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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Morozov on Internet Studies

"Nothing's so apt to undermine your confidence in a product as knowing that the commercial selling it has been approved by the company that make it." - Franklin P. Jones

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The Internet Intellectual

"Jarvis has mastered the art of transforming the most trivial observations into empty business maxims...

HAD JARVIS WRITTEN his book as self-parody—as a cunning attack on the narrow-mindedness of new media academics who trade in pronouncements so pompous, ahistorical, and vacuous that even the nastiest of post-modernists appear lucid and sensible in comparison—it would have been a remarkable accomplishment. But alas, he is serious. This is a book that should have stayed a tweet...

It would be hard to exaggerate the intellectual laziness of this book. When he is not re-phrasing the obvious, Jarvis churns out ideas that he believes to be fresh and brilliant but turn out to be stale and boring and old... he ends up accusing the great German thinker of being a smug elitist. This is how Sarah Palin would read Habermas if she could read Habermas...

Whenever Jarvis assumes the role of a cultural anthropologist, Public Parts turns from a really bad book into a really embarrassing one...

JARVIS'S STYLE IS itself a measure of what passes for Internet intellectualism. Habermas appears next to German sausages and Oprah and botox and hair extensions. Even Thomas Friedman would be aghast at some of Jarvis’s cheesy sound-bites... Jarvis’s habit of restating his banalities at least three times is extremely annoying... It gets still worse. Jarvis contradicts himself every ten pages or so... In Jarvis’s universe, all the good things are technologically determined and all the bad things are socially determined...

An Internet guru would not be an Internet guru if he didn’t make claims that contradict what he has said or written before. Take the subject of Google and its algorithms. Jarvis 1.0 was all about celebrating Google, but Jarvis 2.0 has new friends in Facebook and Twitter. (An Internet intellectual always keeps up.) Jarvis 1.0 wrote that “Google’s moral of universal empowerment is the sometimes-forgotten ideal of democracy,” and argued that the company “provides the infrastructure for a culture of choice,” while its “algorithms and its business model work because Google trusts us.” Jarvis 2.0 claims that “by sharing publicly, we people challenge Google’s machines and reclaim our authority on the internet from algorithms”... in one crucial respect Jarvis’s second book is true to the spirit of his first one. The only way to make sense of Public Parts is to read it as a wordy marketing brochure for Jeff Jarvis, the thought leader, the consultant, the international man of mystery...

Our Internet intellectuals lack the intellectual ambition, and the basic erudition, to connect their thinking with earlier traditions of social and technological criticism. They desperately need to believe that their every thought is unprecedented. Sometimes it seems as if intellectual life doesn’t really thrill them at all. They never stoop to the lowly task of producing expansive and expository essays, where they could develop their ideas at length, by means of argument and learning, and fully engage with their critics. Instead they blog, and tweet, and consult, and give conference talks—modes of discourse that are mostly impervious to serious critique...

As Chuck Klosterman has observed, “the degree to which anyone values the Internet is proportional to how valuable the Internet makes that person”...

WHY SUCH NARRATIVES are in demand by the general public is more mysterious. It could be that ordinary people find the surreal perplexity of the Internet—the stuff of WikiLeaks, Anonymous, Stuxnet, “Twitter revolutions”—so maddeningly complex and labyrinthine that they are ready to settle for whatever theory or pseudo-theory or theoretical uplift seems to make sense of the puzzling new situation. And what better way to make sense of it all than to claim that the source of their perplexity is in fact a part of some inexorable historical process that has been unfolding for centuries? Most Internet intellectuals simply choose a random point in the distant past—the honor almost invariably goes to the invention of the printing press—and proceed to draw a straight line from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, as if the Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the Reign of Terror, two world wars—and everything else—never happened.

The ubiquitous references to Gutenberg are designed to lend some historical gravitas to wildly ahistorical notions... This lack of elementary intellectual curiosity is the defining feature of the Internet intellectual. History, after all, is about details, but no Internet intellectual wants to be accused of thinking small. And so they think big—sloppily, ignorantly, pretentiously, and without the slightest appreciation of the difference between critical thought and market propaganda."
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