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  1. #1
    Senior Member Langrenus's Avatar
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    Default Web 2.0 - the death of culture?

    I guess this fits here. Sorry in advance for the length of this post, but I think the article is easier to read here than on the Guardian website (too much scrolling).

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_ne...068107,00.html

    Andrew Keen finds himself in the eye of a storm. The Briton, who made his living from the hi-tech boom in California's Silicon Valley, has dared to challenge the assumptions behind the internet revolution which began there and swept the world. America's massed army of bloggers do not like it one bit.

    Far from his birthplace in Golders Green, north London, Keen is now being labelled the nemesis of the new worldwide web. The author and entrepreneur has stunned his adopted country with a book that accuses bloggers and other evangelists for the web of destroying culture, ruining livelihoods and threatening to make consumers of new media regress into 'digital narcissism'.
    Keen, who still lives in California and works in technology, questions the euphoria surrounding the rise of citizen journalism, online communities such as MySpace and user-generated websites including online encyclopedia Wikipedia and video-sharing site YouTube.

    His book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy will be published in June, but early copies have become a rallying point for dissenters with nagging doubts about the revolution of blogs, wikis, social networking sites and podcasts.

    Keen has been praised for applying the brakes to what seems to have become a runaway train: the idea that anyone can use technology to gain control of the media and change the world. The San Francisco Chronicle said: 'Every good movement needs a contrarian. Web 2.0 [the new era of the internet based around user-generated content and social networks] has Andrew Keen.'

    On his own blog last week, Keen noted growing support for his views: 'It's game on. Now the fun begins.' Oliver Kamm, an author and columnist, has accused bloggers of 'poisoning debate'. Blogger Kathy Sierra called for an end to the culture of online abuse after going into hiding because of death threats on other blogs. Tim O'Reilly, who coined the phrase 'Web 2.0', and Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, proposed a code of conduct including a stipulation that people not say anything online 'that we wouldn't say in person'.

    As the internet grows, so do reports of faked identities and stalking on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, deliberately misleading entries on Wikipedia, virtual vandalism in online world Second Life and accusations that YouTube is a forum for either copyright infringement or mind-numbing videos of skateboarding cats. Critics believe the trends may have reached their logical, horrific conclusion last month when Kevin Whitrick, a father-of-two from Shropshire, hanged himself in front of his webcam watched live by members of an internet chatroom.

    Internet enthusiasts have been quick to hit back. Jeff Jarvis, blogger and New York new media academic, accused Keen of being 'militantly snobbish' and 'laughingly insulting'. He added: 'In Web 2.0, Keen sees the means of flattening culture. I see the means of the people speaking.'

    Rafael Imas wrote on Keen's own site: 'It's quite notorious, that you're getting fame thanks to what you criticise. You've became [sic] the proof of your own theory.'

    Keen, 47, presents a dystopian vision in which people endlessly Google themselves and expertise counts for nothing; online communities gather merely to confirm their own prejudices; internet television purports to showcase amateur talent but is dominated by corporate marketing; newspapers are driven to the wall by online advertising and news sites edited at the whimsical click of a mouse; and knowledge of history and literature becomes smothered by an avalanche of blogs from self-obsessed teenagers.

    At the current rate, he writes, by 2010 there will be more than 500 million blogs, 'so dizzyingly infinite that they've undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary'.

    Speaking to The Observer from his home in Berkeley, California, Keen explained why he is sceptical of a world where anyone can broadcast to an audience of millions via a webcam in their bedroom. 'What kind of media ecosystem is best to encourage, nurture and reward talent?' he said. 'I don't think this digital narcissism is it. People want to broadcast themselves rather than listen to what others are saying.'

    He continued: 'I'm nostalgic for the world I grew up in where there was a clear distinction between author and audience. I'm not attracted or impressed by the idea of collapsing that distinction. It's hard to be good at what you're doing, it requires expertise. In the same way that not everyone should be doctors or teachers or astronauts, not everyone should be an author. Most people do not have anything interesting to say.'

