Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Is Web 2.0 amoral?

Nicholas Carr has written a quite influential piece on Web 2.0, already back in October 2005. The article is titled "The amorality of Web 2.0", and Nicholas saves the beef of his article for the last part. His point is the following (please read the full article too, it's well worth it!):

The Internet is changing the economics of creative work - or, to put it more broadly, the economics of culture - and it's doing it in a way that may well restrict rather than expand our choices. Wikipedia might be a pale shadow of the Britannica, but because it's created by amateurs rather than professionals, it's free. And free trumps quality all the time. So what happens to those poor saps who write encyclopedias for a living? They wither and die. The same thing happens when blogs and other free on-line content go up against old-fashioned newspapers and magazines. Of course the mainstream media sees the blogosphere as a competitor. It is a competitor. And, given the economics of the competition, it may well turn out to be a superior competitor. The layoffs we've recently seen at major newspapers may just be the beginning, and those layoffs should be cause not for self-satisfied snickering but for despair. Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can't imagine anything more frightening.

In "We Are the Web," Kelly writes that "because of the ease of creation and dissemination, online culture is *the* culture." I hope he's wrong, but I fear he's right - or will come to be right.

This last part of his point, is what sociologists call cultural generalization. This is one of the aspects of modernization or modernism, along with structural differentiation (a long-winded way of saying that the world around is is becoming more complex). Sociologists have been writing about this modernization process for decades, and from the works of Marx, Weber, heck even Ritzer (author of the bestseller The McDonaldization of Society), we can only conclude that modernization and its consequences are inevitable. Considered from this view point, it is safe to say that Web 2.0 does not cause this cultural generalization, but only accelerates it. So is Web 2.0 amoral? Nah, not more than other forces driving modernization.

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