More on Vaidhyanathan and “You”

by on January 2, 2007 · 6 comments

Prof. Vaidhyanathan has left a gracious comment in response to my post last week about his MSNBC article. He rightly takes issue with my characterization of his position as “knee-jerk leftist and old fogeyism.”

As I point out in a subsequent comment, think his article illustrates a couple of interesting ideological divides. One divide is that Prof. Vaidhyanathan is more concerned than I am about the impact of corporate control over the means of communications. But the more interesting divide, in my estimation, is an individualist/communalist divide. Prof. Vaidhyanathan seems to feel that it’s only a revolution if people are able to “forge collective consciousnesses” and tackle big social problems. I’m more inclined to think that individual, incremental, spontaneous social organizations are at least as important.

What’s most fascinating about this is that it doesn’t seem to have any correlation with the traditional left-right divide. Vaidhyanathan clearly hails from the left-hand side of the political spectrum, as does Seth Finkelstein, but you can see similar sentiments from Nick Carr, who I’ve never thought of as a left-winger, and from our friends at the libertarian-leaning Progress and Freedom Foundation.

And of course, there’s yet another axis concerning copyright and patent law, in which Seth, Prof. Vaidhyanathan, and I would generally find ourselves on the same side, with PFF and most of the Washington establishment on the other side.

This is one of the things that makes writing about tech policy so interesting. On most issues, there is a distinctively “conservative” position and a distinctively “liberal” one, with libertarians usually lining up squarely with one side or the other, depending on the particular issue. But in tech policy, the battle lines seem to be more fluid.

  • Brian Moore

    I’ve gone through the original article and the comments. I’m still at odds with Professor Vaidhyanathan’s assessment.

    “We have simply let a handful of new corporations aggregate and exercise their own will on us.” — SV

    How are they exercising their will on us? I don’t remember Google forcing me to do anything, or Myspace (admittedly I don’t have one), or blogspot, or YouTube or any of the other representatives of the “you revolution.” That’s simply not true.

    “Do you deserve an award because media mogul Rupert Murdoch can make money capturing your creativity via his new toy, MySpace?” — from the MSNBC article

    I fail to see how Murdoch is exploiting me if I use MySpace. How is he “capturing” my creativity? It’s a 100% mutually acceptable agreement. “He” gives me webspace, I put up things I like. I can take it away any time I like. This is an abuse of the word “capture.”

    Now, I completely agree that the “You” thing was a total copout from TIME. But the Professor’s complaint seems to be directed towards their labelling of it as a revolution. It is. Just not in the ways he might want. (although it really HAS contributed to AIDS research, Tsunami relief and overthrowing tyrants) When you submit your review to Amazon they aren’t “capturing” it, you’re donating it to them because you want to get your opinion of the product out, for whatever reason.

    He (or perhaps Seth) may accuse you of being too obsessed with business, and we can accuse them of being obsessed only with great and noble communal efforts, but the problem is the public disagrees with us. THEY value social relationships, the latest news on pop starlets, funny monkey movies, keeping in touch with friends overseas, putting porn on their webcam, emo rants on myspace, online dating and everything else. You, me and Professor V can agree that these might be shallow pursuits, but that’s irrelevant.

    The public doesn’t care what we think, or what we disapprove of. When that many people are doing new and (to them) fascinating and interesting stuff, then that’s a “revolution.” If he thinks that this is only occurring despite brutal corporate control, then he’s simply wrong.

    Any exec at one of these companies would laugh at him if he proposed to them that they had “control” over this — I know, because many of our clients at my workplace are those exact companies, and they desperately want to know what they can do to sate the ravening masses at their gates, demanding new things. They wish they had control. They wish they were able to stand at the helm of creative content on the web and direct it left or right. But they can’t.

    Those that have tried (for example) the sort of “top down” viral marketing that is the hallmark of internet success have failed miserably — take an example from my pet industry, video games.

    Here’s them getting mocked for it by Penny Arcade:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2006/12/13

  • Brian Moore

    I’ve gone through the original article and the comments. I’m still at odds with Professor Vaidhyanathan’s assessment.

    “We have simply let a handful of new corporations aggregate and exercise their own will on us.” — SV

    How are they exercising their will on us? I don’t remember Google forcing me to do anything, or Myspace (admittedly I don’t have one), or blogspot, or YouTube or any of the other representatives of the “you revolution.” That’s simply not true.

    “Do you deserve an award because media mogul Rupert Murdoch can make money capturing your creativity via his new toy, MySpace?” — from the MSNBC article

    I fail to see how Murdoch is exploiting me if I use MySpace. How is he “capturing” my creativity? It’s a 100% mutually acceptable agreement. “He” gives me webspace, I put up things I like. I can take it away any time I like. This is an abuse of the word “capture.”

    Now, I completely agree that the “You” thing was a total copout from TIME. But the Professor’s complaint seems to be directed towards their labelling of it as a revolution. It is. Just not in the ways he might want. (although it really HAS contributed to AIDS research, Tsunami relief and overthrowing tyrants) When you submit your review to Amazon they aren’t “capturing” it, you’re donating it to them because you want to get your opinion of the product out, for whatever reason.

    He (or perhaps Seth) may accuse you of being too obsessed with business, and we can accuse them of being obsessed only with great and noble communal efforts, but the problem is the public disagrees with us. THEY value social relationships, the latest news on pop starlets, funny monkey movies, keeping in touch with friends overseas, putting porn on their webcam, emo rants on myspace, online dating and everything else. You, me and Professor V can agree that these might be shallow pursuits, but that’s irrelevant.

    The public doesn’t care what we think, or what we disapprove of. When that many people are doing new and (to them) fascinating and interesting stuff, then that’s a “revolution.” If he thinks that this is only occurring despite brutal corporate control, then he’s simply wrong.