    Keen founded the internet business Audiocafe in 1995 but says that when the dotcom bubble burst, and Audiocafe crashed, 'I woke up.' He continues to work in the hi-tech industry but warns that there is 'a new great seduction in Silicon Valley'.

    Keen criticises Web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia for making it impossible to discern the important from the trivial. 'Wikipedia is going to become the internet,' he said. 'It does away with the distinction between the distinguished and the ordinary and becomes a bizarre compendium of information. The absence of editors means there's no way of determining whether something is important, so you get a longer entry for Pamela Anderson than Emmeline Pankhurst. I want to learn about Martin Luther's epiphany, not the epiphany of the 11-year-old who blogs next door.

    He also insists that YouTube, the video sharing website, is not what it appears. 'The most successful videos on YouTube tend to be advertising, not real content. The idea is that anyone can be a Spielberg or Hitchcock, but it's actually a freeway to run ads. The big companies are the only ones who win because they dress up their marketing as amateur so that it's like one big commercial break.'

    He is equally damning about the most popular social networking site. He said: 'MySpace does not generate a healthy culture. People of like minds congregate to confirm what they want and I don't see that generating new talent or a far-reaching community. MySpace is not a community we should be proud of.'
    I actually agree with a lot of this, particularly the following ideas:

    1) online communities gather merely to confirm their own prejudices
    2) people want to broadcast themselves rather than listen to what others are saying.

    Now perhaps there is nothing new here...CS Lewis wrote that:

    In any fairly large and talkative community [...] there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumour that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by the group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other group can say."
    And as for point 2...well, you could argue that this the fundamental human condition.

    Yet I cannot help but feel that there is some truth behind the article - outside of certain academic circles how is the internet contributing to a better cultural and social environment? Debate often now ends in a wikipedia link, as though the fact the author has found a URL somehow proves that no further argument is necessary, and sites like Youtube are filled with irrelevant crap. Once the copyright infringing material is taken out of the equation, what are we really left with?

    Blogs seem to be another medium which are afforded far more influence than they deserve. People have been posting online diaries since html was invented...the fact that people can comment with (generally) pointless responses doesn't seem to have fundamentally altered the nature of the beast. As for blogs offering some fantastic form of resistance against tyrannical government...well, yes, there's a chance that if you've worked in the civil service / equivalent and have slept with an MP/equivalent and want to shout about it you might end one political career. But this is just another promotion of celebrity culture - the real issues are far more difficult to quantify, and far, far harder to refute or advance in a blog (for instance: ID cards, fingerprint screening at US airports, state-endorsed/enforced positive discrimination, the provision of free healthcare...the list goes on). How often do you see the newspapers refer to a blog for some comment on these topics that actually moves society forward? No, what you see are links to the myspace pages of girls who destroy their parents house through stupid online invites, or video blogs of political parties 'trying' to connect to the young because they think this is how to do it.

    For my own part, I wonder what was wrong with the old idea of voting?
    January has April's showers
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  2. #2
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    I actually agree with a lot of this, particularly the following ideas:

    1) online communities gather merely to confirm their own prejudices
    2) people want to broadcast themselves rather than listen to what others are saying.
    1) Communities gather within their own prejudices
    2) people want to broadcast themselves rather than listen to what others are saying.

    Would you say that is also accurate? Are there any significant differences between online and offline groups?

    Try being the odd one out - an atheist in a religious community, religious in an atheist society. Try being the chess player in highschool... trying being the odd race out. Anything.

    If anything, internet communities are vastly superior across both mediums, since most 'communities' are created by ostracized others, by searching for absolute identity. Online... online people have to project their biases, all of which are local, except for their words - their ideology.

    And people who want a voice, who are afraid of speaking out locally can finally do so without being ostracized... or worse.

    Yet I cannot help but feel that there is some truth behind the article - outside of certain academic circles how is the internet contributing to a better cultural and social environment?
    You ask this on a board that discusses type theories? The same internet that allows me to talk to people all across the world, keep in touch in friends in all parts of the world? It has opened up the entire world, where I can talk to all sorts of people, access all sorts of information.

    Define "Better culture"? I listen to music I would never of heard of. Amateurs can post their music, their lives... anything. Define "social environment"? Is it not the ability to expand ones social experiences beyond the physical limits?

