Friday, December 19, 2003

I haven't read Spiked for ages, due to time mostly, but have had a quick flick through this evening, starting with James Woudhuysen's article "Developing IT", on the difference between how the West sees the developing world's use of technology, and how it actually uses it. Some interesting bits, but SNR is a bit low.

From there, I jumped to Martyn Perks' What iCan can't do - a cynical look of the BBC's beta iCan site from about a month back. Much like the iCan't spoof page, he seems to suggest (although he's quite vague about what exactly it should be trying to do) that structures such as this won't really change anything, and that we're somehow better of by not bringing local politics into an accessible arena. I think.

"Instead of highlighting broader issues that require real political intervention, we are treated to a sanitised version that reduces everything to a deeply personal view of the world. This can only exacerbate an already alienated and disjointed view of ourselves - surely what iCan seeks to eradicate in the first place?"

I'm not convinced that he's convinced himself about this. Surely an issue that requires "real political intervention" is an issue that shouldn't simply be left to a small, local group to sort out? Isn't the point of ideas such as iCan to encourage people to become involved in their local area - even if they don't necessarily agree with the views of others, for whatever reason, it's better to have the communication in the first place, and the channels through which civilised discussion can take place.

I, for one, like the way that "iCan would continue to personalise and individualise our experience of the world" - on one level, things have to be personalised to make it relevant to everybody. By making them bland and generic, they tend to lose all interesting facets - witness Pop Music.

The backlash against organised, public efforts such as iCan is often right - such schemes can be organised by those who misunderstand the subject matter, for instance, or the matriarchal approach coaxed on by a large scale, publically-funded body that dulls everything down can appear. But to hope that the majority of people will come round to a particular point of view, or a particular methodology even, just because an individual believes in it, is somewhat foolish, and shows a misunderstanding of the idea of majority and difference. To scold an idea, because it perhaps doesn't go as far as liked (although it may do what it set out to do) stinks of zealotry.

There's also an article from back in March - "Social software - get real" - that supports the idea that by opening participation up to the masses, we cheapen the discussion that occurs. Borrowing a leaf from the free marketeers, I would argue that social networks tend to organise themselves into some kind of hierarchy, whereby participators of varying ranks and experience fall into different networks. This may be by design (contrast the Bugtraq mailing list to Security-basics, for example) or a natural occurence of frequencies and majorities. But just because the networks are opened up to a greater number doesn't necessarily imply that the discussion will become any "cheaper" at all.

"For [Ross] Mayfield, low-cost engagement brings more diversity to the table. But by reducing the meaning of political debate, we only reinforce the helpless feeling of being consumers first and foremost, and citizens second."

Bollocks, I say.

No comments: