The Tender Ears of the Blogosphere

Pretty much everyone and their dog has commented on Nick Carr's piece
"Is Google making us stupid?"  Most offer up banal anecdotes to counter
Carr's claim but ignore the primary sources/studies he mentions.  I
didn't offer my own opinion because I don't think this is a matter of
opinion, it's a matter of science.  Either research shows there is a
new effect or it doesn't.

Two responses in particular bother me.  First, Seth Finkelstein
criticised Carr for not being "technology-positive" enough and for
writing too much in the style of "fogeyism."  His worry is that techies
won't listen to people who sound old or cranky.  That may be true but
the answer isn't to water down criticism.  Part of growing up is
learning to listen to people unlike yourself — even people you
disagree with.  A technology background does not teach you to think
critically about technology and society; if anything it leaves you with
a deficit (yes, I speak from experience).

Link: http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/001349.html

The
second response is by Danah Boyd and I don't know whether she's talking
about Carr's piece or something else, but I'll assume she is (my second
guess is Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation).  Her post is another
meta-comment and is about how to respond to "quasi-legitimate trolls in
an attention economy."  She characterizes some writers as
attention-seeking trolls and is having trouble ignoring them so asks
for advice.  I asked in a comment for clarification of what
defines a troll vs. a rational critic you disagree with and also what
books she was talking about.  I was rebuffed so I won't ask again —
I'm afraid of appearing to be a troll myself.

My problem with Boyd's point is that it's grossly unfair to call
Carr or Bauerlein trolls (Keen and Siegel may be a little closer, but
still don't meet the definition in my opinion).  To be a troll (a term
borrowed from the Internet, of course) implies an irrational
attention-seeker who ignores logic and simply repeats their opinion to
annoy someone.  These writers, however, are drawing on real evidence to support
their arguments and are engaging in rational discussion.  They may be wrong but they deserve an intelligent response.

There's an irony in Boyd's post — she claims Internet-style trolls
are showing up more and more in real life.  What she misses is that
maybe real life is the same and what has transferred over from the internet is the habit
of labeling people as trolls as an excuse not to listen to them.

Link: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2008/06/22/feeding_quasile.html

I
started this blog three years ago to try to point out the many good
books that have been written on technology's impact on society, as well
as the excellent work that continues to be done by people in fields
such as science and technology studies.  What still surprises me is how
shallow and closed-minded most discussion on the Internet tends to be. 
Most of the smartest stuff is still offline.

4 thoughts on “The Tender Ears of the Blogosphere

  1. Somebody read me!
    Regarding: “His worry is that techies won’t listen to people who sound old or cranky. That may be true but the answer isn’t to water down criticism.” – the point there is that I wish the answer was more support for criticism which doesn’t sound old and cranky (not the same at all as “water down”). It’s a rare person who spends a lot of time plowing through lots of culturally-derisive verbiage to get to find a few gems. Finger-wagging on this point is useless in practice, and unsatisfying to me.

  2. I’m not sure there really isn’t support for quality, non-hyperbolic criticism… I usually assume the over-the-top titles and rhetoric come from marketing people or editors looking to spice things up.
    That said, I guess I am one of those rare people who reads the old and cranky so long as there is some logic at the heart of what they’re saying.

  3. For the past couple weeks, since Bill C-61, usually referred to as the copyright law, was tabled in Canada, I’ve been following much of the online chatter, and this sums it up perfectly;
    “Part of growing up is learning to listen to people unlike yourself — even people you disagree with. A technology background does not teach you to think critically about technology and society; if anything it leaves you with a deficit (yes, I speak from experience).”
    It’s too bad, because like in all things we need some real critical thinking and open discussion on this one.

  4. John, thanks for the comment. I haven’t been following the Canadian copyright debate but probably should (I’m from Canada so I try to keep up a little on news there). It’s a difficult issue that deserves serious thinking.

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