The blog's author, Andres Guadamuz, cites a quote he attributes to Douglas Adams:
“There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”
(If Adams is right, then I better speed up my tech-immersion: I turn 32 on Monday. Also, I'm officially putting all innovative technology designers on notice: Everything awesome must be designed and made public within the next three years.)
The Adams quote aligns with that old political axiom: If you're not liberal when you're young, you have no heart; if you're not conservative when you're old, you have no brains.
Both point to a key characteristic of most humans: the impulse toward self-preservation. For all their whinging about the dangers of participatory media, many if not most anti-tech curmudgeons will, when backed into a corner, acknowledge the democratic possibilities of new media, even if they're not sure those possibilities will ever be realized. As I explained in a recent post, I believe that people who engage in pro/con debates about social media become more strident in public than they are in private.
Guadamuz addresses a key issue of what he calls "the war between old media and the internet": the fact that when everyone is a potential media outlet, a lot of what gets published is drivel and dross. He writes:
We will always need some authoritative and well-written version of events, and for that the traditional publishing mechanisms will continue to exist. However, social media has come to allow more people’s voices to be made available. Is this a good thing? I personally think that it is a fundamental and empowering change in society, one that could potentially create a more participative and rich intellectual environment. Is there a lot of dross out there? Certainly! But there is also a lot of dross in traditional media, as any thinking person who picks up a copy of Heat magazine will attest to.
Guadamuz is right, of course. But, more importantly, the dross that exists on the internet has always existed; it's just that until the emergence of participatory media, the educated elites never had to lower themselves to engaging with it. Lame ideas, poorly designed creative works, ignorant or bigoted political stances, and individual identity work had no avenue for widespread expression, and so the people in charge got to act like none of the above actually existed. And, for all cultural intents and purposes, none of the above actually did exist.
Let me put a finer point on this: The decline-in-quality argument is an elitist stance in reaction to the transformative democratic potential of social media for the unwashed masses. I say this as an educated elite, as someone who has benefited as much as the next guy from the ability to participate in the dominant group's dominant Discourse.
People have always had stupid ideas and uninformed opinions; but what makes social media so powerfully transformative is that it allows people to not only communicate but also to refine, clarify, and potentially reject those ideas and opinions. Private opinions brought out in the sun are nearly always better than private opinions, privately held--especially when nearly everybody has approximately the same ability to express and circulate their beliefs.
This does not, by the way, make me an uncritical utopianist. I am aware that participatory media platforms allow stupid ideas to gain adherents and to therefore gain power. I'm also aware that these platforms make it so that more stupid ideas are more readily available, and that it becomes increasingly difficult--both individually and culturally--to separate the wheat from the chaff.
That's ok by me. Worrying about how to filter more opinions is way better than worrying about how to provide more people with platforms for expressing their opinions.*
*Note: We still need to worry about how to provide more people with platforms for expressing their opinions.