After reading Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, I’ve been paying much closer attention to the user-centric internet (Web 2.0) that he critiques so harshly. For those who haven’t yet read the book, he makes a strong argument about how this form of technology has actually backfired. Web 2.0 has not democratized the internet. Nicely stated, it is now controlled by a hive-mind made up of anonymous (or may as well be) users, who in some cases fill the void with their topical chatter and in others work to quickly censor and disenfranchise those who might think otherwise. Not so nicely stated, you might call it mob rule. The internet is now a place where we exist as options in drop down boxes rather than as the truly colorful individuals that we are.
This is of course a very simplified rehashing of only a section of Lanier’s book. I recommend you read it rather than just taking my very short and much more ignorant summary for face value. It’s not really this rebellious “evil internet” book but a well thought out and eloquent manifesto on the importance of regaining control and paying attention to the direction that we are moving as a society—nothing wrong with that, right? Do you see how my original summary made it sound awful?
Something that has grasped my attention this week, especially being a bookseller, is some drama going on over at Amazon. First you must check out the entry for Game Change. Some of you might know about this book. It’s been all over the internets, tv, and the radio and of course sold out of its first run with a couple days of release. Take a look at its ratings. Its Amazon’s #1 selling book but has a 2-star rating out of 243 reviews. What’s the deal? 163 single star ratings? Take a look at the single star reviews—almost none of them are by people who have read the book. They are all people who are pissed off because its hasn’t been released on the Kindle yet. Customer reviews are supposed to be a beautiful thing to help us make choices—but we’ve even messed that up.
*sub-blog continued below
After I noticed all this going on with Game Change, I looked at Amazon’s listing for You Are Not a Gadget. It seemed like a fitting thing to do. I saw four 5-star reviews and a single 1-star review. I took a look at the 1-star review and found that it was a reviewer stating that he had not read the book but from what others had told him about the book, it would probably make him mad. He then went on a rant and argued against what he imagined the book is about. So I commented on his review and asked him to please not leave reviews of books he’s never read and that it made him sound ignorant (I might have said it more rudely). Within 45 minutes, he had retracted his review. This is a case where one person misused Web 2.0 technology, was reprimanded, and retracted the misuse. The case of Game Change is much different. The ones misusing technology have taken over and cannot be silenced. You can even check out the discussion boards for this title and see the fight raging and easily being won by the mob. Now, I’m not sure if this book is any good or not but the whole situation is annoying and I’ll probably never read it (along with lots of other folks). Maybe some possibly valuable info is now lost to me because it has been shouted over. Is this a form of mob caused censorship that the mob is totally unaware of being a part of?
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I’m noticing a lot more about the technology I use every day to communicate. It’s not real communication because we have allowed it not to be. For the masses, its not making more beautiful relationships or getting real ideas out there. We are fitting into it rather than the other way. We have found a new medium in which to censor ourselves, control each other, and cause ourselves to be fearful of our own creative natures. We have become irrational because there is no time to notice that we are becoming irrational. But then again, maybe all of this is our nature and therefore, how could it be any different?
* I’m not going to go off on the Kindle or e-books even though I’m a bookseller and I’m apparently supposed to. I guess I’m one of those booksellers who understands we need to make technology work with us and take advantage of it. Because seriously, if we don’t—it will take us down. Where were the booksellers when I switched to paperless online bill pay? Paying bills just doesn’t feel the same without writing checks. I miss the perforated edge of my checks and licking the envelope glue. I’m losing out and where the fuck were you?
The true fact is that I pay some online and I write checks and snail mail some. I imagine this will be how books will be. I guess unless Amazon gets what they want and forces publishers to sell them exclusive e-book rights for super cheap and decent authors can’t make a living from writing good books and all books are reviewed by a mob of idiots like the whole Game Change fiasco—deap breath and yell—THEN WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO WANT TO READ BOOKS ANYWAYS? (yes... that was a Kanye moment) There won’t be any good books to read. No one will write them and no one will publish them because no one will want to read them. E-books will not destroy literature as long as corporate deal makers aren’t allowed to let that happen.