As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin for the holidays and aside from chilling out after a really amazing year, I wanted to see what was going on around here from a tech perspective. Back when we were putting together Open Hack Day, I got an email from Bob Waldron (who lives in Appleton), who was putting together Barcamp Milwaukee (along with Justin Kruger) on the same weekend as Open Hack Day. I told Bob that I would get in touch if I was ever in Appleton, so I sent Bob an email earlier this week and he set up a local geek gathering in short order. After hooking up with Bob, I was looking forward to talking tech and meeting tech enthusiasts in a place I had never visited before. This is one of the reasons I love the Internet — pulling something like this together wouldn’t have been possible (or at least so easy) 15 years ago.
As Bob was setting up this gathering, I came across “Love American Style: Web 2.0 and Narcissism” by Philip Dawdy, a “fine rant” (as Nick Carr called it). It’s worth reading the whole thing, but the argument boils down to this:
this whole Web 2.0, social networking, virtual community business is essentially a pornography of the self—a projected, fictionalized self that is then worshipped by the slightly less-perfect self. Human existence has been this way to a degree once we became the leisure society (am I dabbling in Veblen here? I think so.), but with the Web 2.0 we are so much more willing to spread our selves and our self-infatuations around. If you don’t believe me, cruise through MySpace—a house of mirrors if there ever was one—where we are all rock stars, hotties, vampires and gangstas with flava.
I don’t think that Dawdy’s argument is entirely invalid. What he says about MySpace is difficult to argue with and the writing itself is entertaining, I just think it’s the “half empty” point-of-view of the social value of the web. When I can use the Internet to connect with interesting people in any city in the world (not just the U.S.) and meet them face-to-face for a pleasant afternoon of conversation about things we’re all passionate about, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Meeting in person certainly takes a little more effort than commenting on someone’s blog or sending an email, but the Internet is ultimately the catalyst for building real relationships with people you might not have otherwise met (and this isn’t just “Web 2.0” — it goes all the way back to USENET, the WELL, etc).
After getting beat up a little by the blogosphere, Dawdy comes back to clarify his position:
Most commenters missed my global point that the Web 2.0 is essentially creating a mirror world in which narcissists can play in a weird context-free universe and that Google itself also does a fine job of creating its own context-free universe while stripping much revenue away from the mainstream media without adding any real value to the equation.
This is still “half empty” as far as I’m concerned. All of these tools probably do amplify narcissistic tendencies that already exist in our culture, but they also amplify our ability to connect, and I for one am happy to accept the tradeoff for now.
If you’re interested in hooking up with tech folks in Northeastern Wisconsin, here are some things you should check out:
- Barcamp Madison – March 3-4, 2007
- Fireseed Group (in Milwaukee, founded by Justin Kruger)
- NEW NET (Northeast Wisconsin Network for Economy and Technology) (link to info on a past meeting) According to organizer Bob Waldron: “NEW NET meets most weeks, generally on Tuesdays, but the location varies, just so people get some variety in food and surroundings. The best thing is to check the myDigitechnician blog each week to make sure when and where the meeting is.”
- EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) — not web-related but high level of geek appeal!
- Wisconsin Technology Network — Wisconsin technology news
(Above photo, L-R: Drew Fleck, Bob Waldron, Todd Hanson, and Justin Kruger. Lisa Zeise joined us earlier, but I forgot to snap the photo before she left!)