Nick Carr, the king of all trolls

by Mathew on May 24, 2006 · 3 comments

Like a moth to the flame, I just can’t help but respond to Nick Carr, even when I know that he is trolling — and man, is he trolling. He should change his blog name from Rough Type to Tough Hype or something like that (work with me here). His format is almost always the same, and in fact hasn’t really changed since the old IT Doesn’t Matter days: take an extreme position, in the guise of puncturing the conventional wisdom, and then throw a lot of Harvard-educated rhetoric at it. Just like slugs drawn to a glass of beer, the commenters will come.

His recent post on “the death of Wikipedia” is a perfect example. Extreme position? Check. Straw man set up? Check. Lots of pseudo-intellectual claptrap? Check (actually, not as much as usual). And yet, at the risk of appearing slug-like, I just can’t help responding. In a nutshell, the post is a kind of shaggy-dog tale — a long, circuitous argument in which the real point is only apparent at the end. And the point? A variation on one of Nick’s favourites: that something like Wikipedia, which tries to take advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” is smoke and mirrors, and that only the traditional model of wise editors carefully organizing things for the plebians has any merit.

Nick says Wikipedia has “died” in the sense that it has somehow betrayed its initial vision, by closing some entries to new changes — at least by accounts that are newer than a certain date. This is an admission of defeat, in Nick’s eyes. As Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales notes in the comments, however, this ignores the fact that only a small percentage of the entries are actually fully closed, and a relatively small number are even partially closed. Is that evidence that the Wikipedia model is flawed? Far from it. It means that Nick’s idealized portrayal of it (see the entry under “man,” subsection “straw”) might be dead, but that’s about it.

It’s too bad that places like the Guardian give Nick credence on stuff like this. Sure, it’s nice to have a gadfly who pokes holes in things — heck, I like doing that type of stuff too. But trolling is a different story. This one, as Wayne and Garth would say, is right off the troll-o-meter. As Paul Kedrosky points out, Nick seems to be getting more and more predictable in his “everyone is a moron and all the stuff they believe is crap” shtick.

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