The Prison House of Web 2.0

by Rob Horning

30 March 2006


What is Web 2.0? Paul Boutin Paul Boutin at Slate thinks its a meaningless buzzword that refers to just about anything going on in Internet technology, and that’s mostly right. But it is meant to capture something of the Net’s recent spirit of interactivity and social togetherness and citizen journalism and all those sort of things that techno-utopians like to see as harbingers of the coming golden age of universal understanding and deep personal fulfillment. In specific terms, it refers to blogs and Flickr sets and tagging and MySpace and Wikipedia so on, all the tools that, in the preferred jargon, leverage the knowledge brought by a variety of end users for the good of them all, pooling the massive amount of information now instantly available to us and collectively working to sort it and maximize its usefulness. Used this way, the Internet puts the power to create and comment on culture, a power once reserved for large institutions, in the hands of just about anyone who is curious and motivated. And it allows people to circumvent the old cultural filters (your daily newspaper’s editor, the TV news producer, the reviews page in Rolling Stone) and discover new ones that are more to your liking (poltical bloggers, technorati, favorites lists on friends’ MySpace profiles, Amazon user reviews). These seem like positive developments, but one wonders how long it will last.

How long will people continue to post their favorite albums to blogs just for the recognition this provides them among the grateful people who stumble upon it? How long before there are too many bloggers, rendering them almost all anonymous? Will we just fall back on the old filters again, only now having imported them to cyberspace? Has that already happened?

And once all our identity-construction and self-discovery has taken blog/photoset/wiki/porn-surfing form, is the only thing we’ve really accomplished is to make sure that every step in our path to richer selfhood is permanently recorded and available for constant surveillance? In seeking the freedom that Web 2.0 promises, are we merely caging ourselves in a more seamless jail?

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