invariably accompanies new technologies. Perhaps because of the disappointments of Web 1.0, we now have a particularly bad case of the delusion associated with Web 2.0. Utopians are contemptuous of those who dissent from their vision. Quite often, like Lenin, they kill them, justifying the crime as a necessary removal of all hindrances to a brighter future for mankind. Perhaps the web zealots won't go that far, but the contempt with which they respond to any questioning of their faith is a sure sign that they have been infected by a belief system more bizarre and implausible than anything dreamed up by orthodox religion.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:47 am