Review: Beter Internet… Yeah Right!!
Every six months a new book in the series “The next ten years” is published. This series, which is an initiative of major internet and service provider XS4ALL, addresses the social changes that the internet brings about. In each book a specific theme is covered. In 2005 the first book ‘Medische geheimen’ which focuses on the dangers and risks of electronic medical dossiers, was published. This book was followed by ‘Een wereld om te winnen’ in 2006, which concentrated on gaming, sports, culture and economics and ‘Korte verhalen voor de nabije toekomst’ in 2007, on life in the technological age. In 2008 the book ‘Beter internet’ was published. This relative small book contains four interviews on the theme Web 2.0 with well respected and prestigious individuals in which the thoughts and ideas of these so called “outsiders” are put in perspective.
In the introductory chapter the head editor of the book, Karin Spaink, addresses the main issues concerning this edition of the series and the key concepts which are typical for Web 2.0. She notes that the internet has made a transition from a static web towards a more dynamic web, thanks to new possibilities for collaboration, new open-source applications and the growing amount of user generated content. She portrays Wiki’s and social software as the main applications which characterize Web 2.0 and introduces the dutch term “Meritocratie” with which she labels Web 2.0; the idea that everyone can contribute and people are assessed on their performance. Yet, for any regular user of these “Meritocratic” software applications, this whole chapter seems to be written for the (roughly termed) stupid or (more loosely defined) illiterate web-based application users. While reading this piece it becomes clear what was meant with term “outsider” in the subtitle of the book.
After this chapter the first interview with sociologist, professor at the University of Utrecht and director of the social and cultural plan office, Paul Schnabel, follows. He stresses the fact that, as a result of web 2.0, people increasingly interact in an informal way. Concluding that behind web 2.0 there is a persisting need to hear that you (as an individual) are nice and attractive and that others would like to make contact with you. In this piece it’s easy for the trained academic to recognize that he has thorough knowledge of Michel Foucault’s ideas and philosophies on society. But without prior Foucauldian knowledge, the reader would quickly find himself wondering where all the claims and statements made by Schnabel are founded. Lots of pronouncements are made which aren’t explained, and little by little create a boring to read philosophical text of (in my opinion) low scientific quality.
Abram de Swaan, emeritus professor at the University of Amsterdam and a fairly intriguing person who has inspired me greatly with his teachings and book ‘De mensenmaatschappij’, follows with the second interview. Drawing from his sociologic knowledge, de Swaan explains his view, on the role of the expert in times when everyone has access to a great deal of in depth knowledge on a great deal of subjects, from a sociologic perspective. Also he arguments that the major changes on the web a direct relation have with changes in the rest of society. As for the first interview, so for the second; in terms of applicable scientific content this interview grades surprisingly low. With no eye openers and really no interesting and exciting new stuff, reading this felt more like a waste of time then the gain of knowledge.
The third interview with Bernt Hugenholtz, professor in intellectual property and advisor on the subject, contains in contrast to the prior interviews interesting and intelligible information concerning copyright. Stating that the Creative Commons (CC) initiative is a nice solution to the copyright problem, yet is still has not resolved the complete domain of the problem. Thanks to his expert view on this subject the reader gets a trusted feeling with the information presented and actually gets the idea that he’s learning something from it.
As last but not least the interview with Michiel Schwarz, consultant in the field of digital and technological culture, is presented. This was a very good to read chapter with, in my opinion, a high relevance for the academic scholar. This because Schwarz just asks the right and well-stated questions, he gives direct and concrete answers and solutions and next to that he uses simple examples by which he puts his ideas in understandable perspective. He states that the people within our society have become in growing amounts designers of their own environment because that environment is increasingly influenced by media. Therefore we must learn to think deep about our interaction with media, knowledge and information, and ask ourselves the questions:
- How can we live durably in this media environment?
- What do we understand under a healthy media environment?
- How do we prevent next generations from suffering under our decisions and actions?
- Which qualities do we want to preserve within the technological and digital culture?
In conclusion, it seems that the interview techniques applied in this book are of poor quality with un-fluently written texts as a consequence. Apart from the last two interviews, with Hugenholtz and Schwarz, this book is of extreme low scientific relevance for the (New) Media academic and therefore I can’t advise people to read this book when they are in search for or in need of interesting and relevant scholarly knowledge.