As I told you in my post of November 3rd, I was planning to order a number of the books reviewed that day in the New York Times that were concerned with the internet. I have been reading through them, and the first two (listed under recommended books) held remarkably different views. The first, Smarter Than You Think, was by Clive Thompson, a writer who has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, and Mother Jones. He is a proponent of the internet, and I share many of his views. As I have said before, I consider the internet a work in progress, with already great value, but great potential to improve —for instance in quality control (bad words for many internet folk) and increasingly smart, and perhaps specialized search engines. In particular, social networking, I believe, is in its infancy and it is difficult to guess what directions it will ultimately take. I worry most about the effect of continually monetizing the internet. I can’t help but think of the direction television, in particularly network television, has taken in order to squeeze more money from advertising.
The New York Times Review of Thompson’s book is here, and portrays it well. It is an honest report on the web and its potential starting with its service as improved memory for the individual, and ending with its function in connecting society. It was easy to read and left me feeling good about the internet and the future.
The second book, Entitled Status Update – Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, is by Alice Marwick, who after a research job at Microsoft, joined Fordham University as an assistant professor in communication and media studies. The book reflects her experience working in and her research on the San Francisco computer scene during the post-bubble times of Web 2.0. I loved the book for many reasons, even though as the review (here) said, she definitely verges into social-science-speak from time to time. But as a professor, I have learned to enjoy academic dialects. In particular the author loves to use the term neoliberal to describe the young entrepreneurs in her book, which she describes as “persons having a philosophy advocating deregulated free-market economic policies as a means to freedom and prosperity”. I won’t quibble, except many of the people she interviewed seemed totally self-centered, which I didn’t think liberals were supposed to be. And neo-cons believe in the free market. But not as much, I guess, in free expression, and more in spending time and effort converting others to their beliefs.
I loved the book because I am a technical person living in Silicon Valley, working in a University whose new buildings seem to be named for entrepreneurs who have made a pile of money (Hewlett, Packard, Gates, Allen, Yang, etc.} and are filled with eager potential entrepreneurs. I have a 50 yard line seat to watch the unfolding of the digital world. Also because I have long been fascinated by social movements in San Francisco that promise a new, revolutionary, and more enlightened life (beatnik, hippie, now this). Even though they do not result in radical change in everyone’s life style, they provoke thought and action, and always result in beneficial changes in viewpoint.
In my view, many of the younger digital advocates described by Ms. Marwick are a bit too much in their pursuit of becoming a brand and changing the world, especially those who she calls micro-celebrities. But they will help move our increasingly huge population to better itself whether they succeed or not, and the more of that we have, the better.
Finally I enjoyed Ms. Marwick’s heroic effort to separate her scholarship from her personal feelings. To the extent she failed, the book became more fun to read. I think I will send her a fan e-mail.