Streams

Debating the Internet

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lee Siegel, author of Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, and Nicholson Baker, author of Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, preview their debate at the New York Public Library over whether the internet offers more freedom or just more surveillance.

Guests:

Nicholson Baker and Lee Siegel

Comments [35]

Teresa

So...

I don't imagine anyone has a still-viable link (a copy, from archive.org, or whatnot) to those crazy shenanigans and anonymous internet meanies that caused NR to suspend Mr. Siegel and shut down his blog?

I'm in the mood for a laugh, what can I say...

Apr. 09 2008 06:11 PM
Jay Van Buren from brooklyn

I don't know what Lee Siegel but he sounds very Statler & Waldorf to me chiming in from the balcony while the real action rolls on without him. Has he actually read the wisdom of crowds? The deluded mobs he talks about under nazism are exactly the kinds of crowds that are NOT wise, only when all the individuals in a crowd are exercising individual judgement is their collective judgement better than any of the individuals- that is basically... the point of that entire book as far as i could tell. Its not that Wikipedia is perfect, its that its astoundingly good considering how it gets made, and its getting better all the time - it's not a "shifting mass of rumor and trivia" its a shifting mass of all-in-all pretty good quality information that has some nonsense mixed into it, and its going to keep getting bigger and better no matter what the old men in the balcony say...

Apr. 09 2008 12:17 PM
Eugenie

I'm a college professor who makes liberal use of Wikipedia.

I know it must have some errors and even find a few BUT. so do the great ink and paper encyclopedias and major textbooks, and these errors can range from tiny bits of misinformation to huge blunders.

The main difference is that Wikipedia CAN be corrected QUICKLY whereas the paper and ink texts cannot and are not.

All books and articles are written by imperfect human beings (no matter how expert). who at times, misread, misunderstand, and in some unfortunate cases, deliberately misinform.

When we write, we are including and disseminating our own ideas and those of all the people from whom we learned -- all of whom occasionally made errors. So in the process of disseminating information we are also perpetuating some errors.

Correcting those errors is the basis of a lot of work of authors. Improving on scientific and medical information constantly upgrades our knowledge base.

Wikipedia is a great place to start looking for information on a previously impossibly broad range of topics.

Apr. 09 2008 11:29 AM
PL Hayes from UK

Hehe! Your wikipedia entry was changed about two minutes after you mentioned the "37 sons" error on air.

Apr. 09 2008 11:15 AM
megan from Park Slope

Paulo - you can thank moral relativism and "deconstruction" for the sorry usage of "fascism."

Apr. 09 2008 11:06 AM
hjs from 11211

fascism has a 2nd meaning in english "Oppressive, dictatorial control."

Apr. 09 2008 11:06 AM
Michael from Brooklyn

Online communities are like any other type of community. Well conceived communities supported and maintained by a thoughtful group of individuals can sustain civility and positive interchange. Communities that are under-supported can easily degenerate into chaos. The only moral difference between a mindless destructive mob in the internet and in the world at large, is the context.

Apr. 09 2008 11:06 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

So have we all just decided that since the word "fascism" has been thoroughly destroyed in the English language that, instead of correcting people and pointing out that fascism refers to a political ideology with a specific set of criteria, we're just going to jump on board with distorting the word to mean anything we find unpleasant?

Apr. 09 2008 11:01 AM
Erin from Manhattan

when blogging takes the place of activism, it becomes an exercise in futility.

Apr. 09 2008 11:00 AM
dale from park slope

Wisdom of the crowd is real... that's why on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" the most valuable "lifeline" was the audience poll.

Apr. 09 2008 10:59 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

Most of what Seigel has a problem with would be solved with the decline of anonymity on the web.

The rest -- especially his ideas about the Web and work -- are spot on. I work on a computer 8 hours a day, and can't believe that I actually turn on the laptop when I get home sometimes.

Apr. 09 2008 10:59 AM
Brandon from Brooklyn

Since the late 1970's, marketing has been ruled by identifying and catering to "inner-directeds," NOT "outer-directeds"...

