Invasion of the cyber hustlers

A class of gurus are intent on "disrupting" old-fashioned practices

HORIZONS

STEVEN POOLE

Like every other era, the internet age has its own class of booster gurus. They are the “cybertheorists”, embedded reporters of the social network, dreaming of a perfectible electronic future and handing down oracular commandments about how the world must be remade. As did many religious rebels before them, they come to bring not peace, but a sword. Change is inevitable; we must abandon the old ways. The cybertheorists, however, are a peculiarly corporatist species of the Leninist class: they agitate for constant revolution but the main beneficiaries will be the giant technology companies before whose virtual image they prostrate themselves.
Cybertheorists’ jargon often betrays an adolescent hatred of the world in which they find themselves. Jay Rosen, a prominent “future of news” cyber-guru, takes care at every opportunity to sneer at publishing institutions by pasting to them the epithet “legacy”: “legacy newsrooms”, “legacy media”. Another favourite cyber-adjective is “disruptive”. For most of us, disruption is annoying, but for cyber-swamis the more disruptive of established practices technology becomes, the more exciting it is.
Another new-media cyber-quack, the journalist Jeff Jarvis, wrote in his 2009 tract What Would Google Do?: “Education is one of the institutions most deserving of disruption.” (The tone of resentful loathing is cyber-typical.) What form might such exciting disruption take? The start-up Coursera, for one, promises to transform university teaching by offering lectures on snippets of web video and getting students to mark each other’s work. If you are a cybertheorist, this wheeze is a brilliant plan to leverage peer networks; if you are anyone else, it’s a brilliant plan to offload more of the labour of education on to the learners.
What sells, to the cyber-fanatic’s intended audience, is ludicrous utopian fantasy, silicon Panglossianism. Bill Leigh, who is the agent for the minor cybertheorist Steven Johnson, recently told New York magazine that his client “wanted to take his book sales to the next level” and so decided “to slant his material with a particular innovation feel to it”. Johnson’s new book is about how networks of “peer progressives” will make everything better, as they already have done through Wikipedia (yet again), the crowd-funding site du moment Kickstarter and New York City’s 311 hotline for reporting urban repair needs. The book’s title is, cyber-speculatively, unimprovable. It is called Future Perfect.
Cybertheorists in general could perhaps be tolerated as harmlessly colourful futurists, were it not that so many of them, through the influence of their consulting work and virtual bully pulpits, are right now engaged in promoting widespread cultural vandalism. Whatever smells mustily of the pre-digital age must be torn down, “disrupted” and made anew in the sacred image of Google and Apple, except more open to the digital probings of the internet- company oligopoly. Long live sharing, social reading, volunteering free labour as a peer student or member of a company’s online “community”, and entrusting your documents to the data-mining mega-corporations that control the “cloud”.
Cybertheorists love to apply the adjective “smart” to one another but, as a group, they are the most prominent anti-intellectual cadre of our day – little Pol Pots of the touchscreen and Twitter.
(New Statesman)

Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 3 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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