Resident philistine to resident curmudgeon

Sometime between the moment my RSS reader got his latest post and I read it on his blog, Nicholas Carr apparently edited his description of me. It was: “…intones the blogosphere’s resident philistine, Jeff Jarvis.” But then he abandoned his color and descriptive juice and kept only his Thesaurus-happy said-synonym. It became: “…intones Jeff Jarvis.” Drat, I was rather enjoying the title. I would be willing to call Carr the blogosphere’s would-be resident curmudgeon if he’d call me its resident philistine.

But then, Carr goes on to be a sort of philistine in his own right, for in his curmudgeonliness, he refuses to hear the value in individual voices — like his — empowered by the existence of blogs; he refuses to see the benefit of discovering those voices in conversations just like this, without the need to produce and deliver and sell and recycle expensive books and slick magazines. Not that you can’t produce paper, I say, but why stop there when new possibities for being heard abound?

Carr giddily quotes fellow curmudgeon John Updike lashing out at Kevin Kelly’s NY Times magazine story about digitizing books. And then Carr concludes:

It all comes down, I think, to two different visions of culture. One is a vision of integrity – of the integrity of individuals and their works. These are the building blocks of culture. In combining them, you do not destroy their integrity, or erase their edges. It’s their edges that give the entire construction its form and its solidity: edges butted up against other edges. The other is a vision of disintegration. It devalues the individual and his work, cherishing instead a dream of a communal higher consciousness that dissolves all edges. Culture becomes a formless liquid, an “Eden of everything,” as Kelly puts it. But an Eden of everything is also, inevitably, an Eden of nothing.

The web is where culture goes to die.

How incredibly closed-minded can one be? In his final line, he’s playing off my kicker, that “print is where words go to die.” I said that, lamenting that books fall off store and library shelves and into recycling vats and that the ideas and words on them are lost when they could, instead, live on and be found forever if only they were digital and available. I mourned the loss of that culture and urged the use of technology to prevent such death. Carr, on the other hand, simply dismisses the ability of the very web he is using to bring out individual voices, to value the individual more, to place more power and attention at the edges rather than at the mass-market center. To say that the “web is where culture goes to die” is just trying too damned hard to be the web’s would-be resident curmudgeon.

: LATER: Oh, Jeesh, now fellow would-be curmudgeon of the blogosphere, Scott Karp, equates me not with Philistine but with the U.S.S.R. in Carr’s comments:

Nick, you know you’re going to get your ass handed to you for this one. But here’s a consolation:

In the early 20th century, there were people who really believed that communism would work. It took a century of unfortunate history (Stalin, etc.) to demonstrate that an ideology that devalues the individual is fundamentally contrary to human nature.

This too shall pass.

Huh? And just who is the Stalin of the blogosphere? Do tell.

And it’s such a relief that the web shall pass. Tell David Carr and those poor, depressed newspaper sods, would you?

(Pity. And I thought we were getting along so well.)

  • Carr’s idea that the integrity of the individual is threatened by the web stopped me dead in my tracks because that interpretation is so diametrically opposed to my own, that the web enables, calls, the integrity of the individual. I suppose the disruption caused by the erosion of traditional authority is going to create plenty of anxiety. Witness this “web 2.0 is the new communism” meme. Prescriptive discourse…that’s the ticket!

  • He writes “Culture becomes a formless liquid, an ‘Eden of everything,'”

    Liquids assume the shape of their container and the internet is one hell of a good container. Books feel unnatural to me now after reading blogs unless I have the references in a pile next to me. Books have to explain things hyperlinked pages needn’t worry about so the author spends a lot of time creating half assed summaries of concepts the reader may not be aware of. Ideas are non-linear, books are linear, hyperlinks and tabbed browsers are non-linear.

  • Yes, he demonstrates just the problem I see with the book-worshipping community: It won’t allow any updating to the form because they so idolize the form for the form’s sake, rather than the ideas in it. Odd, isn’t it?

  • They also miss one salient fact about the Internet, it’s useful. It’s damn useful. It’s not yet as useful as a good library, but that is changing.

    This behavior, this disdain for the new, is typical of those who need to control. To keep us safe from ourselves. For the Internet provides most anybody who wishes to use it a tool for taking control of their own lives. For control freaks and true believers that cannot be tolerated.

    Then you have the tendency of some to see their beliefs and behaviors in others. Projection it’s called, in it poisons relations and discourse.

    We’re seeing how change can make otherwise sensible people raving loons, and it’s going to continue doing so for some time to come.

  • Jeff, I’m sorry, but I laughed out loud when I read your update. I’m sure you’ll take offense when I tell you that you’ve got to be the most offendable person in the blogosphere. I’ve never met anyone so eager to find offense where none was intended.

    When I wrote my comment on Nick’s post, I had in mind Kelly vs. Updike, not Nick’s broadside at you in the beginning of the post. And if you read what I wrote carefully, I was comparing current 2.0 ideology to communist ideology of the VERY early 20th century — before any real harm had been done, when people genuinely believed in the principles. If this comparison holds, there certainly haven’t been any Stalin 2.0s yet, and hopefully there never will be.

    But really the comparison is just superficial — I don’t think there are going to be any totalitarian regimes or mass executions. But I do think there are some fundamental misunderstandings about human nature at work in 2.0 ideology — and it has become an ideology, which is what I find most striking.

    In any case, if I wanted to compare you to Stalin — or otherwise offend you intentionally — I can promise I would do so clearly and explicitly. But I take no pleasure in offense, so that likely won’t happen. (Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t disagree with you.)

    Now can’t we just play nice?

    Oh, and please don’t refer to me as a “would-be” — I wear my curmudgeon badge proudly.

  • Reporting for duty at Philistine Central.

    I would like to know from all of the defenders of the faith (books with “edges”) how it is they expect publishers to hold the fort. Financially, book publishing is a crumbling edifice.

    It used to be that the big bestsellers paid for everything else–the debut fiction, the historical works, the quirky non-fiction narratives, the biographies, the literary novels, etc. That business model (so-called) is no longer working. Publishers pay top dollar for the dubious privilege of publshing previously bestselling authors whose audiences have become notoriously fickle. Trying to launch new authors ends in heartbreak 98% of the time. Pop culture-wise, books (even commercial bestsellers) are a dead letter. No one talks about them. Reading is a niche taste. What readership there is, is dwindling. Profits? What profits? Growth? Don’t make me laugh.

    It is in this climate that the longsuffering people who bring you the books you love must toil. Only to see their efforts fail again and again. Only to see worthy authors suffer and worthy books die. And it is not a dignified death, either.

    I’m with Jeff.
    If you love books, set them free.

  • Scott,
    I’m not offended. My sense of history and culture are. A bit over the top, wouldn’t you say? Superficial, you do say, and well you should. Perhaps you’re wearing that badge a bit too proudly. No need to get into a curmudgeoff with Carr. Group hug time.

  • Hepzeeba:
    I love that: If you love books, set them free.
    Make my T-shirt large!

  • Jeff:

    I’ll bring the T-shirts.
    You bring the copyright lawyers. We’ll need ’em.

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