5365: The Dark Side

Topic: What is the dark side of the Web, and how does it play into your paper about style and technology?

Baron’s chapter on the dark side of the Web is a little disjointed, but it essentially comes down to two things.  When it comes to the “Dark Side of the Web,”

Stormtrooper Flashmob

1. Darth Vader can blog about it, too.

2. There’s a LOT of stormtroopers in that Death Star.

That is, Baron points out (just as Shirky does in Here Comes Everybody) that the Web’s expansion of who can write doesn’t just apply to graduate students, mommybloggers, and fifteen-year-olds who like Harry Potter (or Star Wars, which is much cooler anyways).  It also applies to those who would spread misinformation (like the thousands of well-meaning people who retweeted that airlines were sending physicians of all stripes to Haiti for free after its devastating January earthquake), disinformation (like the folks who started that Twitter hoax), and even hate, extremism, and depravity (everything from pornography to racial supremacy, which I won’t link to from here).  We often idealize the nature of social media, the participatory web, and the ease with which any number of good causes and/or profitable businesses set up agency-enhancing web presences; but it’s just as easy for Darth Vader to blog about things as it is for Luke Skywalker to.  And with fancy templates that make your homely little startup look like a million bucks, it becomes all to easy to be taken in by a slick visual ethos that is a mask for hatred or stupidity.

Second of all, there’s a LOT of information out there–that’s a hard fact to deal with in a lot of ways.  Baron notes that “text always has a way of outstripping our ability to keep up with it.”  Some of that material is heatedly composed and far-too rapidly published (like some of my own blog posts, I’m sure).  Some of it pushes beyond even the most expansive definition of trivial (I like stormtroopers, but an adidas flashmob? really?), whereas some of it’s worth finding, but because of the speed and ease with which users can post text, audio, video, and other visuals to the web, it’s hard to keep sense of things in a way that feels meaningful. And searching and filtering are never neutral.

While neither of these problems are endemic to the internet, Baron is right to note that what’s really new here is the amazing speed and ease with which information (too much of it, and the wrong kind) is created, distributed, and consumed:

“what seems to differentiate pencils from pixels most is the speed of digitized communication, their reconfiguration of the public and private spheres, and the ways that the new technologies have dramatically increased both who gets to write, and how much they write” (225)

Now, where does that play into my paper on style and tech?

I think there are a couple of areas this points to:

  • There probably is a fundamental change. It’s probably not the one you’re thinking about.
  • Styles that emerge from technological contexts are rarely one-dimensional; change is real, but not fundamentally, unilaterally good.
  • There’s a lot of good stuff out there, both in terms of message and medium.  That’s not necessarily everything, though.  Traditional teachers and Edupunks alike should take note of both elements of this statement.
  • Templates and formulae, as much as we might sometimes forget or believe otherwise, are never neutral. They’re created technologies, and thus bear the imprint of people, politics, rhetorics, cultures, and other systems.
  • This is only one step. Not the last step.  At this pace, in this environment, it will change again.

2 thoughts on “5365: The Dark Side

  1. Much to chew on here. I can’t help thinking of style in terms of the _Economics of Attention_. I wonder if some of Lanham’s ideas are why, as writing teachers, we might have difficulty teaching style. Do we misunderstand the function of how students shape information? The reasons? Or is information shaping so personal that teaching style has become too individualized and thus polarizing?

    Great notes and blog. I feel like a kid in a candy store here.

  2. Chris,
    Nice post! I agree with the comments discussing the glut of information that exists via the internet. Baron does point out that too much information is not new (I think he relates that people during Shakespeare’s time certainly didn’t read his entire canon), but the ease of access to information has certainly changed. The number of venues available and around the clock access makes filtering of some sort a necessity.

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