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.

About the author

Mathew 2413 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

18 Responses to “Andy Rutledge thinks you’re a moron”
  1. Andy Rutledge thinks you’re a moron via Mathew Ingram: mathewingram.com/work November 30th, 2006 at 04:49

  2. In the impersonal space of the cyber-world, are we seeing a deterioration of respectful social intercourse? Is it a necessary accommodation that we need to make in order to extend the accessibility of information to all? At the risk of being called a moron

  3. sheer level of superiority, sarcasm, and general negativity is overwhelming.” As with many other critics of the Digg model, or social media in general – including Nick Carr and Andrew Keen, as well as newcomers Andy Rutledge, who I’ve written about here, and Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal, who I’ve written about here – the argument is that the wisdom of crowds doesn’t exist. The problem with the whole concept of taking advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” is that crowds have no wisdom. Microsoft

  4. In the impersonal space of the cyber-world, are we seeing a deterioration of respectful social intercourse? Is it a necessary accommodation that we need to make in order to extend the accessibility of information to all? At the risk of being called a moron (which would prove my point), I found a coincidence of these thoughts with a recent piece by Andy Rutledge: The social aspects of social media are often as anti–social as it gets. In our online community discussions, we say things we’d never say to

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. I totally agree, Vera. Thanks for the comment.

  11. […] Bloggers Blog: Will Social Media Destroy Western Civilization? Blogging the Blogosphere: Bloggers Blog reports on blogging news and trends. BloggersBlog.com Blogstorms Categories Homepage Linking to Us Recent Headlines Resources RSS Feed WWFeeds.com Will Social Media Destroy Western Civilization? The title of this post sounds like a strange question to ask but Andy Rutledge has a post about how social media can be boring, mediocre and possibly even civilization ending. 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. Now, we might think that it is the highest common denominator that is promoted in this environment, but it’s just not so. The “highest” anything is largely held by the masses as being discriminatory and elitist. So only the lowest common denominator wins out. The point is that in this sort of environment excellence does not survive. Excellence is not the sum of opinions. Excellence is not born of consensus. Excellence is by its very nature something far outside the average. In fact, not even good is found in the average. Average is comfortable. Average requires no great effort. Average requires nothing exceptional. Average anything is…, well, just mediocre. It is worth discussing how much value there is too social sites that let anyone edit or select content. There is truth in the idea that the content selected by online crowds is not always the best — often it does seem like the worst content — or the most sensational content — rises to the top. Businesspundit agrees that social media can produce mediocrity. Businesspundit says the downside of easy publishing tools is that you have to put up with “a million yahoos.” I’m not anti-amateur, I’m just anti-mediocrity. Yes, low barriers to entry allow us to find the diamonds in the rough – the excellent writers and thinkers who otherwise would not have a publishing platform. Unfortunately, it also means we have to put up with a million yahoos who think they know way more than they do. Years ago I heard a minister say “if anyone tells you they have all the answers, run the other way.” That’s why I steer clear of Web2.0 pundits. Not everyone agrees that the most popular videos on YouTube.com or the most popular stories on Digg are the best ones. That’s why people turn to different blogs and websites for a different filter or a different perspective. Most bloggers are using social media websites as a tool and not as a way of life. Many bloggers allow comments but they certainly aren’t turning their blogs into wide-open wikis that anyone can edit. There is a problem with the argument that social media is anti-elitist because the people using social media are actually the elite. Remember over 97% of humans are blogless and most people in the world don’t even have access to social media. Bloggers also do a good job of pointing out experts and some of the most popular bloggers in a particular niche are often experts in their field. Andy Rutledge also seems to be linking social media mediocrity with the downfall of civilization. Mediocrity and decadence: these are now our birthright and we work feverishly to ensure that they’re the primary features of our social endeavors. This sort of thing has happened before. History is filled with stories of how societies, great and small, have followed this path. We can read about their beginnings and their inevitable endings, in books – and now in the so–very–accurate and august Wikipedia (monument to the wisdom of crowds – /sarcasm). The waxing relevant engines of our culture are teaching us to follow a pat, clichéd script that has played out over and over again for millennia. Western culture is on the downhill slope and gathering speed toward the brick wall at the bottom. I’m talking about the hill where, at the bottom, lie the heaps of rubble that history refers to: great cultures all. Welcome to culture 2.0. Matthew Ingram finds this idea depressing. 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. There is a lot about social media sites that is not praiseworthy. Many of the top 100 videos on Google Video are not important — like the Guy pwned by girl! video (currently ranked 5th). Sometimes content selected or highlighted by social media sites as “the best” is often very boring, trivial, pointless, tasteless and/or stupid — but most people using social media sites are conscious of this “reality tv” aspect of social sites. They also know that most of the people using some of these sites are very young. Social media won’t end Western civilization and if Western civilization is nearing its end it isn’t because of social media. Global warming, pollution, bird flu, crooked governments, censorship, nuclear war, rogue asteroids, exploding calderas are far biggers concerns and you can find them all discussed in blogs and social media websites. Posted on December 1, 2006 Permalink Blogs linking to this post: Bloglines | BlogPulse | IceRocket | Technorati Our Blogs Award Winners Blog Bloggers Blog Book Blog Drivers Drive Editorial Dead Zone Gamers Game Health News Blog HowToWeb.com The IWJ Blog Media Cynic Pleasant Morning Buzz Science News Blog Shopping Blog Surfers Surf Traders Trade Video Nacho Watchers Watch Workers Work The Write News Writer’s Blog Text Ad Links .adHeadline {font: bold 8pt Arial; text-decoration: underline; color: blue;} .adText {font: normal 8pt Arial; text-decoration: none; color: black;} […]

  12. […] This modern-day Nostradamus is predicting the crumble of the new web as we know it. His doomsday words have touched a chord with numerous bloggers, including Mathew Ingram. Other cynics, such as Nick Carr and Andrew Keen, have echoed similar views, but not without much disagreement from the ‘web 2.0′ community. […]

  13. […] Jason says that the Digg community is “rotting from the inside out,” and that “the sheer level of superiority, sarcasm, and general negativity is overwhelming.” As with many other critics of the Digg model, or social media in general — including Nick Carr and Andrew Keen, as well as newcomers Andy Rutledge, who I’ve written about here, and Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal, who I’ve written about here — the argument is that the wisdom of crowds doesn’t exist. The problem with the whole concept of taking advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” is that crowds have no wisdom. Microsoft Windows is an example of an operating system written using the wisdom of crowds… and don’t get me started on the majority of large open-source efforts. […]

  14. […] Jason says that the Digg community is “rotting from the inside out,” and that “the sheer level of superiority, sarcasm, and general negativity is overwhelming.” As with many other critics of the Digg model, or social media in general — including Nick Carr and Andrew Keen, as well as newcomers Andy Rutledge, who I’ve written about here, and Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal, who I’ve written about here — the argument is that the wisdom of crowds doesn’t exist. The problem with the whole concept of taking advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” is that crowds have no wisdom. Microsoft Windows is an example of an operating system written using the wisdom of crowds… and don’t get me started on the majority of large open-source efforts. […]

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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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