    How often do you see the newspapers refer to a blog for some comment on these topics that actually moves society forward?
    Are you not expecting an amorphous term "Society" that normally moves at glacial speed to see significant gains in the space of a decade or so. How can you measure it? How can we predict where it will go? How is this different than seeing "movies" and "TV" as a step back from "theatre"? Same argument to me.

    I realize that there is a ton of crap on the internet... but there is a ton of crap on TV, on paper... I listen to tons of crap from people's mouths.

    As far as advancing society? Well, I'm going to go read about my friend's adventures in Japan, followed by reading a friend's blog that is trying to get into politics. Then I'm going to answer some more questions on type here, and maybe go and continue to plan my trip across Canada - by finding others who have done it. And lastly, I'm going to debate the value of all of this again, later.

    If you narrowly define "good for society", I can see the argument. I, however, plan on making use of it's benefits.

    (And FWIW, I love well written blogs from perspectives I have never see. I regularly read blogs about waiters/servers, I read about office managers, lawyers... If that's not breaking down community barriers, I'm not sure what will!)

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bushranger's Avatar
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    I think it is a mistake to consider the broadcast media as being culture. Nor do I think Web 2.0 (whatever it is) is culture.

    This guy is railing against a phenomenon that is a backlash against the dominance of broadcast media that developed during the 19th and 20th centuries. The voice of the individual has been relatively diminished in many respects by the growth of cinema, television and the homogenisation of news media. That people should want to develop relationships with other people rather than their TV sets should not come as a surprise.

    Culture is not some glittering ideal that should be cherished and protected, culture is what you get when people interact with each other. Culture is not dying, it is just getting easier to see. If we don't like what we see then we should consider Sturgeon's Revelation: 90% of everything is crud.
    I'll get you my pretty, and your little hermit crab too!

  4. #4
    Senior Member Langrenus's Avatar
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    The significant difference between online and 'offline' groups, as I see it, is this: online groups have far greater scope for exclusiveness, since the costs of obstructing membership are minuscule and the ability to find a larger group of members within a narrower scope of interests, abilities or other differentiating factors is higher (due to the higher accessibility of the online population). You say that this is a good thing, and in a certain sense it is.

    However, as far as I can see it grossly increases the potential for groups to become narrow-minded and insular. I don't disagree that for individuals who feel ostracised in the real world these communities can be a welcome respite - yet they also replicate the exclusionary character of offline groups.

    On your second point...well, my own fault really. I ended up going off into an internet rant rather than a Web 2.0 rant...meh

    Forums, online diaries and the like (as I said) are not new. And the fact that you genuinely seek out new perspectives is reassuring - however, the majority of people do not. They seek 5 minute fixes to procrastinate, make ill-informed comments and then forget all about the issue they were reading about.

    I don't consider broadcast media to be culture, primarily because it is produced by such a small cross-section of society. I do, however, believe that Web 2.0 has the potential to move in that direction.

    I also don't see Web 2.0 as a backlash against broadcast media; if that were the case I would also expect to see consumption of such media dropping. Admittedly sales of newsprint are generally falling, but the publics appetite for online news continues to grow apace, and 24 hour news channels continue to proliferate. Moreover, masses of blog content is actually based on references to 'authoritative' news sources, since for most of us it is not possible to give any real insight into the workings of cabinet/parliament/the senate, etc.

    Is this really about people forming online relationships through new user-generated content, or is it about shouting 'look at me' from the nearest and most readily scalable tree?
    January has April's showers
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  5. #5
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    The significant difference between online and 'offline' groups, as I see it, is this: online groups have far greater scope for exclusiveness, since the costs of obstructing membership are minuscule and the ability to find a larger group of members within a narrower scope of interests, abilities or other differentiating factors is higher (due to the higher accessibility of the online population). You say that this is a good thing, and in a certain sense it is.
    Hmm, I can see this. The barrier to entry (and exit) is much smaller, leading to the ability to find your niche much quicker...

