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.

  • Jeff,

    H.G. Wells put it best when he said:

    New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled, he humiliating question arises, ‘Why then are you not taking part in them?’


  • “Net neutrality” proponents are opposed to progress in the basic capability set of the Internet. They’re the most fearful and ignorant bunch I’ve ever encountered.

  • To amplify on my last comment about the “neutrality” bigots and their implicit desire to block progress in the operation of the Internet, here’s a quote from Tim Wu, the law professor who coined the term “net neutrality”.

    As the universe of applications has grown, the original conception of IP neutrality has dated: for IP was only neutral among data applications. Internet networks tend to favor, as a class, applications insensitive to latency (delay) or jitter (signal distortion). Consider that it doesn’t matter whether an email arrives now or a few milliseconds later. But it certainly matters for applications that want to carry voice or video. In a universe of applications, that includes both latency-sensitive and insensitive applications, it is difficult to regard the IP suite as truly neutral as among all applications.

    This point is closely linked to questions of structural separation. The technical reason IP favors data applications is that it lacks any universal mechanism to offer a quality of service (QoS) guarantee. It doesn’t insist that data arrive at any time or place. Instead, IP generally adopts a “best-effort” approach: it says, deliver the packets as fast as you can, which over a typical end-to-end connection may range from a basic 56K connection at the ends, to the precisely timed gigabits of bandwidth available on backbone SONET links. IP doesn’t care: it runs over everything. But as a consequence, it implicitly disfavors applications that do care.

    Contrast that to the claim by Craig Newmark that the advocates of the Sensenbrenner/ Lofgren Internet regulation bill seek only to preserve a “level playing field” for all applications, bearing in mind that the bill in question bans QoS mechanisms.

    Is Newmark a liar or merely an idiot? You decide.

  • Richard,
    A bit off topic, eh? Or are you just wanting to join the curmudgeon club? I see nothing in this post about net neutrality.

  • Richard,

    I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.


    Carr is more a grump than a curmudgeon.

  • Quite on-topic, Jeff. In this post you wrote: “Curmudgeons defend orthodoxy, power, and tradition” and I addressed that point in the context of an issue on which you’ve taken that side.

    The faux neutrality bigots are opposing progress, new technology, that sort of thing, just like the candle-makers opposed electric lights.

    So who’s the curmudgeon, Newmark or McCurry?

  • Toblerone2

    Richard Bennett seems to think that net neutrality is a technical issue. But it’s not. We can devise different traffic types with different priorities and run them over the same data pipe. Real neutrality requires a system that does not allow any one participant to slow or quicken delivery of packets to their destination. But this can still operate with limits as to which traffic types should take precedence over others. I might want VoIP and Video downloads to have precedence over email and other static web pages. We can invent different protocols for each traffic type, as long as ALL providers use the same protocol for their type.

    Now, if a company, say AT&T, decides that it will bottleneck its competitor’s traffic, or promote its own in some way, then we need to evaluate if this company should be allowed to be a large part of the internet backbone.

  • Real neutrality requires a system that does not allow any one participant to slow or quicken delivery of packets to their destination.

    Pardon my while I laugh my ass off. On the Internet, every packet slows down every other packet in any part of its path. That’s the nature of packet switching, and the guy who sends the most packets degrades other users the most. The point of priority schemes is to limit the degradation that high-volume users cause low-volume users. Google bottlenecks my traffic today, but with a priority-based network, I can limit the damage it does to my voice and video streams. That’s the way it should be.

    Regulation is part technical and part policy, and if you’re ignorant in either area you should stay out of it.