Keen: Web 2.0, Marxism, and Unintended Consequences

I’m late commenting on this, but I just read Andrew Keen’s provocative piece in the Weekly Standard on the Web 2.0 movement. Keen has received considerable criticism for making comparisons between the Web 2.0 meme and Marxism, but he does make some valid points about the utopianism and solipsism that seems to underlie much of the Web 2.0 discourse. In particular, he criticizes the fervent commitment to technological progress:

The ideology of the Web 2.0 movement was perfectly summarized at the Technology Education and Design (TED) show in Monterey, last year, when Kevin Kelly, Silicon Valley’s über-idealist and author of the Web 1.0 Internet utopia Ten Rules for The New Economy, said:”Imagine Mozart before the technology of the piano. Imagine Van Gogh before the technology of affordable oil paints. Imagine Hitchcock before the technology of film. We have a moral obligation to develop technology.”

But where Kelly sees a moral obligation to develop technology, we should actually have–if we really care about Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock–a moral obligation to question the development of technology. [emphasis added]

Keen goes on to point out the importance of considering the unintended consequences of technological development. For him, these negative externalities include the flattening of culture and narcissism run wild.

What I’m starting to see as I study the Web 2.0 meme more closely is a different set of unintended consequences which bring about shifts in the flow of personal information that might threaten personal privacy in ways much more damaging than the fact that content is now made and distributed by amateurs instead of honed professionals.

These externalities include Web 2.0’s reliance on metadata to create value in information (will the cellphone camera images I upload to Flickr soon include the GPS coordinates and time/date of where I took a picture?), the drive for personalized web searching (will search engines arbitrage my personal information from other sources to tailor my results?), and overall faith in the network to be the processing platform (must all my data – personal and otherwise – be uploaded onto servers I can’t control in order to functionally use the web)?

Such privacy-related concerns with the evolution of Web 2.0 demand serious consideration…

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