back to article 'Like pedos in a playground' - the media and Web 2.0

Don't judge a book by the title. Especially if the title is something like Cyburbia. James Harkin, who worked with Adam Curtis on The Trap, has produced the first proper full-length critique of Web 2.0 - tracing the daftness back to the cybernetics pioneers of the 1940s. It's odd that something with so much hype as Web 2.0 has …


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  1. Paul Johnston

    Another advert

    Many thanks to James for his time and generosity.

    Err he's plugging a book!

  2. Rosco

    Defining Cybernetics

    The book looks fascinating and I'd love to read it but I do have to take issue with the way this article has characterised the whole cybernetics movement as being about technologically enhanced society.

    Cybernetics was a very rich, interdisciplinary movement of academics (including John von Neumann) concerned with systems and their properties in the abstract, in particular self-regulation, self-organisation and the notion of feedback loops.

  3. Cameron Colley

    No, I'm still none the wiser.

    What is this Web 2.0 thing? Is it this right here, posting comments?

    Ah, Wikipedia (web 2.0 itself?) provides some clarification:

    "Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has questioned whether one can use the term in any meaningful way, since many of the technological components of Web 2.0 have existed since the early days of the Web"

    So, I'm guessing that anyone who calls it 2.0 does so to make a false distinction so that they have a side to be on in a debate.

  4. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Another advert

    I was referring to his generosity with the boxes of Cuban Cigars.

  5. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: What is this Web 2.0 thing?

    Web 2.0 is the second wave of *users*. TBL is correct in saying that the technology always *was* about letting anyone publish anything. However, for the first decade or so this fact was only appreciated by folks wise enough to exercise some editorial restraint.

  6. Chris

    The more things change...

    Web 2... The cloud...

    Look, all that's happening is a re-branding exercise! Someone comes up with an alternative branding for existing technology, that's all.

  7. Pete James

    Wires in meltdown

    An excellent and well reasoned conversation, but it needs a distinct right of reply now Andrew. The only problem is, most of the people you may think of are merely self-promoting, shallow, vapid creatures with nothing more than cliches and insults to hurl around. Yes Ms Kiss, that certainly includes you.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A title is required

    "And that's for the first time in history, millions of people around the world can have a voice"

    What he means is millions of people with nothing to say can have a voice to say it to millions of others. And yes, I am aware of the irony of using one form of 'user generated content' to criticise another.

    The problem lies in the fact that the chattering masses have got their hands on it and filled 'cyberspace' with dross.

  9. davenewman

    No voice is worse than any voice

    12 years ago in Belfast, young people were chatting to people of a different religion for the first time - on IRC. There are plenty of cases where people do not communicate enough. Far from being flooded with messages, people are only listening to messages from the people close to them, and ignoring diversity.

    Where planning new creative solutions are the purpose, bringing more people "into the loop" is an advantage.

    But that will not force the powerful to listen. You need something like Samora Machel's anti-corruption drive to do that (he gave the national airline director a hoe blade and a knife, then told him to grow his own food, because he had been ignoring ordinary Mozamibicans).

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    By the way, Colin Renfrew makes the same point (in passing) about Dawkins in his book 'Prehistory'. And Renfrew knows whereof he speaks.

  11. Charles


    Ted Nelson wrote on a similar theme, in his 1970s book "Computer Lib." He denounced what he dubbed "Cybercrud," the tendency to use computers and cybernetics as a catch-all excuse ("sorry, the computer is down") or as an impenetrable shield to prevent the analysis of weak theories.

    It's amazing how little has changed in 35 years. Or not.

  12. Stephen

    And why the mention of Dawkins?

    Seeing as his only mentions of neo-Darwinian are the relative usefulness of this term in lecturing the public on current thinking on the transfer of genes and their role in evolution and nothing to do with sociology or IT...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Very interesting stuff,

    however I would like to point out that Richard Dawkins

    seems to be prone to have viewpoints projected onto him -

    no doubt due to his exposed public position

    I am not saying this is necessarily the case here,

    but I highly recommend "The God Delusion" as a good example

    of his later work where he distances himself

    from some of the common interpretations of his earlier stuff

    which have become associated with his name in public.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    ...a little voice

    I only got as far as:

    “ I first wrote about Second Life because I was sick of reading utter rubbish. ”

    When I realised the implication: writing utter rubbish stops you feeling sick.

    Isn't it just as well that "web 2.0" came along to stop us all feeling so unwell?

    Now anyone can write utter rubbish. Hooray!

  15. Dr Stephen Jones

    @anonymous Dawkins fanboys

    "Richard Dawkins / seems to be prone to have viewpoints projected onto him"

    Funny, that.

