Lee Siegel is about to speak here at SES San Jose. He’s the author of “Against the Machine” and a senior editor at The New Republic, and a noted critic of the new media, primarily because he feels anonymity is a threat to intelligent, enlightened conversation.
Although I’m sympathetic to Lee’s points about how abusive the online world can be, and how foolish it is to consider as sacred the hate speech and the junk banter that passes as conversation, he’s missing two key features of the new conversational media that effectively sweep away much of the significance of his legitimate concerns.
First, the high tolerance for abusive and threatening language has become something of a new standard, especially for younger commenters. I don’t like it either, but for many writers this does not reflect the type of threat it would under other circumstances. It is not appropriate to apply old interpretations of this language to the modern usage.
Second is that focusing on the defects of blogging and new media distracts us from the profound and positive changes in communication – changes that represent the early stages of truly democratic and massively participatory conversations.
I don’t think Siegel is so much *wrong* as he is making fairly insignificant points about the new media. I’d certainly agree that there is a danger whenever people are stifled. For me the outrageous online treatment of Kathy Sierra, a noted blogger,is the exception that proves the rule. These cases are very few, and in a broad sense are eclipsed by the thousands of new voices coming online *every day*.
So, is there value in paying attention to these problems? Sure. Should this drive our understanding and appreciation of the most profound transformation in human communication history?