Thursday, September 13, 2007

Has the Internet done any good?

Here's an argument by two people I don't know, so I will comment with complete authority on whatever meaning I imagined they were trying to impart through my usual half-assed reading.

Andrew Keen v Emily Bell, Is today's internet killing our culture?
Andrew says:

"the very idea of cultural authority is undermined, meaning that everybody (ie: nobody) can legitimately determine aesthetic standards or truths."
I agree completely. Here is what's wrong with the Internet: we don't have time for it all. There's too much.

Humans still live for 80 years and there are still only 24 hours in a day, so increasing awareness (such as the Internet does) only dilutes it. Our awareness has become wider, but shallower. It's simple math. We do not have the time to care about all the things that are available to us to know about. In the past, we were told by a very few what to care about. We have Shakespeare because somebody decided to collect all the works and bundle them into a folio and attribute them to Shakespeare. But if we had the Internet at the time, someone named Waldo or Lucinda might have survived in place of Shakespeare. And their work could be greater or inferior, but we still wouldn't have Shakespeare. Being told what to appreciate allows us to focus and savor, and even to criticize and to rebel against. Cultural (in fact, any and all) authority is absolutely essential for keeping a society alive.

Emily says:

"What has changed about the world is that it is possible now to be a professional artist in some fields without necessarily being much better than a number of amateurs - and this is where the internet is levelling the playing field and changing the economy."
Do we want that? Everything truly valuable becomes valueless. If our labors become worthless, soon we will also be worthless. Andrew argues that he sees a return to a period when performers will only be able to afford to perform for private audiences, that their reproducable labor will be worthless from unrestricted reproductions. I agree.

I don't want culture dictated by the masses. How many times have you downloaded a crappy video? And it was a video that had already been download 10,000 or 1,000,000 times. Logic would say that one million downloads can't be wrong, but they are, often they f**king are.

So am I supposed to follow the masses, and choose my cultural entertainments based on the crowd? No.

If the Internet is creating a world of no authority and no guidance, then I don't want it. Take the Internet back. I said take it back.

As far as Emily and Andrew's argument, Andrew is worried about the economy regarding professionals and how the Internet steals from them. He says, "The digital revolution fatally undermines the value of the copy..." If so, the only solution to that is to find a way to pay for these copies or reproductions, much like you might buy that postcard of that Magritte you like. If the real thing costs $2, charge 2¢ per download and make that charge as a tax against the ISP of the user, and use that money to pay the artists.

He also says, "Here's my magic bullet. I think we've got to fight anonymity." And again, I sort of agree.

The Internet is a place. And so far, it's been a place with few rules. But that's going to change. My guess is that some countries are going to put more limits on the data that pass through. The Internet really is the Wild West, and some towns are gonna make you turn in your guns if you want to stick around.