An Army of Narcisusses
Originally posted 2009-09-10 19:32:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
Just as Marx seduced a generation of European idealists with his fantasy of self-realization in a communist utopia, so the Web 2.0 cult of creative self-realization has seduced everyone in Silicon Valley. The movement bridges counter-cultural radicals of the ’60s such as Steve Jobs with the contemporary geek culture of Google’s Larry Page.
The ideology of the Web 2.0 movement was perfectly summarized at the Technology Education and Design (TED) show in Monterey, last year, when Kevin Kelly, Silicon Valley’s uber-idealist and author of the Web 1.0 Internet utopia Ten Rules for The New Economy, said:
Imagine Mozart before the technology of the piano. Imagine Van Gogh before the technology of affordable oil paints. Imagine Hitchcock before the technology of film. We have a moral obligation to develop technology. . . .
But where Kelly sees a moral obligation to develop technology, we should actually have–if we really care about Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock–a moral obligation to question the development of technology.
The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts. Its empowering promises play upon that legacy of the ’60s–the creeping narcissism that Christopher Lasch described so presciently, 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.
Instead of Mozart, Van Gogh, or Hitchcock, all we get with the Web 2.0 revolution is more of ourselves.
I’m not so sure. See, we’ve always had ourselves, and always will. A lousy “Blog About Myself” won’t be any more a projection of myself our yourself into the mass consciousness than your sand castle, or the poem I write on the steam in the bathroom window. For the rest of the world it will simply not exist, however theoretically accessible it may be.
But if I can please a crowd, the way Mozart, Van Gogh (posthumously) or Hitchcock did, they will come, won’t they? And will the blog they read be any less about myself than the works of Van Gogh?
For that matter, why the comparison to artists at all? Blogging is not an art. Even if some kind of writing is an art — I would say that fiction writing is — blogging is merely a medium. It was hardly the blog that made the self the center of writing; that was done by Boswell, if not by everyone before him who wrote in the first person. Not only that, but hyperlinks (in my view, the sina qua non of blogging, as opposed to using blogging software to publish essays or just “musings”) make blogging far more of a dialogue than static writing; Movable Type is indeed in much more motion than Gutenberg ever dreamed.
The author of this article, Andrew Keen, writes:
Elite artists and an elite media industry are symbiotic. If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent.
The problem is not what he thinks it is. Elite institutions ceased to succeed at championing elite-quality art, or even “self expression” in an elite vein, nearly half a century ago. At this point why should the gatekeepeers, who have failed so resolutely at earning the right to retain their perches of privilege, have any say in the matter at all?