John C. Dvorak, PC Magazine’s Resident Luddite

Hat tip to Michelle for the link, since I stopped reading PC Magazine a long time ago.

Apparently PC Magazine contributor and opinion columnist John C. Dvorak has an ongoing problem with blogs and bloggers. As they say, those who forget history are destined to be run over by it.

Let us fisk:

The Zeros vs. the Ones

By John C. Dvorak

After witnessing the latest Presidential election process, it’s apparent to me that the Internet is turning into a bad dream. Nobody wants to admit it, but the Web’s natural ability to remove normal interpersonal structures that prevent society from falling into chaos is not a benefit to anyone. Information revolution notwithstanding, the Internet will prove to be the undoing of society and civilization as we know it. It may not happen today, but it will happen sooner than we think.

I believe similar pronouncements were made after the invention of the printing press, the radio, and the television. Each has undoubtedly caused massive change, but hardly resulted in “falling into chaos,” John.

It is the change I think you fear, because the voices of the hoi polloi now have a place to be heard, and the Anointed, such as yourself, can be called to task without filtration through the editoral process. Our “letters to the editor” no longer have to pass your scrutiny.

Just look at politics. Thanks to the Net and the so-called New Media, the entire political scene has become one massive virtual Hyde Park corner filled with kvetching, squabbling bores.

Newsflash: We’ve been there long before there was any electronic media. Blogs haven’t changed that, just made it a bit louder.

In the process, the dichotomous nature of binary communication has imposed itself on the public, forming two collectives with opposing and very rigid viewpoints. Call them the Ones and the Zeros: the conservatives and the liberals. Because of the Internet, these two crowds—or mobs—are each growing in size and becoming increasingly intolerant of the other. Since none of the purely liberal or conservative political parties are taken seriously in the U.S., these mobs have latched on to the major parties and hijacked them.

Right. We’ve never been this divided, this polarized before.

Remember the Civil War?

The best example of this is the recent sniping over the fabled George Bush memos in which he was told to take a military physical in 1972. It seemed as if the letter could not have been written on a 1972 typewriter but was some sort of hoax. The two political beehives swarmed over this, making all sorts of accusations against anyone who even suggested that their side might be wrong. The untenable Democratic position (which was the weaker) managed to save face by accusing Karl Rove of setting them up. As I was reading all this, I thought to myself, “So he was asked to take a physical. Who cares?” There were other documents, of course, but it was an eye roller to everyone except the Zeros and Ones, whose ranks continue to grow.

But you weren’t thinking “A major news outlet was willing to use obvious forgeries in an attempt to influence the election?” We certainly were. You weren’t the least bit affected by the fact that CBS was shameless enough to defend those forgeries as “fake but accurate”?

Methinks you (deliberately) missed the crucial issue. And the power of the blogs to illuminate it and bring it to a much, much wider audience. No, you’re carping because Memogate illustrated, with great fireworks, that the “journalists” are no longer the gatekeepers of information.

Rather than benefit from intelligent debate, the public is subjected to a lot of bickering fanned by the Internet. I used to think that everyone was entitled to his opinion, but no longer.

And you, of course, are one of the Annointed who has the inherent power to decide who is and who is not entitled to have, much less express an opinion, right? That’s implicit in that statement, John. You see it as your job to give an opinion to those not so entitled. Those YOU select as being unworthy.

Most opinions are worthless. As a culture, we are trained never to believe or say that opinions are worthless. For some reason, opinions are supposed to be revered because, uh, well, it’s free speech! (No letters, please.)

Too late. I’m blogging my response.

Go ahead and hate me. I don’t give a damn about your worthless opinion.

I’m not suggesting that because most opinions stink they should be censored in order for us all to think a certain way.

No? Sure sounds that way.

Rather, thanks to the Internet, we are confronted with too many opinions from too many people—a large number of whom are seriously disturbed or feebleminded. Before the Internet, these opinions would have been handed out in leaflet form to just a few people unlucky enough to bump into their purveyors. But now they’re on the Net, accompanied by miles of commentary written by people who are frustrated pamphleteers themselves.

So, you’re saying that the internet forces people to be exposed to stinky opinions? What, you don’t have a “Back” button on your browser? Some mechanism binds you immobile to your chair and forces your eyelids open, “A Clockwork Orange” style, so that you cannot look away?

