Can Utopia This?

One of the most interesting disconnects among the BloggerConners was whether bloggers are the vanguard of an exciting renaissance or is blogging just business as usual. This was a common theme at the conference, reverberating from the first session through the last. Heh, maybe I just go to sessions where optimism has a place at the table.

It seemed to me that the eldest attendees tended to be more optimistic and the younger less so. Chris Lydon, Jeff Jarvis, Dave, Doc (and I) see blogging as profoundly important. An exception to that observation was the ever-youthful Esther Dyson, who didn’t seem to buy the euphoria expressed in the session, on the grounds that the blogging “elites” may feel optimistic, but that would not be the effect on the rest of the world.

Such cautionary advice prompted me to observe that no one in the room had been part of the blogging elite when they started, but the effect of their blogging had a profound effect on them and their connectivity. Further, I suggested that our world is utopia, compared to the world of our great-great-grandparents; that the only thing sucky about our world is by comparison to the world we now dare imagine, so daring precisely because of how far we’ve come and the tools now available for further improvement. I then added one of my canned memes, that blogging is the coffeehouse conversations of the Age of Enlightenment, sure to impel us forward with the same positive force.

First Magic

Esther later blogged this:

The first magic of blogging, of course, is that everyone can self-publish. Everyone has a voice. The tools makes that possible. But the next magic, much harder to achieve, is that everyone wants to be listened to.

What?!? the candidates don’t read every word the earnest bloggers post? Don’t they care? Won’t he (or occasionally she, though not at Bloggercon) reply to at least one question a day? After all, he spends quality time with “regular” reporters…

In the blogosphere, there’s no shortage of airtime, but there’s still a shortage of attention.

And attention is the world’s fuel, not content. However, must a blogger be known to the BloggerConners to feel the blogging love? Blogging attracts people who want to publish their words and retains those with a continuing interest in publishing. When a few of those bloggers publish regularly about their Harper Valley PTA, they will feel as acknowledged at PTA meetings as many of us did at BloggerCon. If you have something useful to say, it will be heard and responded to and you’ll be honored in your own land, by enough to be gratifying. But, as someone reminded the Edwards supporter, you have to earn your links.

A notable exception to my unreliable perception of optimistic seniors and skeptical others was Scott Heiferman of, who said it well in Sunday’s Political session, something like, “If you see what happens in Meetups, you conclude that [the blogging-political connection] is underhyped.”

Are the senior bloggers more optimistic in general than the younger? If so, might it be because we’ve seen so many dramatic changes already and have had a chance to calibrate the effect of technolgy? Regardless of the reason, I’m a confirmed optimist and likely to stay that way.

You say Dystopia and I say Utopia

Many at the conference seemed to think that we are clearly not now in utopia. What’s a utopia? Ideas are dismissed as utopian if they promise grand results relying on unreasonable expectations of human nature. A dystopia seems to be the result of (often accidental) structures purported to be for society’s good but which fail because of their dependence on humans being more charitable, law-abiding or civic-minded than they are. Such structures yield a society that is miserable for most of its members, with little hope for redemption. Bedford Falls vs. Potterville.

However, our society seems to be particularly at a loss for clues, especially when the propoganda is ignored. The NeoCons have had their way with us, and their model looks like naive utopian drivel, assuming as it does that wealthy people are inclined to create jobs with their tax cuts. No, they’re inclined to make safe investments in financial instruments that only incidentally create jobs, as in Hoover’s dystopia. It’s a shame the most grasping among us keep forgetting this lesson.

Given this disconnect, it’s time to design a civil society with highly granular productivity and mutual respect. Yes, that would be the Xpertweb meme. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Visibility Tech makes a difference

I live in New York City, where cabs never run a red light. This unlikely Giuliani-era civic-mindedness is not the product of driver training nor is it solely regulatory–the $150 fine had been on the books for years. Rather, it depends on an enabling technology. Most intersections have cameras recording the passing scene, and offending hacks get their photograph and $150 ticket in the mail. Thus the large body of Cabdom’s unthinkable acts came to include running a red light, just as mobile booking vans quashed subway turnstile-hopping, as Malcolm Gladwell described in Tipping Point, which exposes the conservative myth of civil benign neglect, which is neither civil nor benign:

…tipping points give the lie to conservative policies of benign neglect. In New York City, for example, one round of cuts in, say, subway maintenance is justified with the observation that the previous round of cuts didn’t seem to have any adverse consequences. But that’s small comfort. With epidemic problems, as with ketchup, nothing comes and then the lot’ll.

I wonder why conservatives, who cannot countenance an untidy home or dandruff flake on a serge suit, so naively neglect our shared space? Even the Bushes can’t spend all their time on Jupiter Island.

Just as traffic cameras put cabbies on their best behavior, so will Xpertweb’s transaction visibility and quality ratings cause all of us to behave better toward each other. Then we’ll put some real teeth into the conversation of the marketplace, rather than relying on the NeoCon’s wooly-headed, utopian vision of a functioning society directed from closed board roo
ms and government chambers.

10:35:17 AM    

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