Sunday, January 08, 2006
Over lunch, recently, I was talking to a guy about the whole John Siegenthaler, Wikipedia dust-up. The guy I was having lunch with was making an interesting distinction between people who seem to inherently "get" how things on the internet work--he called them internet natives--and people who don't--internet immigrants. People who get how things on the internet work don't take as established fact anything they read on the internet, anywhere, not even at Wikipedia*. People who don't get how the internet works assume the stakes are clear, that who's in charge is clear, and that things can be regulated and controlled. What I said I found so interesting is pondering Brian Chase, the guy who wrote the false biography. Let's go off on a tangent for a moment. I graduated from a class of forty seven. Six or seven of us went away to a four year college. Everyone else, if they went, did a couple of semesters up at the community college. My English teacher told us on more than one occasion that none of us had what it takes to go to college. The Professor went to a large suburban high school and almost everyone in her graduating class went to college. I mention this only because I think it illustrates one of the ways in which our culture is split into people who do things and people who don't. So much of the socialization that went on when I was growing up was all about insuring you were smart enough to run the community, but fine with not leaving it. One of the smartest things our parents did was to put us in the back of their car ever summer and drive us all over the country. We never went fancy places, but we went places. They wanted us to know that the whole country--or at least what we could drive to--was open to us. We never were tourists, since we couldn't afford to do touristy things, but I think that worked to our benefit, since part of being a tourist is having the "right" experiences someplace without actually making an impact or being impacted by that place. So, back to Brian Chase. Here's this guy who works as a manager at some little company here in Nashville. And, he claims that he changed Siegenthaler's biography because, when he discovered that anyone could edit the site, he assumed the site was some kind of hoax. Do you see what's going on here? Someone from the "has no effect on the world" class assumes that anything that lets him have an effect must be a joke. Surprise on him. But, what we see in the universal joke played on Chase is the shape of the real revolution. Right now, there are still a great deal of people who assume that any effect that they have on the world must be in the context of some hoax, that no one would actually let them have that kind of power. But it won't remain that way. Soon enough, everyone will realize that the internet gives everyone who wants to be heard a means and opportunity to find an audience. *This is actually so beautifully post-modern, it breaks my heart--a whole group of people who don't believe that there's any place to go where one can know she's getting the Truth, no place that has any inherent authority. And yet, because so many people get that what they're getting and putting out is inherently flawed, inherently falls short of good enough, everyone can be heard and, at least until proven utterly wrong, taken seriously. It's pretty tremendous when you think about it.