I was looking forward to reading James Fallows’s long piece on “living a Web 2.0-only life” in the new issue of Technology Review. The concept’s intriguing. For a couple of weeks, Fallows “shifted as many of my activities as possible onto the Web, using new, hip technologies.” The article is his report on the experience. The title’s pretty good, too: “Homo Conexus.”
But the piece is a bit of a let-down. Fallows didn’t exactly find his Web 2.0 sojourn to be a life-changing or mind-bending experience. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression at all. Here are the key insights:
1. There are some nifty new tools on the web, like Google Calendar.
2. It really helps to have an internet connection and a keyboard.
3. Trust is critically important to web communication and commerce.
4. Middle-aged intellectuals are not the target audience of services like MySpace and Dodgeball.
Well, at least they’re points that are beyond debate.
As to the bigger picture, Fallows praises Web 2.0 as a democratic medium for creativity while also carefully distancing himself from the stuff that’s being produced:
All this outpouring of knowledge is inspiring. If you were more churlish than I am, you would end up mocking the vast tonnage of earnest self-expression, the narcissistic self-documentation (in the form of Flickr photos), the craving for contact, the blog-based disputation, and the effort invested in metatagging that characterize the interactive Web. But I am not that churlish. I find it admirable, and deeply human.
Fallows makes one observation that hits home with me. He describes how underwhelming he finds all the automated product recommendations that are always being thrown at you on the web. “In nearly a decade with Amazon,” he writes, “I’ve yet to experience the moment of perfect serendipity when it discovers a book I really like that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about.” I, too, have been waiting years to experience that moment – with Amazon, with Netflix, with iTunes, with all of ’em. Up to now, I’ve been embarrassed to admit the fact. It’s made me feel out of step – like some kind of consumer pariah, some lonely misfit prowling the shadowy outskirts of the marketplace. It’s nice, finally, to have a little company.