Attack of the Carrmudgeons

A subculture of curmudeons is growing, ironically, in the blogosphere, the very medium they fear and dismiss. Nicholas Carr fancies himself the king of the curmudgeons. I’ll add Andrew Keen to the list. And that’s not just because they’ve both gone after me this week: Carr here (I returned fire here) and Keen here. They’re both worked up because I dared to suggest that book publishing needs updating.

It must not be easy being a curmudeon. You have to wake up every morning and find something to be against, something old to defend, and something new to ignore. Lots of commenters on Carr’s blog said he ran out of targets when he declared Wikipedia dead. Said one:

I think you’re overdoing your contrarian behaviour and seriously risk coming through as an attention-craver. Your analysis is very destructive and offers no suggestion for improvement – moreover it does not make for interesting, witty or even provocative reading.

So there. Keen — after having blown up with a business in the web bubble — now vaguely warns against the “grave cultural consequences” of the web and blogs and all this voodoo we do. He declares that he is “exposing Web 2.0 as Communism 2.0” with “unfashionably conservative thoughts about media, culture and technology.” (See the end of this post for another reference to the web as communism from someone who occasionally tries to play the curmudeon but who fails because he’s too open-minded, passionate, and eager for conversation to maintain the sneering, squinting growl of the dreaded ‘mudgeon for long.)

Now you might say that we’re the same, since I’m declaring books, newspapers, and networks dead or dying every other day. But I think the difference is that I am calling for not just the preservation but the expansion of writing, journalism, and entertainment into new realms: new forms, new audiences, new opportunities. Do I get carried away with my enthusiasm? Guilty, with glee.

Curmudgeons defend orthodoxy, power, and tradition. Carr rails against the democratization of media and defends the elite of paid critics and pundits. Keen goes so far as to rail against progress. I’ve been fascinated to see the curmudgeons come out of their dusty attics in the ongoing discussion here about books arguing that they don’t need no stinkin’ progress. Of course, I’ve seen the same atttitude in newspapers, where so many feared, resisted, and even attacked change — but that is now changing as journalists, like TV networks and producers, realize that resisting change is futile. Growling at the approaching glacier won’t make it melt. Just ask the dinosaurs.