I've realised why I got quote so cross with Andrew Keen and the way he portrays the net as 'corrupting'. Pagan Kennedy's essay on MySpace reminded me, and Tom's passionate defence of his blog against PR slummers who want to use him as a mouthpiece confirmed this thought. There is a temptation online, and that is to go slumming - to pretend that you can abuse people's trust and emotions without fear of personal consequences, that people online are somehow not real and so you can toy with them and remain above it. A while back at Making Light, Lucy Kemnitzer explained this well:
Slumming isn't going to a seedy place. Slumming is taking your superior attitude and your certainty that the world is your Disneyland in with you. It's looking at the people who work there as performing monkeys putting on a show for you. It's being cushioned by your privilege. It's thinking that if the place is raided, surely you will be passed over because you're not one of those people. It's running a narration in your head where you are the normal observer, and those guys are the freaks.
You can do it almost everywhere. I've seen people do it on an ordinary residential street in a city, going into a corner restaurant or working man's bar as if it were the Exotic And Dangerous Gangsta Exhibit at a Los Vegas theme hotel. I've seen people do it at a flea market in an ordinary rural town. Or at the weekly get-together of a community, where they danced and sang and gave each other presents (a pow-wow). I saw people doing it at my college, thanks to a former Governor and President calling it a cross between a hippie pad and a bordello.
Here's a clue about how not to go slumming when you enter a place: shed your privilege and your pretensions to superiority. If they play music that isn't to your taste, maybe it's because they hear something in it that you don't, so listen. If they're presenting an image you find disturbing, maybe you're not looking at it right. If you can't get out of your own skull while you're there, maybe you belong somewhere else.
When Keen (p76) cites Michael Hiltzik and Lee Siegel (both journalists who got caught in sock-puppetry online - posting hagiographic comments about themselves through pseudonyms), it is not their perfidy he condemns, but the Internet as enabler. In fact, it is their slumming and condescension that is the problem - their longing for freedom from consequences of their actions that led them astray. Keen himself is a knowing troll, trying to be the Simon Cowell of Web 2.0, and behaving like a pantomime villain to get web conferences to boo him. The ultimate example of this kind of slumming was Michael Skube's polemic against blogs, profoundly rebutted by Jay Rosen. Pagan Kennedy's tone is dancing around the edges of slumming - she starts out with "OMG drunk teenagers", but the article comes to realise that people online are human too, and makes fun of her own original attitudes.
abi sums it up:
The girls in question would not have been slumming if they had been going to drink the drinks, chat to the patrons, or see the dancers. They weren't. They were going to watch themselves drink the drinks, chat to the patrons, and see the dancers. It's like Kundera's definition of kitsch - the last layer of self-observation determines the definition.