I’d started to write a short post responding to the first of Michael Gorman’s essays on the Encyclopedia Britannica blog about the Eclipse of Reason in the Age of the Internet, but given up. However enjoyable the shoddiness of Gorman’s reasoning and grotesque luxuriance of his metaphors (the new digital barbarians are associated in succession with creationists, global warming deniers, Maoists, hive mind wannabes, dirty Haight-Ashbury hippies, and some sinister Borg-like collective), it was hard to get into it with a piece of which nearly a quarter was an extended rejoinder to our old friend, Some Dude in a Comments Section Somewhere. Thankfully, Scott has taken up the grim task of responding from his berth at Inside Higher Ed. This bit towards the end seems to sum it up nicely:
The tone of Gorman’s remedial lecture implies that educators now devote the better part of their day to teaching students to shove pencils up their nose while Googling for pornography. … But the idea that new forms of media require training in new kinds of literacy hardly counts as an evasion of the obligation to cultivate critical intelligence. Today the work of acquiring knowledge on a given subject often includes the burden of evaluating digital material…. let’s not pretend that such nostalgia is anything but escapism at best. What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”
I can see why the Encyclopedia Britannica has an urgent interest in pushing this line, but I don’t understand why the intellectual standards of argument among its appointed critics is so low (and they aren’t an aberration; I understand that they’ve made somewhat of an effort to publicize these pieces and get them talked about). There’s a quite reasonable and serious case to be made about the flaws of Web 2.0 type technologies (I tend meself to think that these flaws are greatly outweighed by the advantages, but I certainly recognize that they exist and can be quite important). However, I’m not aware of anyone, apart from the odd blogger in the odd blogpost who is making that case in a compelling and sophisticated way (I’d be grateful to be pointed towards any counterexamples by commenters).