Web 2.0 drives individuality killing the power of the collective

Lately, I’ve been trying to be less of a reactionary and say something different for a change, but right now I can’t help myself. I’ve an hour to kill and this beats hoovering or washing up!  Bryan Appleyard wrote an interesting piece today in the Sunday Times, one of those provocative, thought provoking pieces that speaks volumes.

It discusses the very nature of the web and how we use it both as individuals and groups. It comes down very heavily on the side of the line that proposes that web 2.0 is this flattening leviathan that has encouraged individuality and self expression to the detriment of traditional structures of communication. It is also illustrative of a mindset that exists, whereby certain sets of journalists feel threatened and marginalised by bloggers and the general push towards freedom of expression on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Bebo et al.

It’s no surprise of course, newspapers both offline and on are struggling to maintain their place within existing structures. Web 2.0 has steam rolled through traditional advertising models and offline media has found it very difficult to adapt.  The days of a corporations media spend being unquestionably allocated towards some page 2 side column or magazine supplement are fast dwindling as marketing managers come around to the power of online for tracking of ROI.

Of course, broadsheets and red tops have all made the foray into online with mixed results, yet from the tone of Bryan’s piece you’d be fair to conclude that people of his ilk are disappointed by their place within the ecosystem, failing to appreciate the value they get from Google, instead choosing to bemoan the web generally.

You can get a taste for Bryan’s venom on page two in particular.

Institutions — publishers, newspapers, museums, universities, schools — exist precisely because they can do more than individuals. If web 2.0 flattens everything to the level of whim and self-actualisation, then it will have done more harm than good.

I don’t get the whole whim and self-actualisation thing as being necessarily bad, in fact I’d say it’s a force for good, and if anything it shows that institutions like those he refers to need to adapt or put simply, they deserve to die! They all have their place and can continue to thrive in an environment that just so happens to have changed and enabled people to break free of some outmoded sense of  observance of a time that is past. This doesn’t mean that respect is lost or the institutions are devalued and to suggest that they are is just ludicrous. Knowledge, growth, society and people absolutely need more than the sum of a computer, Google, Twitter and Wikipedia to grow and thrive, no one anywhere would be so daft to suggest otherwise, yet ultimately the offline institutions and amongst these I’d include the odd arrogant newspaper that believes it deserves attention and observance, exist to serve the interests of the people who use them. It is not the other way around.

A further objection to the cult’s radical individualism is that it doesn’t have the intended hyper-democratic consequences. Wikipedia, for example, has tackled inaccuracy and subversion by introducing forms of authority and control that would seem to be anathema to its founding ideals. Bloggery is forming itself into big, institutionalised aggregators such as The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, and remains utterly parasitic on the mainstream media it affects to despise. Even Twitter is already coming to be dominated by conventional, non-web-based celebrity — Oprah Winfrey in the US and Stephen Fry over here.

Whilst a first reaction is one of so bloody what, that view is tempered by the obvious pain that Bryan feels on this, so in that regard, let’s just be fair for a little while longer and address what he says.

Besides the use of emotive vernacular like “the cult’s radical individualism” or fear of the “hyper-democratic consequences” it’s clear that he thinks that the body of work that is Wikipeda ( a non perfect but evolving useful resource) has taken small steps to wrestle with what he perceives as some huge body of non-authoritative inaccuracy (or at least that’s what’s implied) whilst bemoaning that blogging too is slowly evolving into various stables of niche topic powerhouses, obliterating the previous occupants through being fleet of foot in their models. Some might suggest that these Main Stream Media (MSM) that he avers they despise , might just have asked for their loss of market share through arrogant assumptions that they deserved their place unquestionably.  MSM, all of it bar none, has simply been unable to adjust to the model. People on trains given the choice between dirty grubby fingers sullied by print or a clean shiny smart phone to read on a commute into work, are increasingly going for the latter. Papers are either out of date or irrelevant. People can now choose what it is that interests THEM, they do this through vehicles like Twitter and sure, whilst trending features may be an outcome of a crowd mindset, it’s often far better than one placed down from on high by some politically motivated editorial policy.

I’m not going to regurgitate the revolution that Twitter is, breaking news, massive take up, crowd lead charity events etc as that’s all been said and by most it’s valued and appreciated. Bryan’s piece at best, is a clear illustration of the fundamental lack of grasp that people like Bryan have about web 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever you want to call it. It’s akin to a cry of a dinosaur unaware of the impact of the meteor that caused its demise as it choked on a sunlight starved atmosphere, too large to do anything about it, powerful, yet completely powerless to adapt. If institutions like the ones to which Bryan alludes wish to survive, then they need to step up and adapt, else they’ll go the way of the dinosaurs too.

Web 2.0 does drive individuality, absolutely, it frees us up and removes the chains of imposed ways of thinking pushed out through TV and old school journos. That is a blessing, that is the most invigorating fact of life today, that for those who  embrace the opportunities that it presents, stand to reap huge rewards from.  At least, that’s my individualist ‘amateur’ point of view 🙂

Rob Watts
Kickstart your business today - Get an SEO Consultation or just talk to Rob about your online aspirations. With over 20 years experience in building traffic he's pretty much encountered most markets and scenarios
Posted on: 17th May 2009, by : Rob Watts

4 thoughts on “Web 2.0 drives individuality killing the power of the collective

  1. What newspapers etc can do better than bloggers and rise above social media chatter is in the areas of research and investigative journalism. Regrettably newspapers have long abandoned that which made them vital and there is little point in buying one other than for occasional entertainment.

  2. @liam Oh absolutely, a well funded focused Journalist still has a much needed place no doubt about that at all. I guess too though, that it is a different world, things aren’t as opaque as they used to be, information sharing is much more fluid and rapid. People can and do, record things, be they audio, textual or visual and these invariably end up going through the rumour mill. Journalists should of course rejoice in this, especially the skilled ones w/ a little bit of tech sav! Never before has it been so easy for a journalist to get a lead or a sniff of a piece of newsworthy action – more people are talking.

    @stanleywas thx

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