You could throw the leaflets away, John. You can click on through those sites that express stinky opinions with even greater ease.

So some bloggers are “frustrated paphleteers,” so what? If they write well and cogently, they draw an audience. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s called the free market of ideas.

And you object to it because everybody has access to it now, not just the Elite Journalists.

Don’t like it that some of us amateurs do for fun what you do for a living, and often do it better? Don’t like it that we now know that what you do for a living doesn’t require anything more than a knowledge of the subject and an ability to write? Don’t like it that we can fact-check and criticize and be heard?

That’s sour grapes, John. You’re just another member of the Holy Church of Journalism objecting to the peasants getting their hands on Bibles printed in the vernacular. Your power is diminishing due to the Information Revolution. We’ve been there and done that in history before. It’s just your turn now.

Almost everyone on the Net is anonymous.

Oh horseshit. Anonymity is damned near impossible. Because of the Information Revolution, anonymity is one of the hardest things to maintain, and if you’re an influential blogger, it’s almost assured you’ll be exposed. A LOT of bloggers use our own names, and give out more personal information that YOU do, John. (If that’s your real name.)

When you see someone on the street handing out a flyer, it is usually not hard to determine whether he or she is a lunatic. Not so with the haughty blogger who, by hiding behind a good online template, is actually taken seriously. A blogger who stays hidden long enough may even become famous. I know, not every blogger is a whack job—but that’s the point. How can you tell?

You read their words. You read their links. You read other people’s responses and comments. And you make up your own mind.

Rather than, say, reading the New York Times and accepting every word as gospel because, well, it’s “the paper of record.” Or watching 60 Minutes II and believing the memo “evidence” must be real, because Dan Rather said so!.

Hard to tell just who’s a lunatic these days? On the contrary. It’s easier and easier every day, because of the Information Revolution. Wake up and smell the coffee, John.

Saying from behind a false identity what one otherwise wouldn’t dare say is a practice that began long ago, and blogging has just made it worse. I first noticed it with alter egos cropping up in e-mail, newsgroups, and especially online chat rooms, where true dweebs are suddenly transformed into Don Juans. The persona thing sometimes goes into new dimensions as boys are turned into men, men pretend to be women, and women turn into sex fiends. Just keep the lights turned off.

You’re talking about email, newsgroups and chat rooms now, John. I thought this column was about BLOGS. Blogs can be journalism. Email, newsgroups and chatrooms are not, or are at least far more difficult to use as sources. Blogs provide for review, fact-checking, and comment. With email, newsgroups and chatrooms it is far more difficult. Apples and oranges.

Blogs are now the easiest way to remake oneself, as the tools for their creation are fantastic and easy to use. They have emboldened a lot of otherwise shy people. This is the New Media at work, creating false personas that are pumped up by other phonies. Under the right circumstances, virtual lynch mobs emerge like swarms of locusts—individual bugs may be easy to squish, but a swarm is dangerous. I think these online mobs, where one or two troublemakers rile up the frustrated, are just as dangerous.

This, I admit, is a possibility. It’s one of those unexpected consequences of any new technology. I don’t think anybody considered the ramifications of publishing the Bible in lay language, either. But the question here is “do you or don’t you trust the people.” I do. You apparently don’t. After all, the majority of their opinions stink, in your opinion.

It is good to know where you stand.

If it were up to me, I’d shut down the Net tomorrow and make people get out of the house and mingle.

Like I said, good to know where you stand. I’m glad you’re not running for Emperor. We might have to form a virtual lynch mob.

By the time the liberal and conservative extremes, incensed by blog-driven blather, leave the house, it will be as two swarms of locusts hell-bent on revolution—or on battling each other: The Zeros versus the Ones.

Actually, we’ve already discussed the probablility of that happening here on the blogs.

Our opinion is: It won’t happen. Some rioting, some domestic terrorism, that’s all. The extremes just aren’t that numerous.

You overestimate the power of the blogs, and underestimate the intelligence of their audience.

But then, that’s why you’re one of the Anointed, and believe you know what’s best for us peons. And I, for one, am glad your influence is waning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.