The danger of creating idols

19 11 2009

Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is probably one of the people whose opinions on the Internet and knowledge sharing I take more seriously. I’m interested in the emphasis he puts on those elements of modern media and communication which are more beneficial to society as a whole, than the more myopic “Make your fortune from the Internet and only work for 4 hours a week” commentators. His piece I read today takes on the concept of smaller local bookshops, who are more and more threatened by massive online sellers. Though he doesn’t agree with some organisations seeking governmental intervention on the issue, nor their arguments for seeking this intervention, his final comments are crucial for many commercial enterprises. In criticising the comments of the American Booksellers Association, he also criticises many of the reasons put forward over the last, maybe, 15 years of the development of the Internet. However, at this stage any references the ABA make to themselves as some kind of guardians of culture, ring hollow to anyone who can see through them to the obvious commercial elements of their arguments. His article can be found here: Local Bookstores, Social Hubs and Mutulization

I don’t really take issue with anything he says, but I find his comments on social hubs etc very interesting. The idea of bartering, co-operatives, social hubs etc as part of cities’ social systems needs to be investigated more by individuals, the concepts themselves exclude any government or state involvement, which may be why I find them so attractive. In my experience such concepts exist quite freely in rural areas or put in place by NGOs and community groups in working class areas and have worked successfully in many cases. They are concepts which really should spread to all parts of society in all areas. The argument that these movements allow for too much localisation, doesn’t allow for the development of an interlinking system of local organisations.

One of the best articles I read is an interview in the Columbia Journalism Review and was a better insight into the changes the Internet has made and a perfect counter to those who argue that modern society cannot cope with the level of distraction and knowledge created this new flood of information. His points about information filtration are particularly apt

Obama, just another politician?

I have been cynical form the very beginning about how much hope and “a new beginning” would have to do with Barack Obama’s reign. Of course, I was remorsefully whipped by his enthusiastic followers anywhere I ever mentioned it. They obviously never read Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White, an interesting argument for abolishing the “white race”, what it stands for, not the people. There was plenty of horror here in Ireland when it was mentioned that more and more Irish-Americans were voting Republican, conservatism follows wealth.

So far my cynicism re-Obama still stands, bearing in my mind I am an outsider and judge him more on his foreign policies than his domestic ones. I have yet to see a substantial change in attitude from the last 15 years. A change yes, but not enough to convince me he’s not another patsy to corporate lobbying.

Aside from my own misgivings, I still find disparity in reporting on his speeches, talks etc fascinating. Two pieces from 18 November, writing on the same visit to China. One from the New York Times: During Visit, Obama Skirts Chinese Political Sensitivities where the only mention of Tibet is Bill Clinton’s speaking to President Jiang Zemin in 1998. The article is simply a list of failings in Obama’s approach to Eastern Asia. However, The Irish Times runs an article Obama’s remarks on Tibet tempered by praise for China commenting on how Obama made the US’s position on human rights and equality clear to President Hu. Yes there’s a level of hypocrisy in his comments, but why did the NY Times omit referring to them altogether? What gives?

Hitler’s hidden bunkers and Mao’s massive one

Anyone wondering about life in China and how it manages to compete so strongly against the US, almost on salary alone should read through Viceland’s feature on the “hidden city” built by Mao under Beijing. It’s a pretty alternative and specific view of the city, but there are some insights into the poverty and squalor that exist in the country as more and more people are pushed towards the cities: Chairman Mao’s Underground City

Of course Mao wasn’t the only dictator who like his tunnels. This video posted on is pretty interesting, plus it features Anthony Beevor whose book Stalingrad is a great read, my fondness for references aside.

Megacity One Children

Funnily enough I cam across this article in New Scientist which put forward some evidence that children who show less fear are more prone to taking a criminal path later in life. Fortunately, the article recognises that the evidence is relatively weak, but believes the conclusions warrant further investigation. Every time I read anything proposing the possible early detection of traits in humans images of Judge Dredd flash through my mind. However, again, the same article does mention that such results can really never be properly followed through on because a child’s environment can still draw them away from criminality and vice versa.


This piece in Gizmodo was just a nice nostalgia trip for me, hope it’s the same for you!