The Big Switch by Nick Carr

Nick Carr’s weblog is one of the rarest things on the web: intelligent technology criticism that you’d actually want to read for pleasure. He’s an elegant writer with a waspish wit, and I’ve a special reason for seeing him prosper.

Back in 2002 I was living in San Francisco, a city that was in the depths of recession, when I first noticed the stirrings of the next wave of hype. Hope springs eternal, they say, and the Bay Area’s unemployed web monkeys, technology prophets, and a gaggle of marketing and marketing consultants – who had all been having a jolly good time until quite recently – began to figure out how to construct the next bandwagon.

The result is another web mania gripping the media. This one isn’t quite like it’s predecessor, however.

For a start, it’s much more limited in scope. It’s rhetorical, rather than economic. While the original dot.com bubble will always be remembered one of the biggest losses of wealth in human history, prompting ordinary investors to plunge their life savings into worthless stocks, the new web hype has been a much more modest affair. This time the asset bubble is property, not technology, and most internet users have simply carried on as before, happy to swap dial-up for broadband in the quest for idle chatter, free music and porn.

The “Web 2.0″ affliction of has so far only infected the media and political classes, with isolated outbreaks in marketing and the social sciences. (Naturally, you’d expect something created by ad consultants to hit ad consultants hard, but I didn’t expect the London media to fall for it the hardest.) But where it strikes, it seems to take over the unfortunate victim’s entire brain; and that’s still a lot of people with public policy influence. The zombie symptoms of the virus we all know today: gibbering about “new democracy”, “wise crowds”, and the rational faculties of a three year-old.

For three years I found myself the only journalist chronicling such phenomena as the new democracy that wasn’t, or the paradigm-shifting business revolution that couldn’t make money, or the global intelligence that was easily outwitted by trinket salesmen, or the encyclopedia that destroyed Universities. This was the Dawn of a New Punditocracy.

I fortunately had lots of help from readers, who’ve coined many of the pithiest descriptions of the web bubble. Lots and lots of help. The Reg readership includes a lot of people who implement technology, and then have to keep the systems running – and the distaste is quite visceral. (Most of you have rumbled quite early on that this web hype was presentation layer people trying solve system level problems, all the while hiding behind a lot of New Age marketing guff).

Pointing this out made me hugely unpopular with a small number of people (who’d figured out that these tools and processes could so easily game the media, promote their agenda) who naturally resented the lid being lifted. But this all-sweeping utopianism needed many more hands to pry apart. For the past two years, Nick Carr’s RoughType blog has done that job with style to spare.

[read the full review at The Register here…]

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