    I'm not sure I see this as a bad thing, but I suppose it could lead to what you are talking about. The flipside to that is that one can find 'niches' that cover just about anything - and get into them quickly. IT guys will answer questions in their field, for example... just as I can ask questions about games, or psychology... There is always some community (granted, maybe not quite 2.0, but communities none the less) that can answer your question. The low barriers make that possible.

    I don't hit F1 for help anymore, I use the web... isn't that the essence of 2.0? I wouldn't be able to do that Without those niches!

    However, as far as I can see it grossly increases the potential for groups to become narrow-minded and insular. I don't disagree that for individuals who feel ostracised in the real world these communities can be a welcome respite - yet they also replicate the exclusionary character of offline groups.
    Interesting, but I haven't seen much evidence that it is any worse than in RL. I'm not even sure how to measure it. It also depends how far one takes the 2.0 community - is Digg.com 2.0 (it's a pseudo blog, news on demand, etc)... What about pure peer editing (wiki?). Those are probably still considered 2.0... and those concepts will probably continue to increase as applications move off of the desktop.

    Even games (MM) are heading more and more away from desktop-only, although clients are still required.

    This doesn't even touch on open source - a strangely niche area with a ton of cliques - yet still produces incredible works... Some could be called "art" (if you are techie enough... I'm not ).

    Forums, online diaries and the like (as I said) are not new. And the fact that you genuinely seek out new perspectives is reassuring - however, the majority of people do not. They seek 5 minute fixes to procrastinate, make ill-informed comments and then forget all about the issue they were reading about.
    Most people didn't seek out politics, or theatre or alternative views from as far back as written history. Hell, the games in Rome were often used as a distraction! I'll agree about the barriers, but I do question that people's natures are significantly changed from them. The system may encourage more of it... but I think that the differences end up being much smaller than you are predicting.

    I also don't see Web 2.0 as a backlash against broadcast media; if that were the case I would also expect to see consumption of such media dropping. Admittedly sales of newsprint are generally falling, but the publics appetite for online news continues to grow apace, and 24 hour news channels continue to proliferate. Moreover, masses of blog content is actually based on references to 'authoritative' news sources, since for most of us it is not possible to give any real insight into the workings of cabinet/parliament/the senate, etc.
    I agree with this. I believe it is just an emergent system - it does some things better than the media, so it will eventually stand side by site (I had to say it). This is just the beginning, I foresee media become greatly fractionalized over the next couple of decades. Not sure how it will play out though... But the net is quickly becoming the new medium. I do believe the platforms (Cable, satellite) will eventually become a subset of the internet (decentralized, content-agnostic). This does have implications for how the networks will run.

    A real blog from a politician will give us more insight than a hundred broadcasts. To hear their thoughts... I'd love to see more of that. (Politics is a difficult one to do this in, but it isn't so different than stars doing it. Wesley Crusher?)


    Is this really about people forming online relationships through new user-generated content, or is it about shouting 'look at me' from the nearest and most readily scalable tree?
    Probably both, but does it matter? Art, culture... these are all things that one can look at. Social commentary? I quite liked reading www.opinionista.com because it made me consider the corporate world... her world. I don't read it now, but the stories she told were great. Same with blogs like http://widelawns.blogspot.com/ which is fictionalized sure, but is great entertainment. How are her stories different than picking up a book? It makes me think more than another fantasy novel.

    If an author writes because he is driven to share, to create... why does it negate the work they produce? A diary can be more insightful than nearly anything else. Is it not the same as Gulliver's Travels? How many versions of that kind of book got eaten up by history... because they were boring, etc?

  6. #6
    Senior Member Langrenus's Avatar
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    Hmm, I can see this. The barrier to entry (and exit) is much smaller, leading to the ability to find your niche much quicker...

