Thursday, October 22, 2009

Paging Christine Rosen

Extolling the virtues of the internet, Tyler Cowen writes:

The arrival of virtually every new cultural medium has been greeted with the charge that it truncates attention spans and represents the beginning of cultural collapse—the novel (in the 18th century), the comic book, rock ‘n’ roll, television, and now the Web.

It's unclear to me how this disproves the base charge. Imagine, for instance, putting forth this argument:

The arrival of virtually every social development since the 1960s--the rise of no-fault divorce, the birth-control pill, the spread of legalized abortion, the delay of first marriage--has been greeted with the charge that it depresses fertility rates.

Every one of those developments in fact was greeted with the argument that they would depress fertility. And sure enough, the American fertility rate has fallen steadily. Just because people keep lamenting new factors contributing to a phenomenon, doesn't mean the phenomenon doesn't exist. Pace Cowen, is there anyone who thinks television hasn't corrupted intellectual life?

If Cowen wants to argue that the internet is a net good for cultural life, that's fine. People on the internet love to hear that! And best of all, it's a non-falsifiable proposition.

I'd just ask this: We're almost two decades into the internet now. What towering works has it produced that will be read in 20 years? What intellects has it pushed forward that were hitherto ignored? Where is the web's Irving Kristol or Isaiah Berlin or Richard Neuhaus? Or even William Buckley?

The answer, of course, is that there isn't one. The web gives us Glenn Reynolds and Matt Yglesias and Kathryn Jean Lopez and Andrew Sullivan. I suspect that this is not an accident.

Update: Damon Linker takes another shot at the kind of intellectual rigor which the internet fosters.


Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight:
-A joke from youtube,
-an iTunes file,
-A clip from a slasher movie, and
-Some jpegs of the Grand Canyon
...are culturally equivalent to Mozart's Don Giovanni?

According to Cowen's logic, as long as you "like the blend" of what you find on the internet, then no distinctions should exist, i.e., your whim is the final arbiter. If you like Fergie's solo career, then Fergie = Beethoven.

Tyler Cowen strikes me as either A) a 46 year old who desperately wants to be "cool" and in his early 20's or B) a twat.

Unknown said...

I guess I can argue that such thinkers as Charles Krauthammer now have a wider audience and more influence because of the internet. I would suggest that there are many thinkers out there who are shaping the debate in the country because of the internet.
But, why the snarky tone when it comes to Glenn Reynolds, et al? What is the one thing that each of these has that you don't? A hell of a lot of readers and I bet they all make a better living off the internet than you do. Is that what this is all about with you?
You are a pretty transparent guy when it comes to this stuff. You have been for years. I am thinking that you sit around wondering why these people are more successful than you when you are so much better than them. Am I getting warm?

Anonymous said...

James S:
JVL isn't the only person who very much dislikes those he mentioned, and I don't think it is jealousy or envy.

Anyone can have a "hell of a lot of readers". I could post pics of your mom next to my political commentary and that might make it the most popular political blog on the internet (or least).
JVL's point was that people like Cowen dismiss criticism of the internet and the "blogosphere" without being able to point to a single contribution to intellectualism that comes from the internet. Instead we get commentary from the likes of Insta, Yglesias, KLo, etc...

As for Reynolds: he's a successful person. A respected professor of law and a noted author on legal topics. But as an internet persona, he's a joke. I doubt he generates a serious income from, and pajamas media is an unmitigated disaster. (see Plumber, Joe The)

K-Lo is a political operative of the Republican Party disguised as a journalist.

Yglesias is a young punk who wouldn't know an original idea if one hit him right in the face.

Sullivan is a guy who spends as much time discussing the evils of circumcision, Trig Palin's maternity, beagles, and other silly topics, as he does writing about serious topics. He has a prestigious position at one of America's great literary journals because he USED to be a good writer.

The point, as always, is that our defense and consumption of these people and their writing isn't a commentary on THEM, it's a commentary on US.

Unknown said...

I appreciate the intellectual rigor that you bring to the table; especially when you use a mother joke. JVL might be right about this internet thing.
BTW - if you user handle is something like "Skins Fan" you MUST be a loser. I mean, really. Do still have a Hogs poster in your room (you still live with your parents, right)?

Anonymous said...

James S:
I'm about as far as one can get from being an "intellectual". I'm a voracious consumer of all things internet. The difference between Cowen and me, however, is that I'm aware that the internet is crap, and he thinks it's an affront to humanity to point out the internet is crap.

As for your other questions:
- Yes I am a Skins fan.
- Yes they suck.
- No I don't live with my parents, but I do spend a lot of time with parents. Not mine, yours, or at least your mom, when nobody else is home :)

Who doesn't love a good mother joke?

Unknown said...

My mom died two years ago. Please tell her I said hello the next time you see her.