June 7th, 2006

The Ideological Polarization of 2.0

by

Ideological debates appearing on TechMeme are starting to resemble the extreme polarization of political debates on Memeorandum — take this latest dust-up over 2.0 ideology, sparked by the Lee Gomes article in the WSJ.

Here’s where I stand — somewhere in the middle. I think both sides have valid points, but I also think both sides are over-indulging in the extreme ideological polarization that renders “partisans” incapable of seeing shades of gray or valid points on the other side. It’s also the kind of polarization that leads to the ad hominem attacks that I’ve seen in many instances.

To whit, here are some interesting points (at least to me) from both sides:

Erick Schonfeld

Every artist has his or her references. Perhaps we call them artists because they are so artful in how they make their mashups and integrate them with their own ideas. Most of the digital mashups that Gomes decries are not yet at that stage. But give them some time. After all, the movie as an art form has been around for a hundred years, and the very first movies were also hobbyist crap.

Nick Carr

If you’re not “actively” fiddling around with something, you’re being “passive,” and passive is, of course, bad. But as Gomes points out, there’s nothing passive about reading a good book or watching a good movie or sitting down with a good newspaper.

The other popular false dichotomy is between “static” and “dynamic.” A completed work of art or craft – a book, a painting, a movie, an encyclopedia entry – is “static,” and static, like passive, is bad. A work is only “dynamic” if it’s some kind of open-ended group production – art by committee. Again, though, these terms are fake.

I actually disagree with elements of both Erick’s and Nick’s posts, but I found that reading both with an open mind helped me think through these issues further, rather than approaching it with my mind already made up and then shouting into the echo chamber.

This is a rapidly evolving phenomenon — to chose a side strikes me as intellectually facile and in many ways dishonest — I don’t pretend to know where all this is going and nor should anyone else.

Debate is constructive. Ideological extremism is not.

UPDATE

I would also add that accusing people of “trolling” adds nothing useful to the conversation (as with the ad hominem attacks, I won’t name names, but you know who you are).

For goodness sake, ALL blogging is trolling — if we didn’t want to engage other people in our ideas, we’d write them in a notebook and hide it under the mattress.

Lastly, for the partisans who support user-generated content and for those who deride it, I offer the following — you can debate whether it’s art, but I think it’s immensely entertaining (even mind expanding). What I think is most interesting is that no money changed hands to bring you this entertainment, other than the purchase of Diet Coke and Mentos.


Extreme Diet Coke Mentos

(From EepyBird.com)

  • Glad to know that you would feel free to single me out if necessary, Scott :-)

    As for trolling, I will take a serious stab at the question, since you asked. I think you and Paul are right to a certain extent, in that bloggers (like newspaper columnists, of which I am one) inevitably overstate their case a little, or exaggerate for the sake of emphasis, and use other rhetorical tools in order to a) make their posts (or columns) more interesting to read and b) get people fired up so that they either tell others, or blog their own response, or post a comment or preferably all three.

    That said, however, it's easy to crank up the rhetorical engine a little too high, and then you run the risk of detracting from your argument (assuming you have one in the first place). Setting up straw men, logical fallacies, ad hominem arguments, etc. are all examples of that. To the extent that you actually want to convince people of something, overdoing the rhetoric is a bad thing, and that's what I mean by trolling.

    No doubt I have been guilty of some or all of those things myself. And no doubt some of that was driven by a desire to get links, or to get on techmeme.com or whatever. And maybe I just like to poke Dave now and then just to get a reaction (although I admit it's like shooting fish in a barrel). I don't think of that as trolling.

    I apologize for the long-winded answer.

  • "Debate is constructive. Ideological extremism is not."

    Debate isn't profitable. Ideological extremism is.

  • Mathew, you are far from the only guilty party here, unfortunately, and if I wanted to single you out I would have -- so don't take it personally.

    You still haven't explained what exactly is the harm in trolling -- such as when someone baits Dave Winer, for example?

  • I'd have to disagree with both you and Paul on the trolling thing, Scott (since I'm pretty sure it was me you were referring to with that trolling crack). Or maybe there are degrees of trolling. If that's the case, Nick is a ninth-degree black belt and Lee was verging on Carr-like territory with his column.

    No disagreement on the Mentos video though -- it's hilarious.

  • Dammit Scott, you stole my bit. I've been saying for years that everyone is a troll.

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