Presuming that Lee Siegel is correct in his assumptions, then his new critique of the Internet, Against the Machine, may be a valuable piece in our understanding of where we are and what we are doing to ourselves with our seemingly compulsive use of computers. He claims we our now actively selling ourselves, prosuming, he calls it. And I can’t argue with the fact that much of what I read in blogs is a commodification of the writer’s life. After all, what is Google’s Adsense but an algorithm designed to place contextually correct advertising right next to what the blogger is posting. Commercializing the commodification, so to speak. Page views, visitor counts, and finally, subscribers have become a new way of measuring our self worth.
Three examples of this sit fresh in my mind. Last night, our young niece sat on our couch her eyes locked into the text she was messaging while T sat next to her and had a one-sided conversation. Two days ago, a blogger I’ve been reading occasionally at www.thewriterscoin.com suddenly announced that he had taken a new job that he got because he was able to use his blog as a demonstration of his grasp of personal finances. Yesterday, before leaving for work, T spent 15 minutes in agony because she couldn’t find her phone.
Are we becoming tied to and defined by our machines? Siegel contends that this is isolating and insulating. He contends that because of this we are becoming dangerously susceptible to government takeover or a sort of blind allegiance to a sort of introspective information control. But this is where I feel he is missing the point. Bloggers are surfers. Independent folk who look for the best wave to ride and are willing to go anywhere to find it. They cross idea lines, information caches, opinions, from red state to blue state, with equal ferociousness. And many bloggers choose purposely to eschew any ads except those that match their own social, moral, or political stand. As far as isolation goes, I don’t know any blogger that doesn’t want visitors and comments.
So where does that leave Mr. Siegel and his critique? He is certainly allowed to have his opinion, after all that is what he is commodifiying. But I think that he is bringing a narrow view to something that we all know, since it encompasses the world now, is much bigger than just a commercial for ourselves. His view though short-sighted can help us in our understanding but I don’t think it stands a chance against the machines.