    I don't hit F1 for help anymore, I use the web... isn't that the essence of 2.0? I wouldn't be able to do that Without those niches!
    fair point, and I do the same (largely because Microsoft help is so crap, but still...) I suppose all I'm saying is that online communities are in no way immune to the kind of ostracisation you mentioned occurring in real life

    Interesting, but I haven't seen much evidence that it is any worse than in RL. I'm not even sure how to measure it. It also depends how far one takes the 2.0 community - is Digg.com 2.0 (it's a pseudo blog, news on demand, etc)... What about pure peer editing (wiki?). Those are probably still considered 2.0... and those concepts will probably continue to increase as applications move off of the desktop.
    The difference, to me, is the scale of the change - excluding someone from a discussion in real life might not make a great deal of difference (typically - clearly it will if it's an important political discussion, for example) but on communities used across the globe it might. Take wikipedia - this is now treated as a genuine source of reliable information for many people (usual provisos attach, I know, but a lot of people don't, or won't, care and will read what they see)...if someone is obstructed from making a comment - excluded from the group, if you will - this can suddenly have much wider implications. Of course, this being the net they could go off and do their own thing. But brands have power (perhaps more even than in the real world) on the internet...e.g. about 70% of all internet users enter their search queries through Google alone.

    Most people didn't seek out politics, or theatre or alternative views from as far back as written history. Hell, the games in Rome were often used as a distraction! I'll agree about the barriers, but I do question that people's natures are significantly changed from them. The system may encourage more of it... but I think that the differences end up being much smaller than you are predicting.
    This is a major point in and of itself...I take your point, to a certain extent. I just wonder whether the potential here is greater (scale, again). The ubiquity of the internet makes it incredibly powerful...even in Rome the people had to be released to gather grain...



    But the net is quickly becoming the new medium. This does have implications for how the networks will run.
    Are we getting into the net neutrality arena here? Yes, it's definitely becoming the new medium in large parts of the globe.

    A real blog from a politician will give us more insight than a hundred broadcasts.
    Assuming they wrote it. Which I don't.

    If an author writes because he is driven to share, to create... why does it negate the work they produce? A diary can be more insightful than nearly anything else. Is it not the same as Gulliver's Travels? How many versions of that kind of book got eaten up by history... because they were boring, etc?
    A diary can be, depending on whose diary it is. My fundamental question is whether or not people are driven to do this for interaction (in the true Web 2.0 sense) or purely to bolster ego's. Put another way, for Web 2.0 to create a genuine social scene there has to be real interaction...I'm still not convinced that there is - a lot of discussion is actually based on ignoring what's been said and just making sure you get your own point across.

    But then maybe this is nothing new either...perhaps my problem is actually with humanity. Ah, I despair sometimes...
    January has April's showers
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  7. #7
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Langrenus View Post
    fair point, and I do the same (largely because Microsoft help is so crap, but still...) I suppose all I'm saying is that online communities are in no way immune to the kind of ostracisation you mentioned occurring in real life
    Oh yes, don't get me wrong. Everything spills over online - increasing amounts of stalking, bullying, threats. You wouldn't believe what female blog owners get in the mail (ok, I'm assuming you don't But it's outright scary!)


    The difference, to me, is the scale of the change - excluding someone from a discussion in real life might not make a great deal of difference (typically - clearly it will if it's an important political discussion, for example) but on communities used across the globe it might. Take wikipedia - this is now treated as a genuine source of reliable information for many people (usual provisos attach, I know, but a lot of people don't, or won't, care and will read what they see)...if someone is obstructed from making a comment - excluded from the group, if you will - this can suddenly have much wider implications. Of course, this being the net they could go off and do their own thing. But brands have power (perhaps more even than in the real world) on the internet...e.g. about 70% of all internet users enter their search queries through Google alone.
    Interesting - you are right, the social impact of having ideological groups could be larger than I thought. Hrmmmm... I'll have to think about that.

    In regards to wikipedia and Google - low barriers also mean that they need a certain standards. Did you see what happened to Digg over the last couple of days!? Online communities are very sensitive and mistakes are very costly.

    This is a major point in and of itself...I take your point, to a certain extent. I just wonder whether the potential here is greater (scale, again). The ubiquity of the internet makes it incredibly powerful...even in Rome the people had to be released to gather grain...
    I suppose... but gathering grain also meant they had less time to be informed, so the barrier to information was huge. Is it better that people are stupid by being ignorant or stupid by being short sighted? Actually, I guess there is a significant difference. Ignorant can be cured, but it has been shown that once a stance is taken, we rationalize it far more - the amount of information we selectively get does reinforce it.

