Elsewhere

The Unrevolution? A Logical Disquisition.

Nick Carr takes a swipe at business book authors who talk about what’s going on with the web as a revolution while at the same time suggesting that conventional business might be able to eke some coin out of it, too. This juxtaposition of thoughts supposedly invalidates the claim that it’s a revolution. The books in question — Steve Berlin Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, Tapscott’s Macrowikinomics and What’s Yours Is Mine by Botsman and Rogers — fail because of this self-defeating contradiction, or so he argues:

Nicholas Carr, The unrevolution

What most characterizes today’s web revolutionaries is their rigorously apolitical and ahistorical perspectives - their fear of actually being revolutionary. To them, the technological upheaval of the web ends in a reinforcement of the status quo. There’s nothing wrong with that view, I suppose - these are all writers who court business audiences - but their writings do testify to just how far we’ve come from the idealism of the early days of cyberspace, when online communities were proudly uncommercial and the free exchanges of the web stood in opposition to what John Perry Barlow dismissively termed “the Industrial World.” By encouraging us to think of sharing as “collaborative consumption” and of our intellectual capacities as “cognitive surplus,” the technologies of the web now look like they will have, as their ultimate legacy, the spread of market forces into the most intimate spheres of human activity.

This is an echo of Malcolm Gladwell’s recent unartful protest against the social revolution online (see Weak Ties And revolutions (With A Little ‘R’)), where he bellyflopped by arguing that real revolutions don’t tweet, instead they have central committees handing down diktats, and anything that doesn’t walk and talk like his favorite examples of revolutions, aren’t.

But Carr tries to pull off an appeal to hypocrisy. He makes the case that a cadre of authors (Steven Berlin Johnson, Clay Shirky, Tapscott, and many others) have argued that there are large extra-market motivations for people’s participation in open web movements: many are not in it for the money. So, when a web advocate mentions that plain vanilla capitalist interest can also be served by the web revolution, Carr implies that this is inconsistent with their first assertion in some way, and therefore the entire edifice of the argument is illogical, and ipso facto, the notion that this is a revolution, upsetting the status quo, falls on it’s face.

This is like saying that kittens born in an oven are muffins, however.

Carr’s argument is specious, and we can all go back to reading the morning paper or walking the dog. Just because some capitalists can benefit from Linux, crowdsourcing, or the existence of the blogosphere doesn’t mean that nothing new and different is happening online.

Perhaps this is just another proof of The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, dreamed up by Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski: there is a limitless supply of arguments for any viewpoint. Those who want to believe what’s going on online is just reheated leftovers will never stop their finger wagging.

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