Maclean’s goes trolling for controversy

I’ve been talking with friends about Steve Maich’s recent cover piece in Maclean’s — entitled “The Internet Sucks” — but haven’t posted anything about it because I wanted to wait until I could actually read the article (I sure wasn’t going to go out and actually buy a copy of the magazine). It went up online recently and I read the whole thing, and also read the back-and-forth between Mark Evans and Steve — a former colleague of Mark’s at the National Post — on Mark’s blog, and it got me seeing red all over again.

Now Mike Masnick at Techdirt has weighed in on the topic, having been alerted to the Maclean’s article by a critic who shall remain nameless. My favourite part of Mike’s response is the Henry Ford analogy — Henry said cars would change the world for the better, but now we have pollution and traffic jams, therefore cars suck. As Mike put it, “a bunch of smoke and mirrors.”

I took my own crack at answering Steve in the comments section of Mark’s blog. Here’s the text of what I posted there:

Nice try, Steve — but it’s a bit of a cop-out to say that it isn’t your job to be “balanced,” and that you argued a single side of the case solely because you wanted to stimulate discussion. That’s an easy way of trying to avoid virtually any criticism of your faulty logic and/or assertions. In fact, it’s the type of thing that blogging “trolls” do, such as your friend Andrew Keen, or Nick “The Prophet of Doom” Carr.

Like most trolls, the whole thesis of your article is based on a straw man — the idea that the creators of the Internet said it would bring about some kind of enlightened utopia. John Perry Barlow and Wired magazine might have said that in the mid-1990s, but they said a lot of stupid things back then. And throwing the fibre-optic bubble in there is pure red herring-ism; that had nothing to do with the Internet, and everything to do with Wall Street and greed — also not invented by the Internet.

I could go through your article point by point, but let’s look at the main conclusions you stated here:

  • Crime is rampant: More rampant than society as a whole? Unlikely. You’re going to need a lot more evidence than some file-swapping and scary quotes about hackers and email scams. Yes, there is child porn — also not invented by the Internet.
  • Destruction of intellectual property rights is epidemic: What does epidemic mean? And what you call destruction, others (including many artists themselves, the actual creators of that content) see as an evolution, or at least a re-balancing of rights.
  • Elevation of political discourse isn’t happening: Why should the Internet be held to blame for something that isn’t happening in the rest of the “real” world either? There’s that straw man again. He sure comes in handy.
  • The economic model is largely unproven: I guess the “largely” part leaves out Google and its $145-billion market cap, does it? Because that pretty much makes up for all the value destroyed by Wall Street during the fibre-optic bubble. Not to mention Yahoo and eBay and Amazon, etc.
  • Happy trolling, Steve. You’d make a good blogger..

Update:

It’s worth checking out the Metafilter thread on the Maclean’s story too (warning: some graphic language), including a comment that made me laugh out loud: After someone says that the magazine achieved what it wanted to because people are talking about the article, GuyZero says “I notice roadkill too. I wouldn’t call getting run over by a truck a ‘gopher marketing strategy'”.

Rick at Valleywag gets off a good one too, with his post on Maclean’s. In the end, he says, the Internet is “a series of rubes.” And John Koetsier at SparkPlug9 has a good rebuttal of Steve’s piece here.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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