Nick Carr is a smart guy – but he’s wrong

by Mathew on February 17, 2006 · 29 comments

Nicholas Carr is a former editor at the Harvard Business Review. He’s written books, he’s written for the New York Times, he’s spoken at MIT and he’s won awards (see Nick’s comment below for clarification). I have done none of these things (okay, I won an award once in Grade 6). I do, however, have a blog – just like Nick does over at Rough Type – and so that puts us on an equal footing, more or less. Is that bad? After all, I’m not nearly as smart or as accomplished as he is. We may have different tastes when it comes to a bunch of things, like whether ZZ Top is great music or not, or whether John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame is one of the funniest cartoonists alive.

Why is any of this relevant? Because Nick has written a post in which he says that Web 2.0 is part of a “machine” that is killing (or will kill) culture as we know it, since Web 2.0 is designed to fuel what he calls “the new narcissism.” In this, he agrees with Andrew Keen, who has written a long piece for the Weekly Standard (which you can find here) about how Web 2.0 reminds him of Marxism, a utopian vision that became a nightmare.

And what is this Web 2.0 nightmare? Keen calls it “Socrates’s nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.” He also says – to use the quote that Nick pulled out for his post: “If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent. The unintended consequence of all this democratization… is cultural ‘flattening.’ In the end we’re left with nothing more than ‘the flat noise of opinion.'”

This – not to put too fine a point on it – is a load of elitist clap-trap. (Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web is much more succinct than I in his post about it). Every time something even remotely new or different comes along, there’s always a knee-jerk “how did this riff-raff get in here” kind of response from places like the Weekly Standard. Imagine if everyone were entitled to voice their own opinion, or indulge their own tastes, instead of recognizing the superiority of whatever art or music or literature they’re supposed to be bowing down in front of. Total chaos. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

In his final paragraph, Nick warns us to “beware of those who come with money and influence and pretty-sounding abstractions and who are utterly unaware that what they so joyfully seek to impose on the world is their own reckless banality.” I can take a little reckless banality, to tell you the truth – and there’s plenty of that at Harvard too, I’m betting – but I’m just crazy enough to think that out there in the blogosphere there are lots of unique voices that could also be heard, if only elitist morons like Andrew Keen would take the poker out and loosen up a little (Eran at supr.c.ilio.us has a nice one).

Update:

Nick has responded to my original post in the comments.

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