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Web 2.0

The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It's worse than you think.

11:00 PM, Feb 14, 2006 • By ANDREW KEEN
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Just as Marx seduced a generation of European idealists with his fantasy of self-realization in a communist utopia, so the Web 2.0 cult of creative self-realization has seduced everyone in Silicon Valley. The movement bridges counter-cultural radicals of the '60s such as Steve Jobs with the contemporary geek culture of Google's Larry Page. Between the book-ends of Jobs and Page lies the rest of Silicon Valley including radical communitarians like Craig Newmark (of Craigslist.com), intellectual property communists such as Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig, economic cornucopians like Wired magazine editor Chris "Long Tail" Anderson, and new media moguls Tim O'Reilly and John Batelle.

The ideology of the Web 2.0 movement was perfectly summarized at the Technology Education and Design (TED) show in Monterey, last year, when Kevin Kelly, Silicon Valley's über-idealist and author of the Web 1.0 Internet utopia Ten Rules for The New Economy, said:

Imagine Mozart before the technology of the piano. Imagine Van Gogh before the technology of affordable oil paints. Imagine Hitchcock before the technology of film. We have a moral obligation to develop technology.

But where Kelly sees a moral obligation to develop technology, we should actually have--if we really care about Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock--a moral obligation to question the development of technology.

The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts. Its empowering promises play upon that legacy of the '60s--the creeping narcissism that Christopher Lasch described so presciently, with its obsessive focus on the realization of the self.

Another word for narcissism is "personalization." Web 2.0 technology personalizes culture so that it reflects ourselves rather than the world around us. Blogs personalize media content so that all we read are our own thoughts. Online stores personalize our preferences, thus feeding back to us our own taste. Google personalizes searches so that all we see are advertisements for products and services we already use.

Instead of Mozart, Van Gogh, or Hitchcock, all we get with the Web 2.0 revolution is more of ourselves.

STILL, the idea of inevitable technological progress has become so seductive that it has been transformed into "laws." In Silicon Valley, the most quoted of these laws, Moore's Law, states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years, thus doubling the memory capacity of the personal computer every two years. On one level, of course, Moore's Law is real and it has driven the Silicon Valley economy. But there is an unspoken ethical dimension to Moore's Law. It presumes that each advance in technology is accompanied by an equivalent improvement in the condition of man.

But as Max Weber so convincingly demonstrated, the only really reliable law of history is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

We know what happened first time around, in the dot.com boom of the '90s. At first there was irrational exuberance. Then the dot.com bubble popped; some people lost a lot of money and a lot of people lost some money. But nothing really changed. Big media remained big media and almost everything else--with the exception of Amazon.com and eBay--withered away.

This time, however, the consequences of the digital media revolution are much more profound. Apple and Google and Craigslist really are revolutionizing our cultural habits, our ways of entertaining ourselves, our ways of defining who we are. Traditional "elitist" media is being destroyed by digital technologies. Newspapers are in freefall. Network television, the modern equivalent of the dinosaur, is being shaken by TiVo's overnight annihilation of the 30-second commercial. The iPod is undermining the multibillion dollar music industry. Meanwhile, digital piracy, enabled by Silicon Valley hardware and justified by Silicon Valley intellectual property communists such as Larry Lessig, is draining revenue from established artists, movie studios, newspapers, record labels, and song writers.