Andy Rutledge thinks you’re a moron

by Mathew on November 29, 2006 · 18 comments

My friend Rob sent me a link to a recent blog post by Web designer Andy Rutledge because (I suspect) he knew that it would drive me up a wall, and he was right. It’s entitled “Anti-Social Media,” and it is a treatise on why social media is bad, why Web 2.0 is bad and why elitism is good — and, in fact, more than just good. Necessary. In this, Andy (whether he knows it or not) is channeling fellow elitists Nick “The Prophet of Doom” Carr and Andrew “Web 2.0 is Socialism 2.0″ Keen.

The argument is relatively simple, although Andy decides for some reason to stretch it out over thousands of words, highlighted in a yellow-on-black colour scheme that is quite ugly. Luckily, Andy doesn’t care what I think of his design, because I’m just a yob who doesn’t know anything — just like you, and most of your friends. And Andy doesn’t care what I think of his ideas either, or he would have comments on his blog. But then, any idiot would be able to take issue with his views, and that just wouldn’t do.

elitism.jpg

Here are some selected quotes:

The wisdom of crowds and the related ideals cited above are largely about championing and cultivating two things: mediocrity and decadence.

Mediocrity is the only possible result of a wide sampling of opinion or input. The only idea that can survive such a mechanism is one consistent with the lowest common denominator. The mob works to ensure that all other results are weeded out.

One of the grave flaws of the growing social media and its foundational ideals is that it facilitates irresponsibility and it fuels and rewards our basest motivations.

So, in a nutshell, Andy believes that crowds are grunting masses of baboons, and that anything that surveys a group of people will inevitably result in mediocrity. The great are pulled down amongst the rabble. Pretty depressing, right? At one point, Andy says that “Western culture is on the downhill slope and gathering speed toward the brick wall at the bottom.” It made me want to crawl into bed with a copy of Wuthering Heights and a nice bottle of Dom Perignon and wait for the mob with pitchforks to attack my castle.

Andy also says: “Think about great ideas. Not good ideas or decent ideas, but great ideas. Where do they come from? Do they come from the masses? Do they come from consensus? No, they come from individuals.”

Andy doesn’t tell us where we are to find those individuals, however. I’m assuming he would probably give the usual answer — Harvard, Yale, Cambridge. Maybe even MIT or the Sorbonne in a pinch. But isn’t social media of all kinds a way of finding those voices that might have great ideas, or be excellent in some way? Apparently not. Social media is all about cheapness and irresponsibility, and that’s what always wins, Andy says. What a depressing view of humanity.

What do you think? I think Andy needs to get out a little more and quit using Digg.com or Fark.com as the benchmark for all of social media.

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  • http://www.mappingtheweb.com Aidan Henry

    Wow,

    I read Andrew’s post. That guy is wacky to say the least. His doomsaday predictions lead me to believe that he is the David Koresh of the new web.

    I always appreciate new insights, vantage points, and perspectives, but this guy is beyond me. I think he fails to see an important angle. If these ‘mobs’ or ‘masses’ can be focused in a specific direction with some level of co-ordination and guidance from a select group of educators and tech elite, social media and the power of the mob can work and succeed.

    I think Andy needs to read up about the ‘network effect’…

    Why has Wikipedia been so successful? Why is it so accurate? The dynamic nature of wikis and real-time collaboration enable any site or live document to move toward 100% accuracy levels. Though this level will never be reached, the site will benefit greatly with every additional user/contributor. Essentially, the network becomes more and more valuable.

    Did I mention ‘crowdsourcing’?

    Andy is living in his own little anti-web 2.0 echo-chamber and needs to take a walk outside… inhale some fresh air… and open his eyes to the new world.

    Cheers,
    Aidan

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    This reminds me of the the scene in Life of Brian:

    The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We’re all individuals!
    Brian: You’re all different!
    The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we ARE all different!
    Man in Crowd: I’m not…

    Surely the answer is that every individual comes from the mass. It’s called evolution – the ultimate crowdsourcing tool. “Mediocrity is the only possible result of a wide sampling of opinion or input. The only idea that can survive such a mechanism is one consistent with the lowest common denominator. The mob works to ensure that all other results are weeded out.” No – it creates competition, which allows quality to rise to the top.

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  • http://engtech.wordpress.com engtech

    I haven’t read the link, but I’m starting to become more of a believer about the mediocrity of crowds. Some startups like cambrianhouse.com are trying to get into crowd-sourcing as a business model and I’m not sure if it’s going to work (disclosure: I won a $400 prize in a contest from them).

    The probs with “social web” are:

    - Tagging is useless if it’s from a single source. It only starts to become a relevant way of adding semantic information to documents if crowds can tag a document (this is a key point that some people have missed when they add tagging support to their apps).
    - User voting is meaningless if people can see how other users have voted before them. More info on the game theory behind it: http://www.shmula.com/197/digg-as-a-game

  • Mathew Ingram

    Engtech, you — and Shmula — are right that there are flaws in a Digg model, and Shmula does a good job of laying them out from a game theory perspective. There is no question that there is a lot of gaming that goes on there, and that the signal-to-noise ratio is relatively low most of the time, but I think that’s a separate argument from the one that Andy Rutledge is allegedly trying to make.

  • http://verabass.blogspot.com/ Vera Bass

    That’s a pretty unpleasant read. The saddest thing is that there are nuggets of truth in there. Speaking for myself, though, I’m awfully tired of reading posts on what sucks and why things don’t work well, and wish that the people who specialize in them, if they’re so smart, would spend more of those ‘superior’ brain cells on coming up with some positive contributions.

    I hardly think that sites such as Digg offer the first clue to the potential benefits (and individual opportunity) of crowdsourcing. Global ‘open calls’ which generate hundreds or thousands of ideas and contributions from people whose input would otherwise never be tapped, with the cream rising to the top, is not the creation of a mob, for heaven’s sake. Whoever taps into methods to fully enable millions of individuals.will be discovering an aggregation of value and power where the sum is greater than the parts. The point here is in the ‘aggregation of individuals’ concept …not the same thing as massing a lot of sheep into a single entity.

    Vera

  • Mathew Ingram

    I totally agree, Vera. Thanks for the comment.

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  • http://www.patrickstjohn.org/blog/ Patrick

    This is an old post, but I figured I'd add what I could.

    It's also really easy to attack him for pushing the discredited “great man” hypothesis — that there are individuals out there who create works of genius in isolation — ignoring the fact that these works are the culmination of countless conversations, arguments, and myriad other social interactions with the minds of others that the so-called “geniuses” had.

    Once you understand the true pedigree of brilliant ideas, “Web 2.0″ does nothing if not enhance the probability of instances of brilliance.

  • richardbrenkley

    Sounds like Andy Rutledge thinks he's beyond everyone else. What a shock he's gonna have when he wakes up and realizes he's just as much part of the crowd as everyone else is. Nice effort in trying to set yourself apart Andy, but crowds are ultimately made up of individuals too.

  • richardbrenkley

    Sounds like Andy Rutledge thinks he's beyond everyone else. What a shock he's gonna have when he wakes up and realizes he's just as much part of the crowd as everyone else is. Nice effort in trying to set yourself apart Andy, but crowds are ultimately made up of individuals too.

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