October 23, 2011

#JeffJarvis gets his teeth kicked in, and whines

Jeff Jarvis, new media hypnotist
Call this the latest installment in my "Dark Side of the Internet" series.

Evgeny Morozov has a deliciously over-the-top-crushing review of Jeff Jarvis' new book, "Public Parts." 

Jarvis, whose obsession for linking puts him in the same class of Internet myopics as Robert Scoble, with whom I fortunately have had less interaction, makes a tepid defense of the need for maximum publicness on the Internet, sounding like an older, but no less self-infatuated, Mark Zuckerberg. 

Yes, I think that's just about the right description.

Here's a few outtakes:
Why are we so obsessed with privacy? Jarvis blames rapacious privacy advocates—“there is money to be made in privacy”—who are paid to mislead the “netizens,” that amorphous elite of cosmopolitan Internet users whom Jarvis regularly volunteers to represent in Davos. ...

In one respect—his unrivaled ability to attract attention to his diva-like self—Jarvis has outdone even the fictional Dr. Kirk. Jarvis’s public parts are truly public: his recent battle with prostate cancer has become something of an online Super Bowl, with Jarvis tweeting from the operating table and blogging about the diaper problems that followed.  ...

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.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

My takeaway from this, since Morozov mentions Hannah Arendt early in his review, is YES ... Jarvis epitomizes the "banality of Internet publicness."

Fortunately, though, Morozov doesn't fire a single bullet at just Jarvis.

Instead, he rightfully gets out the blunderbuss and targets new media fluffers in general:
It is not surprising that the two books feature almost identical casts. The list of fellow Internet gurus and believers who make appearances in both books, repeating what they say in every other Internet book, is too long to give in full, but here are Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson, Don Tapscott, Jay Rosen, Robert Scoble, Seth Godin, Nick Denton, Umair Haque, Arianna Huffington, Doc Searls, John Perry Barlow, Steven Johnson.
I don't waste time following all of those, but I feel about Shirky, Rosen, Huffington, and the degree I have followed Scoble, him, the same way Morozov does.

Morozov then goes on to list specific reasons why these people are part of the banal dark side, but, banality aside, need our watchful attention:
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. ...

As Chuck Klosterman has observed, “the degree to which anyone values the Internet is proportional to how valuable the Internet makes that person.” Internet intellectuals like to tell companies and governments what they like to hear-including the kind of bad news that is really good news in disguise (you are in terrible shape, but if you only embrace the Internet, all your problems will be gone forever!). Occasionally their gigs are embarrassing—Clay Shirky’s name turned up on the despicable roster of consultants to Qaddafi’s government—but they will take that risk. And the technology companies return the favor: the opening pages of Macrowikinomics—another recent best-seller in the sprawling library of techno-punditry—is peppered with laudatory quotes from the CEOs of Dell, Best Buy, Accenture, Dupont, Nike, Google, and a dozen other companies.
It would be easy to ignore people like Jarvis, but, as Morozov points out, Jarvis (and his ilk) regularly attend the playgrounds of the rich, famous and world leaders like Davos -- and pretend to know what's "right" for the future of the Internet.

And, as that second paragraph notes, the likes of Jarvis are sellouts to rich CEOs on issues like "branding." In short, the Jeff Jarvises of the world are bad in part because they give a pseudo-intellectual cover to the Steve Jobs of the world.

Finally, although addressed at Jarvis, this riff hits most the new media fluffers:
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. The failure of Internet intellectuals actually to grapple with the intervening centuries of momentous technological, social, and cultural development is glaring.
Many technological advances have gone almost nowhere, such as the printing press and paper money in China. Others literally get forgotten, such as the Romans inventing portland cement for underwater construction, only to see its knowledge later forgotten for more than a millennium,

And, you want fun? Here's Jarvis boo-hooing about the review.
I wish Morozov had tackled issues and ideas to show how it’s done. He wants an intellectual examination of the topic — accusing me of not providing it — but then he doesn’t offer one himself.
Uhh, you HAVE no ideas; that's the whole point of the mocking tone of the review. Either Jarvis is being even more of a diva than normal, or he's that dense. Of course, they're not mutually exclusive; it could be both.

Beyond that, my last quote from Morozov alone shows that he's talking about ideas all the way down.

From my own blogging and reading, some about Jarvis in particular and some about new media fluffers in general, I can say the following.

1. On new vs. old media, they simply ignore financial constraints, and other ones, on much serious journalism, as this book notes.

2. As an exchange from that book notes, they ignore the capitalism, even hypercapitalism, that drives much of the Net's dark side:
Thomas Frank, among other things, eviscerates New Media fluffer Jay Rosen with an anecdote from when Rosen interviewed Roger Rosenblatt, CEO of New Media writing serf farm Demand Media (eHow and other sites).

And the hardest-hitting interrogation Rosen could do was ask, "If you love the Web, then why are you doing this, running these content farms?" And, Frank indirectly lets us understand that that attitude toward the financial side of how most New Media can't be financially supported well, unless run on a hypercapitalist model, and the refusal of Rosen, Clay Shirky, Jeff Jarvis and others to address this, is the problem with most New Media fluffers.
3. As I've blogged elsewhere, they miss that this hypercapitalism is ultimately driven by "infowars" which people like Jarvis unwittingly, or half-wittingly, abet.

4. And, speaking of ideas, they also ignore (or in Huffington's case, welcome) the fact that the Net has led to the hollowing out of the creative class.

So, Morozov is right, right, right. Despite, or rather, perhaps, because of their banality (a banality that fits well with modern America), Jarvis and people like him are dangerous indeed.

They encourage a modern bread-and-circuses attitude, if you will; let's say, to riff on Jobs, an iGeneration. They encourage the same breathless wonder at their own thoughts to spread to other people and their own thoughts.

Oh, I can be in love with my own thoughts, too. But, I don't think they're earthshaking, even though I do believe they're usually less banal, shallow and trite than the likes of Jarvis.

Of course, this is a guy who wrote for TV Guide and People. What else would we expect but "look at me" writing? I'm sure that he will next raise the jealousy card; others who have gotten lucky via the Internet often do, precisely because it's yet another easy way to avoid the real issues. But, the criticism is true. Again, going beyond Morozov, he's trying to tell everybody that you, too, can have your 15 minutes of cyberfame.

Well, if the worldwide content of "information" from 2003-2008 was as much as in the entire previous history of the world ... no you can't. Not in the U.S., you can't.

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