space is the place

Data aggrandizers.

I don’t know. I do know that i’m skeptical about the thick hubub that currently coagulates around “Web 2.0”; in particular, Web 2.0 in direct relation to the school of journalism.

I know there is a progressively thin line between skepticism and reactionary these days. I like to think of myself as merely a skeptic (and of journalism as a craft steeped in an ethic of methodical skepticism). I am not a Luddite; I have multiple computers, this weblog, a del.ico.us account, a last.fm account, membership on a few forums, an overloaded RSS feed aggregator and a personalized Google homepage complete with the Buddhist aphorism of the day. It is a broad rift in logic to pretend that the Internet is not part of the social reality in the First World at least.

However, I am no positivist. Neither am I a technological neutralist. The idea that technologies only have the potential to better the human condition and exist simply to that is, in my opinion, supremely arrogant and childish. To think that new technologies have no effect on the way you think and henceforth perceive the world around you is awful folly. Perhaps i’ve just taken too many philosophy of technology classes and read too many articles by Albert Borgmann and David Strong.

We’ve already seen this technological effect on perception in Time’s decision for Person of the Year. With a pithy retort of “You!”, Time puts on display just how detached from reality the First World has finally become. Computers are indeed better distributed and cheaper than they ever were before. But they are still not the “truly democratic medium” that many evangelists make them out to be. I imagine it would be difficult to set aside a Powerbook fund when you’re already amassing a month’s worth of family income to afford enough gruel to feed the family for the next week.

Global Voices Online is a big step in the right direction. GBV perhaps more than any other source has sold me on the virtues of the citizen journalism craze. GBV, except maybe YouTube, is the one site that I think capitalizes on the Web 2.0 promises of democratization of data and communication, of invoking Derrida and attempting to deconstruct what is truly an informational oligarchy.

But until there is some way for every person from every social demographic and walk of life to have unfettered access to computers, Internet and freedom of speech, Web 2.0 will simply be another consumer oligarchy, methinks. An oligarchy of those with computers, with reliable Internet access, with a literacy in the technologies to work them, with just plain literacy.

Because for now, what do we see coming from those young turks privileged enough to find some succor from the overdriven globalized corporate hyper-capitalist consumer state plutocracy? Stories about celebrities showing their genitalia, of the latest little pieces of useless plastic and LCD to spend their liberated totally non-consumer-state Adbusters! currency on with a fervor that matches that of a junkie spending money to give their life meaning.

I’d like to see aggregators take a step in the direction of GBV’s main RSS feed: a rich and varied panoply of stories that are not hemmed in by regional, cultural, linguistic or otherwise divisive categorical borders created for the sake of “neatness”. An aggregator that lets you read from that rich variety, things that interest you and, maybe, just maybe, god forbid– some things that you may not have been interested in otherwise beforehand? Or is that a cardinal sin against the very essence of what news aggregation is supposed to be “achieving”?

That’s what i’m afraid of. Call me a lame reactionary old guard classicist, but I think journalism, no matter what its permutation may be, has an intrinsic obligation to tell people what is important to them and what they should know about the world, not simply want they want to hear, read, view at any given moment.

I’m afraid of my generation aggregating themselves into two-dimensional ignoramuses.

– California (2007)

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