    Any exec at one of these companies would laugh at him if he proposed to them that they had “control” over this — I know, because many of our clients at my workplace are those exact companies, and they desperately want to know what they can do to sate the ravening masses at their gates, demanding new things. They wish they had control. They wish they were able to stand at the helm of creative content on the web and direct it left or right. But they can’t.

    Those that have tried (for example) the sort of “top down” viral marketing that is the hallmark of internet success have failed miserably — take an example from my pet industry, video games.

    Here’s them getting mocked for it by Penny Arcade:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2006/12/13

  • Brian Moore

    I suppose I ignored his comments that this “revolution” might not be entirely positive.

    “But we should not be blind to the costs as well. While we find it easier to “link” to “friends” thousands of miles away because they also appreciate the musical stylings of Coldplay, we spend less time in the presence of our neighbors Ã?¢â?‰? the folks who would come knocking (we hope) when they notice those community newspapers (that we probably no longer get) piling up on our doorstep.”

    But that’s the thing, just as you said — these aren’t mutually exclusive. If you had neighbors who shared your interests enough that you wanted to talk and hang out with them, no doubt you would be already!

    So there are two groups: people who have neighbors/coworkers/classmates they can hang out with, and people they don’t. Group A are people Vaidhyanathan likes, and that’s great — they can use the internet to find even more friends to hang out with. Group B doesn’t, so they go on the internet. Friends on the internet doesn’t exclude friends in real life, and should we really trivialize their search for friendship and acceptance online? That seems a little mean.

    Secondly, the reason I canceled my community newspapers is because online content is better. Before the internet, I read all my local newspapers. Now I don’t. Because the internet is better, for my needs. Apparently millions agree. Should I pay for second hand information sources just because some people find them quaint and “community” enhancing?

  • Brian Moore

    I suppose I ignored his comments that this “revolution” might not be entirely positive.

    “But we should not be blind to the costs as well. While we find it easier to “link” to “friends” thousands of miles away because they also appreciate the musical stylings of Coldplay, we spend less time in the presence of our neighbors Ã?¢â?‰? the folks who would come knocking (we hope) when they notice those community newspapers (that we probably no longer get) piling up on our doorstep.”

    But that’s the thing, just as you said — these aren’t mutually exclusive. If you had neighbors who shared your interests enough that you wanted to talk and hang out with them, no doubt you would be already!

    So there are two groups: people who have neighbors/coworkers/classmates they can hang out with, and people they don’t. Group A are people Vaidhyanathan likes, and that’s great — they can use the internet to find even more friends to hang out with. Group B doesn’t, so they go on the internet. Friends on the internet doesn’t exclude friends in real life, and should we really trivialize their search for friendship and acceptance online? That seems a little mean.

    Secondly, the reason I canceled my community newspapers is because online content is better. Before the internet, I read all my local newspapers. Now I don’t. Because the internet is better, for my needs. Apparently millions agree. Should I pay for second hand information sources just because some people find them quaint and “community” enhancing?

  • http://www.randomtruth.com randomtruth

    I personally feel that this discussion is a testament to the “you” revolution that Prof V is criticizing. The pure fact that people from all walks of life can exchange uncensored ideas about these social concepts in near real-time is for me absolutely amazing.

    Perhaps Prof V is focusing too much on the tools being used for more entertainment-style exchanges (MySpace, YouTube, etc.). From blogs to IRC, there are many, many outlets for communal exchanges that aren’t just focused on money making and “shallow” chatter.

    Here’s several of examples that stand out for me:

    1. When Huygens descended to Titan, I spent several hours in an open IRC room with professors, amateurs and like from all over the world discussing the data as they came in.

    2. During the Israel-Hezbollah activity, sharp-eyed photo watchers were able to spot doctored pics and cry foul, thus acting as an amazing check and balance to the media and govt. outlets that can sometimes give narrow versions of the truth.

    3. I have a friend with a child with Autism, and the web’s various discussion boards dedicated to the topic have proven to be so very important to her as they allow her to connect with and exchange news, ideas and compassion with other mothers living her same life.

    Finally, I think the publishing & archiving of information on the web is in itself an invaluable addition to the forging of collective conscienceness in that it makes it easier and easier for us to progress w/o reinvention of experiments and data, while also allowing these data to be surrounded by great contextual discussions that can be built upon, refined, and rethought over time.

  • http://www.randomtruth.com randomtruth

    I personally feel that this discussion is a testament to the “you” revolution that Prof V is criticizing. The pure fact that people from all walks of life can exchange uncensored ideas about these social concepts in near real-time is for me absolutely amazing.

    Perhaps Prof V is focusing too much on the tools being used for more entertainment-style exchanges (MySpace, YouTube, etc.). From blogs to IRC, there are many, many outlets for communal exchanges that aren’t just focused on money making and “shallow” chatter.

    Here’s several of examples that stand out for me:

    1. When Huygens descended to Titan, I spent several hours in an open IRC room with professors, amateurs and like from all over the world discussing the data as they came in.

    2. During the Israel-Hezbollah activity, sharp-eyed photo watchers were able to spot doctored pics and cry foul, thus acting as an amazing check and balance to the media and govt. outlets that can sometimes give narrow versions of the truth.

    3. I have a friend with a child with Autism, and the web’s various discussion boards dedicated to the topic have proven to be so very important to her as they allow her to connect with and exchange news, ideas and compassion with other mothers living her same life.

    Finally, I think the publishing & archiving of information on the web is in itself an invaluable addition to the forging of collective conscienceness in that it makes it easier and easier for us to progress w/o reinvention of experiments and data, while also allowing these data to be surrounded by great contextual discussions that can be built upon, refined, and rethought over time.

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