    So a man writes a book called The $elfish Gene, in which he describes humans as mere "lumbering robots for genes", and which is then used as proof that humans are inately selfish. Now whose fault is that?

    Even Dawkins now says he should have called The $elfish Gene something else. But that wouldn't have sold many copies. Dawkins couldn't resist the $$$.

    Maybe being a publicity whore is in his genes?

  16. chris
    Thumb Up


    Nice interview, thanks. Can't afford the book though, so I'll wait till it turns up on the pirate bay....

  17. Chris
    Paris Hilton

    Maybe they're not *just* gullible naïfs

    One other possible reason that New Media Whores have bought into Web 2.0 is because they took claims about Web 1.0 at face value and now want to escape from the responsibilities and costs that using the older tools properly placed on them. It's much better for them to have you following their Twitters quietly, occasionally suggesting a word to insert in their Bafta speeches, than hanging out on their message boards and comment areas making a contant nusiance of yourself.

    Can't afford the book though, so I'll reserve it from my local library.

    Paris, because she knows about the value of taking things on the face.

  18. Gregory Kohs

    A little Akahele goes a long way

    A very enthusiastic "hooray" for a piece like this, showcasing the efforts of James Harkin.

    A tiny "boo" for the several typographic mistakes found throughout the piece.

    And a modest plug of my own for the new non-profit-backed blog,, that will be taking on issues similar to those raised by Harkin, on a week-to-week basis. We hope you'll continue these conversations with us at Akahele (a Hawaiian word meaning the opposite of 'wiki').

  19. jc

    Isn't this similar to: The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst

    Only that book was (is unreadable...


  20. Stephen

    @Stephen Jones

    I'd say it's the fault of people who look for easy/simple answers to complex questions and read way too much into the title of a book rather than its content. But given your history of posting the narrowness of your response is not a surprise... BTW Doctor of what exactly?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Dr Stephen Jones

    The $elfish Gene (clever use of the $ there, echoing the pioneering 'Micro$oft' - what is your doctorate in, Linux fanboi-ism?) is about genes being selfish, not about humans being selfish.

    The selfishness of a gene, it's 'desire' to propogate itself, can be used to explain apparently altruistic behaviour in humans and other animals, this is one of the main points of the book.

    If you haven't read the book, then you probably shouldn't be making the type of comments you made about it. If you have read it, and understood it to be telling you that humans are selfish because the genes we carry are selfish, then your comprehension skills may be lacking, and you make a laughing stock of the 'Doctor' title which you want everybody to see.

  22. Dr Stephen Jones

    @ misc. Dawk fanboys

    "The $elfish Gene (clever use of the $ there, echoing the pioneering 'Micro$oft' - what is your doctorate in, Linux fanboi-ism?) is about genes being selfish, not about humans being selfish."

    Quite. See my earlier post for why this was an incredibly stupid title.

    "your comprehension skills may be lacking"

    Pot. Kettle. Etc.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm going to be all like deep and stuff for a moment

    About this Dawkins mention, while people are discussing it.

    The magic phrase "neo Dawinism" was used. I have only ever seen that used by one type of person before: the Intelligent Design advocate. It is a blanket term which is used for biologists, geologists, astronomers, atheists and non-extremist theists. I don't really know what this has to do with "web 2.0" apart perhaps from its similar lack of meaning.

  24. UBfusion
    Thumb Up

    Wonderful article

    Article of the month, world class indeed. Raising the standards of ElReg, with several precious gems inside. I enjoyed most the concept of empty books. In fact they are not empty, but full of signifiers without signifieds, empty rhetoric and nanotwitters, magnified by corporate atomic force microscopes. There was a time when only people who had not just a loud voice, but an _important message_ would be remembered for posterity. This is why there are written records left of Plato, Shakespeare, Upanisads or the Gospels, while we do not have any 'famous' words from farmers cursing their miserable destiny while feeding their sheep in Wales around 1450.

    In essence, the web today promises immortality, or at least everybody's 5 minutes worth of being famous (ref. Andy Warhol): every utter nonsense, every bit of clueless opinion, may be reflected, ricocheted and magnified a billion times as if it were spoken by God himself. The web offered everybody (cheap) paper, not a voice. We got interwebs and tubes, but hardly a message that might save one's life or bring him a glimpse of happiness. Your position that up to now the only success of the web is "free downloads" is saddening but bitterly truthful, honest and precise: the present web is just another brick in the wall, another channel of white noise entertainment, an empty book staring our empty eyes and addressing empty minds and waiting for us to flip the bits, from parallel to perpendicular. Perpendicular vs upright is another story. I remind you that the Greek word for 'man' is 'anthropos', meaning 'gazing upwards'.

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