I couldn’t help but notice the title of Nicholas Carr’s recent post,”The amorality of Web 2.0.” It had an enticing “devil’s advocate” ring to it. A bit defensive at first, I approached his entry with caution, readying my fodder for a scathing comment. After careful reading, however, I’m surprised to say that he makes a good argument; and I am perhaps even a hesitant believer.
To summarize his main points (I hope I’m not butchering):
1. Web 2.0 represents participation, collectivism, virtual communities, and amateurism. Originally thought to be good things, but are they really so? Wikipedia is hailed as a glorious manifestation of “the age of participation” but numerous entries are sub-par, reeking of amateurish writing. If Wikipedia (and Web 2.0) are used and cited as “authoritative” sources, are we promoting amateurism over professionalism? And more importantly to me, are we promoting the propagation of false or inaccurate information?
2. Carr states that the same thing goes for blogs: in general they are superficial, have an emphasis on opinion over reporting, and have a tendency to reinforce rather than challenge ideological extremism and segregation.
And what about the economics?
Sure, it’s okay, we understand (and even exonerate) a small Web 2.0 company that makes money off of user generated content (Flickr, perhaps). But when that same company gets bought by a Yahoo, there is a tinge of bitterness that is the aftertaste of knowing that you indeed are helping one of the big guys now. And of course, they are only looking out for themselves.
To say that Web 2.0 is amoral implies that it had a morality to begin with. This morality could only be that of it’s participants. And to call all of it’s participants amoral, in my opinion, can only be a generalization drenched in fallacy. That said, I do understand and share Carr’s caution of venerating the amateur and distrusting the professional. After all, there is a reason why the pros are pros. I would never want to help propagate false or inaccurate information.
I wonder though, at what point did this shift occur? At what point did the amateur opinion ever come close to trumping the professional’s? My only supposition that I’ll enter into the fray is that of Marshall McLuhan: The medium is indeed the message. Has the medium so radically changed whereby the message of the amateur takes on equal weight to that of the pro? Has the medium brought about a social paradox whereby social intelligence and “the hype” eclipse and overshadow the clout of the seasoned individual? Is there a reversal mechanism in play now, or will there be in some not-too-distant future? More questions than answers here.
And of morality? We all know from Socrates, Aristotle, and Nietzsche that morality can be a very flexible thing. The bottom line, that I believe exists, is that TripTie (and many other Web 2.0 companies) will provide value to its users. It will enable them to share things in ways that they always could, but to a new and greater robustness that the Web 2.0 platform provides. And TripTie is run by moral people with moral intentions.
And if Web 2.0 does become the selfish amoral Gollum like in JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”? Then I quote Gandalf the Grey: “Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over.”