Apr. 09 2008 10:58 AM
Noah Wimmer from The Bronx

The problem with Blogs and the Net, is you get a lot of people talking but no one doing anything.

Sure alot of people have blogged that the Iraq war was bad, whop de doh ... the war's still going on.

it distracts and leads to nothing being done on the ground

Apr. 09 2008 10:58 AM
Paul from manhattan

wikipedia is all of the above.

it *is* altruistic. people post stuff about stuff you can't find elsewhere.

because it is anonymous it *is* potentially abusive.

BUT the big problem is the people who put stuff up, believing it to be true, but it is not. they are not malicious, just wrong.

And that stuff is then picked up by people who think the stuff is all fact-checked.

so wikipedia is good for a jummping off point but not for ending.

Apr. 09 2008 10:58 AM
RCTB from Westchester

I was going to write "Luddite!" until I read Sprezzatura's post.

Ahhhh . . . . a man with an axe to grind.

Apr. 09 2008 10:58 AM
Anne Dillingham from brooklyn

For a year and a half I was an editor at one of the biggest "news" websites.

I walked away thinking that the internet is good for cat bloopers and the wires -- anyone who says the internet has standards and ethics is an optimist at best. It's being made up as it goes along, and I don't think that's how one wants to think of journalistic integrity.

Apr. 09 2008 10:57 AM
guy catelli from downtown manhattan

now, Lee Siegel has played the 'Nazi' card. no wonder so many NR commenters have used the human posterior to describe him!

Apr. 09 2008 10:57 AM
LFC from Midtown

I love Wiki. I use it everyday, sometimes more often than Google. Lee Siegel is exaggerating his fear.

Apr. 09 2008 10:56 AM
Howard Heller from Bronx, NY

With regard to Wikipedia, there are no actually sites which are spoofing the idiocy which is Wikipedia:

"Stupidedia.org,

Falsipedia.com,

Uncyclopedia.org,

and Illogicopedia.org

are examples of such websites which turn information on its head and create nonsensical facts to have some fun with users. At the same time, they challenge users to think instead of accepting blindly whatever that is published."

The internet has become a place where anybody can instantly become an "expert" without having to provide any qualifications or credentials, and where the merit of any blog is judged on how many "hits" it receives daily, as opposed to the merits and accuracy of its content.

Apr. 09 2008 10:55 AM
Howard Heller from Bronx, NY

With regard to Wikipedia, there are no actually sites which are spoofing the idiocy which is Wikipedia:

"Stupidedia.org, Falsipedia.com,
Uncyclopedia.org, and Illogicopedia.org are examples of such websites which turn information on its head and create nonsensical facts to have some fun with users. At the same time, they challenge users to think instead of accepting blindly whatever that is published."

The internet has become a place where anybody can instantly become an "expert" without having to provide any qualifications or credentials, and where the merit of any blog is judged on how many "hits" it receives daily, as opposed to the merits and accuracy of its content.

Apr. 09 2008 10:53 AM
Melissa from Manhattan

Hi:

Just wanted to make a comment about Wiki. I think its a great resource, but people must be aware that the information can be off (really off). In fact, several months ago I happened to look up the Wiki entry for a relative of mine who is a musician and reasonably well known among certain circles. I do not know him, but my mother is his mother's cousin and they both live in Omaha and run into each other from time to time. I looked up his entry and saw that, according to Wiki, his mother had been or was a stripper. This was news to me, so I called my mother and asked if her cousin (the mother of the musician with the Wiki page), whom she had been close to growing up, had ever stripped. She was surprised and, lo and behold, the information was wrong (as I had thought). The information was pretty quickly taken down. But it is interesting that "facts" that could be slanderous in some people's veiw can be so easily posted, especially when the information was about someone who is not a celebrity, but a celebrity's relative. (Even more alarming, the mother of this musician was not only not a stripper, but is a public school principal, so who knows what kind of damage could have been caused if a parent had read the post.)

