Friday, October 30, 2015

Speaking Truth to Power is no Guarantee that Power will Comprehend

This past Tuesday James Gleick put up a fascinating post on the NYR Daily blog. His title was "What Libraries Can (Still) Do;" and it amounted to a valuable analysis of how the resource of a public library could be qualitatively different from that of a computer connected to the Internet, emphasizing the positive value of that difference. He then signed off with a zinger of a punch line:
The masters of Internet commerce—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple—sometimes talk as though they’re building a new society, where knowledge is light-speed and fungible, but a marketplace is not a society.
This allowed him to hit squarely on the head a nail in desperate need of being hit. Unfortunately, that desperation has a lot to do with the prevailing ignorance among those "masters of Internet commerce." We have known for some time that the movers and shakers in the world of the Internet have been blithely ignorant of the social world. Many of them might even attribute their success to that ignorance. The bottom line is that they are so fixated on the marketplace that they believe that the very concept of society is outmoded, if not downright counterproductive. Thus, whenever social disruption rears its head, whether it involves death threats, identity theft, or just plain harassment, the "masters of Internet commerce" turn a blind eye and hold to their faith that the workings of the marketplace will take care of everything. Unfortunately, the result goes beyond the disappearance of society (and, along with it, any viable sense of the concept of governance) from the Internet. Because the Internet is so ubiquitous, society no longer signifies in the world at large except among terrorist groups for whom cultures that have neglected both society and governance can now be recognized as easy targets.

No comments: