Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Public Fireworks

Jeff Jarvis has a new book titled Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live: "Jarvis explores the promising ways in which the internet and publicness allow us to collaborate, think, ways—how we manufacture and market, buy and sell, organize and govern, teach and learn," according to the blurb.

Evgeny Morozov has written a cracker of a review -- words like evisceration, demolition, take down are pale descriptors of what Morozov achieves in his 7000 word essay. "This is a book that should have stayed a tweet," is about as mild as Morozov gets.

Jarvis offers a rebuttal, inviting a second set of fireworks from Morozov. [" ... It’s one of those cases where the whole is much, much less than the sum of the parts."]

In a post assessing the Jarvis-Morozov confrontation, Tom Slee asks, and answers, the question: "what, then, is the point of the hours Morozov spent writing a 7,000 word review if he won't reach Jarvis's core constituency?"

... There are two other audiences that such pieces can reach. One is to shore up those who broadly agree with Morozov's perspective (yes, like me) that there is an ulterior motive, a very familiar and old-fashioned one, behind this talk of sharing and publicness. We cannot read every new book, watch every new TED talk, attend every conference and yet we do need to stay current and stay informed. I am not going to read Public Parts because there are so many other things to read, but I cannot afford to be completely ignorant of it. Morozov's review does the job for me.

The second is more important. Many people are attracted by the romantic rhetoric of openness, sharing, and the end of existing institutions, but not all have yet sorted out the political consequences of a commitment to these virtues. There are still people on the fence - and it's important for these people to know that, no matter what progressive-sounding language is used, some of the most idealistic arguments for sharing are made by those who will mine the data you provide in order to build fortunes from advertising. To shape that debate and to keep a political space open for an Internet that does not simply follow the venture-capitalist idea of progress, we need fact based arguments, so kudos to Morozov for doing the necessary work in this case.