Jul 142003

I hate to disagree with the estimable Craig Henry over at Lead and Gold, and still more with Tom Wolfe, but Craig, in the process of taking pie-eyed Internet triumphalism to task, quotes Wolfe as follows:

I hate to be the one who brings this news to the tribe, to the magic Digikingdom, but the simple truth is that the Web, the Internet, does one thing. It speeds up the retrieval and dissemination of information, partially eliminating such chores as going outdoors to the mailbox or the adult bookstore, or having to pick up the phone to get hold of your stockbroker or some buddies to shoot the breeze with. That one thing the Internet does and only that. All the rest is Digibabble.

Well OK. All the Internet does is “speed up the retrieval and dissemination of information.” And this distinguishes it from the telephone, telegraph, and printing press — how, exactly?

(Update Craig Henry replies. He correctly points out that “technological advances do not automatically create business and social utopias” — indeed, they do not create them at all. Technology Whigs ought to ask themselves once in a while why the breathtaking technological progress of the 19th century was followed immediately by the bloodiest period in human history. But there is a long difference between making this point and doing what Wolfe does, disparaging the technology itself.)

(More: James Joyner comments.)

  6 Responses to “Let’s Try This Again”

  1. Sheesh…as though people should take seriously anyone who dresses like a skinny version of Big Daddy.

    The pamphleteers and dime novelists of the past were producing what on their presses? Deathless literature? Gimme a break!

    What the internet will do is change the economics of distribution, favoring producer and consumer over the middlemen (i.e. corporations and critics) who have gotten too strong a grip during the Twentieth Century.

  2. It speeds it up thusly: one to many. Telephone = 1+1 (usually); Telegraph = 1 + x (where x equals a very small digit); printing press = 1 * (y – d) (where d equals slow distribution).

  3. well, one could say that internet is greatly contributing to a new version of post-existential angst. back in a day we used to have a fear of alienation (sartre, camus, kafka, saint-exupery), today we are faced with the hell of total integration (baudrillard, mcluhan).

  4. Professor Zakharov: As a software engineer, you know as well as I do how far we are from "the hell of total integration," which is a figment of the French deconstructionist imagination. We can’t get web pages to display properly in three different browsers, and you want to talk to me about total integration?

  5. I’m weighing in late, but it seems to me that what the Web does best is databasing. Any one point on the Net — which is to say, more or less any point in the civilized world — is now connected to more or less all the world’s information, and can manipulate in more or less infinite ways. That is a leap of kind, not just degree, over all previous forms of communication.

    And just imagine when we all have serious broadband.

  6. Michael, it is true that web databases are very valuable, but we’re a long way from being able to manipulate information in simple ways, let alone infinite ways. I had to write a searchable historical baseball database myself because it didn’t exist. Much as I love IMDB, it can’t even tell me what the highest-grossing movies of 1939 were.

    Databases also have very little to do with bandwidth, unless they’re sending back images, since they do their processing on the server side.

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