I've recently been reading Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford and it has had a profound effect on the way that I view technology and modern society. Though the book does not address the web in any direct form or fashion, its view on how we as humans relate to knowledge and experience highlights some of the more fundamental issues that the web brings to the fore.
First of all, what has the internet made of our idea of self? What, if anything, can be said for our selves? I imagine the modern hackivists sees the internet as a sort of blank slate that people are "free" to express, write and broadcast to their hearts content. In this way they come to see the internet as a form of actualization.
However, on a closer inspection of what the internet is, socially, we notice a few scruples. We are born into a world of rich in existent, and intrinsic meaning. We have our base needs to attend, and we must survive. However, in such a rich society as ours' in America we may spend much time in pursuit of higher meaning. It is on such a level that the internet finds its most ready use.
Here the internet can basically facilitate two types of social action: the discussion, or the transaction. Though not exclusive of discussion of base need, when such needs are discussed the internet tends to bring out a rabid sort of gourmand. Here we have the dabblers, the experts, the professionals and then of course, the salesmen.
Now what does this have to do with our concept of self? As it stands today the internet is far from blank. Already scribbled over the slate are countless numbers of viewpoints, ideas, and political positions. This is the world we enter into each and every time we sit down to "surf." And it is in such an environment that the individual is lost to as Surowiecki puts it, "The Wisdom of Crowds."
Here we see the faint, fractious lines of the, "culture wars." This has nothing to do with any sort of decision making potential. Surowiecki's ideas have no bearing on the hardened and unmoveable limits we place on our self. Here we as users of the internet, outside of our own potential for originality, are asked a simple question, "vote up or down?"
These reputational devices, serve not our free flowing and creative energies, rather they express the part of us that is central, and unmoveable. It is when we gather those of like mind that we lose our independence as an individual. In this way Surwiecki's "wisdom" is sublimated in a cloud of angry comments. As the first comment flies the line is drawn.
Original content on the internet is very hard to come by. In fact we are at the moment embroiled in a sort of war over the right to copy. And so on either side we have the lawyers & experts, and then below them the countless dabblers, and then somewhere in the mix are the average users. And in it all is the collective power of the peer group.
The average user is stuck in an endless bidding war, as both sides go at it in the comment section. Its all rather striking how similar it is to those shady one-cent-bid sites, such as Quibids. So in a way the uninformed's work of becoming informed is made more complicated, often to the point of revulsion.
Through it all is the demand for our vote, hollow though it may be. We aren't amongst our peers and we are only floating expressions by popularity and not by utility. It is all rather insidious. We can toss in our own two penny's at any time yet the fountain isn't real. We are told to see this as an expression of our freedom, yet we are only taking sides between more expert editorials.
Anyone who has spent anytime at all in a comment section could tell you this. How what seems like a reasonable middle-of-the-road conjecture is quickly assailed from both sides. These peer, "community advocates" of a sort will not let one go with such an independent take, no every dabbler must pick a side. It's the horse race from hell, bid with pennies.