    Are we getting into the net neutrality arena here? Yes, it's definitely becoming the new medium in large parts of the globe.
    Heh, well I won't debate it too much... but net neutrality would drastically change the way I see this problem. Agnostic wires allow the end user to select it (even though it is flawed, choice allows a broader view)... but fed information is an entirely different scenario.

    A diary can be, depending on whose diary it is. My fundamental question is whether or not people are driven to do this for interaction (in the true Web 2.0 sense) or purely to bolster ego's. Put another way, for Web 2.0 to create a genuine social scene there has to be real interaction...I'm still not convinced that there is - a lot of discussion is actually based on ignoring what's been said and just making sure you get your own point across.

    But then maybe this is nothing new either...perhaps my problem is actually with humanity. Ah, I despair sometimes...
    I would think it isn't all that new... but I think it also depends on people. A lot of the blogs *are* ego driven... most are a waste of space. But that is countered by me also thinking most things produced are a waste of space. I'm not sure how many books in the bookstore are all that great!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Langrenus's Avatar
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    you are right
    Can we just leave it there?

    I didn't see what happened to Digg, but yes, these high-profile sites do need standards. I suppose the question is, who is deciding those standards, and what does that mean for participation?

    I suppose... but gathering grain also meant they had less time to be informed, so the barrier to information was huge. Is it better that people are stupid by being ignorant or stupid by being short sighted? Actually, I guess there is a significant difference. Ignorant can be cured, but it has been shown that once a stance is taken, we rationalize it far more - the amount of information we selectively get does reinforce it.
    Again, another thread in its own right. The irony is that they may have been less informed, but their thirst for politics was actually incredibly strong. There must be an inverse relationship between the amount of information we're provided and our tendency to interact politically (N.B. I'm not saying this is a scientifically proven fact)...if this is the case then Web 2.0 is even MORE dangerous But yes, we do selectively reinforce. I suppose one argument here might be that the web can expose us to a far wider range of viewpoints...whether we consider them or not is another matter, but at least we don't have to look too far to find them if we wish.

    Apologies for winding down the length of my responses...it's been a long day. But you reply so quickly that I feel compelled to feed you
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  9. #9
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Langrenus View Post
    Can we just leave it there?
    We could

    I didn't see what happened to Digg, but yes, these high-profile sites do need standards. I suppose the question is, who is deciding those standards, and what does that mean for participation?
    Digg was a classic example of how sites are kept in line. The HDDVD encryption scheme got published, got a huge amount of diggs (15,000 I think), but the users and the story got deleted by the admins.

    Over the next 24 hours, hundreds upon hundreds of the variations on the story got posted and dugg up...to the point where the site was starting to strain (DIGG!) To the point where BBC covered it ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6615047.stm ) as well as CNN and a few other smaller groups.

    The users decided it was unacceptable (HDDVD advertised on Digg... ). There are powerful controls in web 2.0.

    Is that good? I dunno.

    Apologies for winding down the length of my responses...it's been a long day. But you reply so quickly that I feel compelled to feed you
    No worries, I found it very interesting... It's given me something to think about. Even though I don't agree with the initial view, I had not thought about some of the other issues you bring up... I'll think some more before posting again

  10. #10
    Junior Member macjoven's Avatar
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    Web 2.0 death of culture? Nah. Culture is people interacting, the web is just a medium for the interaction. We have been just find without "experts" (such a... abuseable term) controling everything before, we will be so again.

    I find much of the music on myspace and other websites like Pandora, and Last.fm, and internet radio stations vastly superior to what is playing on the radio. As for blogs, if they are shit don't read them. The only non-offline friend blog I follow is http://www.clownalley.net/ because not only is it a freaking good resource on past Cirucs clowns written by a Circus clown, but interesting and useful information on clowning and clown history is extremely hard to come by, even in libraries.
    Rob

    "And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme,
    To your tambourine in time.
    It's just a ragged clown behind,
    I wouldn't pay it any mind,
    It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing."

    -From "Mr. Tambourine Man"
    by Bob Dylan

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