Writing at the Weekly Standard, Andrew Keen looks in horror at the “great seduction of citizen media, democratized content and authentic online communities.” Peeling away the “sociological jargon” of the Web 2.0 movement – “which fuses ’60s radicalism with the utopian eschatology of digital technology” – he lays bare its essential narcissism, “with its obsessive focus on the realization of the self”:
Another word for narcissism is “personalization.” Web 2.0 technology personalizes culture so that it reflects ourselves rather than the world around us. Blogs personalize media content so that all we read are our own thoughts. Online stores personalize our preferences, thus feeding back to us our own taste. Google personalizes searches so that all we see are advertisements for products and services we already use.
As I’ve thought about the watery philosophy and the powerful technology that dovetail so neatly in Web 2.0, I’ve become fearful that we’re building a machine that will, to great and general applause, destroy culture. Keen gets close to the heart of the matter: “If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent. The unintended consequence of all this democratization, to misquote Web 2.0 apologist Thomas Friedman, is cultural ‘flattening.’” In the end we’re left with nothing more than “the flat noise of opinion – Socrates’s nightmare.”
I sense it, too, every LCD a mirror. Beware of those who come with money and influence and pretty-sounding abstractions and who are utterly unaware that what they so joyfully seek to impose on the world is their own reckless banality.