Not So Smart II: The Internet Doesn't Work So Well

[ Sun. Dec. 14. 2008 ]

Yesterday I listed a few flip-flops by leading thinkers chronicled in a new anthology, What Have You Changed Your Mind About? (Harper Perennial). Whether universities were really that great was one of them. But there are more.

One of the major things that bright minds have rethought is that the Internet will be a boon to humanity. Here is why:

It does not fight authority. Nicholas Carr, who wrote the recent best sellerThe Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google, used to believe the Internet would shift the bulk of power to the little people, away from big companies and governments. But "its technical and commercial working actually promote the centralization of power and control," he says. Although the overall number of Web sites has increased from 2002 through 2006, the concentration of traffic at the 10 most popular sites has grown from 31 percent to 40 percent of all page views. Further, "look at how Google continues to expand its hegemony over Web searching," Mr. Carr says. "To what end will the Web giants deploy their power? They will, of course, seek to further their own commercial or political interests."

A few bad people counteract many good people, and machines can't fix that. Xeni Jardin, co-editor of the tech blog Boing Boing, says comments on the blog were useful and fun, originally. But as the blog grew more popular, so did antisocial posts by "trolls," or "people for whom dialogue wasn't the point." Things got so nasty that Boing Boing editors finally removed the ability for readers to comment. Now she has reinstated comments, because "we hired a community manager. … If someone is misbehaving, she can remove all the vowels from their screed with one click." There is no automated way to do this, Ms. Jardin says, and "the solution isn't easy, cheap, or hands-free. Few things of value are."

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