Apr. 09 2008 10:52 AM
Derek Tutschulte from Brooklyn

How familiar are such skeptics with the actual structure of the internet. It's not dead-tree print, it's a living, breathing document.

Yet another skeptic from the print world.

Apr. 09 2008 10:50 AM
Seth from Astoria

Wikepedia is contributed to by everyday people. But, isn't that how our worlds really old history was passed down? From person to person through stories about a battle or invasion, or just folklore, and then when literacy took hold, more and more was written down so the new readers could read it.

Apr. 09 2008 10:49 AM
mike

The problem with Wikipedia doesn't exist solely with it. There is an author to every history book and encylopedia. How do we know who to trust?

I enjoy the internet because it allows voices for all, which hopefully provides a better understanding of the whole, be that on a socially micro or macro scale.

Apr. 09 2008 10:49 AM
Ben from the internets

Man, Lee Siegel, you don't know what you are talking about. Wikipedia is as accurate as any other traditional encyclopedia, and contains vastly more information than any other.
"Time to start thinking about the internet"? No one has been doing that. Thanks, Lee.

Apr. 09 2008 10:49 AM
shc from Manhattan

In Wikipedia's defense (I'm not enthusiastically for or against), how is it different from word of mouth in terms of validity / accuracy? It has been an incredible resource to learn about something, and as long as the "researcher" is mindful of where the information is coming from (ie, potential for bias), it provides instantaneous access for a curious mind, much as the rest of the internet does. The internet, and digital media, for that matter, is an emerging and evolving form of communication, and I think people just have to get comfortable with that idea.

Apr. 09 2008 10:48 AM
Mike from Northern Manhattan

Correction: Lee Siegel is the PC guy.

Apr. 09 2008 10:48 AM
Derek Tutschulte from Brooklyn

The rise of skepticism. Thank goodness we can blog about it.

Apr. 09 2008 10:48 AM
Sprezzatura from NYC

Brian,

I found the following on Wikipedia. Could this be the reason for his sour attitude about the web? Don't you think your readers deserve this background which clearly colors Mr. Siegel's "attack" on the web?

- - - -

In September 2006, Siegel was temporarily suspended from The New Republic, after an internal investigation determined he was participating in misleading comments in the magazine's "Talkback" section, in response to anonymous attackers on his blog at The New Republic's website.[7] The comments were made through the device of a "sock puppet" dubbed "sprezzatura", who, as one reader noted, was a consistently vigorous defender of Siegel, and who specifically denied being Siegel when challenged by an anonymous detractor in "Talkback." In response to readers who had criticized Siegel's negative comments about TV talk show host Jon Stewart, 'sprezzatura' wrote, "Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep." [8] The New Republic posted an apology and shut down Siegel's blog. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Siegel dismissed the incident as a "prank." He resumed writing for the New Republic in April 2007. [9] Siegel's critique of Web culture, entitled Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, was published in January 2008.

Apr. 09 2008 10:47 AM
guy catelli from downtown manhattan

dear Brian,

re: the indispensibility of the web

were it not for the web, i wouldn't be sending you fan mail :-)

your fan,

guy

Apr. 09 2008 10:47 AM
Mike from Northern Manhattan

Nicholson Baker needs to get a MAC. He sounds like that PC guy on the commercials.

Apr. 09 2008 10:46 AM
Nicole Marwell from nyc

Slate.com link to debunk the "dead blogger" story:

http://www.slate.com/id/2188424/

Apr. 09 2008 10:46 AM
Nicole Marwell from nyc

Slate.com debunks the "bloggers dying at their computers" story that your guest has just cited. Link to come shortly.

Apr. 09 2008 10:45 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

dieing while bloggingg?...man that is bulldfff.....arggghhh

Apr. 09 2008 10:44 AM
Derek Tutschulte from Brooklyn

it's called a meritocracy and it kills people all the time.

Apr. 09 2008 10:44 AM

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