Aaron Sorkin's disgust with the Web

Howard Beale: We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymoreIt’s been awhile since I’ve written anything specifically directed at the subject of this blog — postmodernism, the big cultural shift that’s underway. You can like it or not like it, but the evidence that our culture is turning is overwhelming. That I choose to call it the “postmodern” era has more to do with my pragmatic roots than any call for the tail-chasing that’s known as philosophical postmodernism. I simply believe that the modern era, it’s roots in the first Gutenberg moment, namely the publishing of human thoughts, annotating those thoughts, and the restoration of the Academy, is being replaced by a second Gutenberg moment with the Internet, its system of storage and retrieval of knowledge, its flattening of the top-down, modern-era hierarchy, and its hyperconnectivity. It is the age of participation.

What brings me to this today is a tweet by Andrew Keen, that defender of the modern way. This tweet referenced a BBC interview with Aaron Sorkin (33 minutes in), writer of the film The Social Network, but better known as the writer of the award-winning TV series The West Wing. Anytime Keen likes something, I automatically am suspicious, so I followed the link to give a listen. Sorkin’s disdain for the Internet in general and social networking in particular explains his distortion of the facts and his interpretation of the concept in general. He is a textbook modernist in hate with the postmodern world, and he explains it via the chaos that he sees. Since the interview is via podcast, I’ve transcribed the important points for you:

I think that the Internet in general, and social networking in particular, that the goal was a good one and a noble one, to connect us and bring us together, but I think that the result is the opposite. I think it’s pushing us further apart, I think that people are socializing from the solitude of their room. They’re reinventing themselves, that there’s an insincerity to it, that there’s this surface quality to it, a performance quality to it, that somebody making a wall post on your Facebook page saying, “Had a girl’s night tonight. Split five desserts. Better hit the gym tomorrow” that she is reinventing herself as a time-tested, lovable character, the 30-something girl making it on her own, and has got to watch her calories.” There’s a lack of human contact there.

On the larger picture of the Internet, there’s something more dangerous going on. First of all, anonymity is a terribly dangerous thing. There’s a lack of civility that’s appalling. There’s a meanness and a dumbness that is absolutely appalling, and it is incredibly fertile ground for bad information to get passed around.

There is an anonymous, mob mentality on the Internet that is only making us meaner and dumber globally, and that’s a terribly dangerous thing.

…The user has to be responsible somewhat. Just behave yourself. The fact that you’re anonymous doesn’t mean that you should be a jerk. Number two, you are a columnist, and the same standards that you have to meet and that I have to meet when I’m writing a television show, Internet content, the same laws should apply to Internet content. It will thin the herd.

…It has lowered the level of national discourse and national debate. No one has gotten more use out of the United States Constitution’s First Amendment than I have, which guarantees your right to free speech. So I think everyone is entitled to a voice, but I don’t think that everyone is entitled to a microphone. I think a microphone has to be earned. We’ve seen the loss of credentials as something being important. Anyone can start their own blog page  I could start aaronthoughts.com, and I can write what I want, and then the New York Times can pick up what I’ve said and then it’s out there as if I’m somebody who’s qualified to be talking about this.

…I was invited onto a program to CNN, and I was invited onto that program, not because my name was picked out of a hat, but because, whether you agree with it or not, I have done something; I have written this movie, which made these people want to invite me on this program where my opinion was asked. That is much different than everybody out there having the same voice.

Sorkin is coming at this from a modern-era perspective, but worse, he’s one of the haves of modernism. This is fine for him, but not for the minions at whom he so haughtily looks down his nose. He loathes the masses, for he sees himself as above them. This is textbook modernist, colonialist thinking. The masses are there only to serve his interests, because he entertains them.

There exists at the core of modernism, the belief that the masses need the elite, that they are incapable of maintaining any sense of order, because they are uneducated and, therefore, dangerous. Dangerous to whom? To the elite, of course.

And as the gap between the haves and have-nots widens in our world, the have-nots suddenly have a voice. The ability to fight back against what they feel is the oppression of the haves, and that is not going to end well for modernism’s hierarchy. This is why we have people such as Andrew Keen and Aaron Sorkin.

If you want a really great example of how this is playing out, read Matt Ingram’s piece today about how The Gap’s use of Facebook seems to have backfired, despite a nice, neat, top-down, PR/news controlled story in Fast Company about how successful the promotion was. The problem for The Gap is that on both Facebook and in comments to the Fast Company article, people said the opposite of what The Gap was selling. This is the bottom correcting the top, and it’s just beginning.

We are living history today, and the final words about the conflict between the old and the new won’t be written for many years. As I’ve said so many times, however, look around and ask yourself if the fruit of modernism is really working and for whom? The formulaic “go to school, work hard, get promoted” mantra of the modern era clearly serves the interests of those who created it, but does it really work for everybody?

I totally disagree with Mr. Sorkin, gifted and brilliant man that he is, for the words I’ve posted above come not from someone in touch with that which burns in the heart of humankind but rather from one comfortable with the path he chose, the path he prescribes for others and the culture itself, not because it serves others so well as much as it serves him well. Once inside the velvet rope, after all, one’s first order of business is to help keep others out.

This is the fuel of the postmodern, post-Christian, post-colonial revolution. Technology is but it’s servant.

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