The Parts That Were Left Out of the Weinberger Interview…
In the first posted draft, I had the endorsements and affirmations below larded throughout the text. David found this a less than pleasing presentation so I’ve moved them here, a more discrete location. I’ll have to admit that the testimonial list looks a lot like advertising in the weekly shopper throwaway that piles up around my mailbox.
Regardless, a lot of nice people had a lot of nice things to say about David. Here are some of them.
David Weinberger speaks wisely, wittily, humbly, truly on behalf of human interests in technological matters. We should treasure his appreciative and cautious enthusiasm for technological development; only rarely can a regular people find such a combination of a philosophical mind, a generous spirit, a winning prose style, and a determined advocate. – AKMA
“Keenly observant but always approachable, David’s quiet but far-reaching insights into our interaction with our technologies and the world evince a mix of critical acuity and a profound, self-effacing humanity. The upside to everything going down, his gentle humor, love of people, and formidable intellect lend the Web its most valuable attributes: credibility, respectability, and dignity.” – Mike Golby
“Learned, passionate, decent, kind, clever, funny and positive adjective inspiring.” – Gary Turner.
Dr. Weinberger is a helluva writer and a mensch of the first rank. He’s also funny as hell and a great friend. What less can I say? – Doc Searls
David is sneakily genius. You have a conversation with him, and it seems like you’re on equal footing. And then he goes off and writes something like Small Pieces…amazing and poetic. – Evan Williams
“David is wicked smart, as he likes to say of others. And very funny. And a highly compassionate human being. He has also yelled at me so loud I had to hold the telephone away from my ear. Twice he did this. But then, I’ve never had very good luck with best friends.” – Chris Locke
David is able to diffuse the most volatile situations. He’s made me laugh when I was about to scream. Even when he’s being high maintenance, I don’t mind, because he goes about it in a most affable manner.
He’s casually brilliant, which is a rare and lovely quality. – Wendy Koslow
I enjoy David’s embracing of the blog in a context of social systems as well as his trying to explain why the Internet exists etc. I’ve been surprised when doing a search on something I want to comment on only to find David’s been there ahead of me on his blog. Or blogs. – Bob Frankston
One of the reasons I got into blogging was David’s inspiring vision that we were creating something new here and that we were going to have to be a certain way if we wanted it to be a certain way. – Euan Semple
He seems like a man who goes out of his way to be fair. He may not agree with you, but he seems willing to at least listen with an open mind, first, before making a judgment. And unlike so many of the other A-Listers, he acknowledges that you’ve made a statement — that’s a rare trait, and one that should be valued.
And he uses a lot of orange at his site. I like a man who uses orange. – Shelley Powers
David Weinberger is such a painfully excellent writer that I cringe at my own inability to adequately describe how excellent he is. Better yet, he’s a wonderful thinker–and that rarest of A-list weblog writers: kind, and a gentleman. I’ve not witnessed a single Alpha male excess. How could you not love that? – Donna Wentworth
David is, in a word, a wonder. He represents a wholly unique blend of brilliance, compassion, wit, clarity, verbal mastery (in writing and in person)–and not an ounce of bullshit. Itâ€™s an honor and a pleasure to know him. – Denise Howell
David Weinberger manages, in ways that defy simple analysis, to be generously incisive, passionately provocative, thoughtfully hilarious and charmingly disarming. While for others self-deprecation can be a masked form of aggression, in David’s hands it becomes a graceful instrument of wit and wide-ranging comment. He should be read at least twice – once for the pared-down elegance of his argument, and again to glimpse the labor that made such seeming simplicity possible. – Tom Matrullo
What I would like to say about David W is that he is a fine intellect who goes out of his way to “keep the faith,” to stay with a conversation, even when he has reason to feel ill-used, and to persist until reason and good humor prevail. – Phil Cubeta
Interview: David Weinberger
David Weinberger has been writing and publishing in national magazines for over 25 years. He has been a technical columnist for a computer magazine, a humor columnist for Oregonâ€™s largest newspaper, and a gag writer for Woody Allen’s comic strip for seven years. His online newsletter, JOHO, has an influential following which appreciates its insight and its humor. He is one of the authors of the best-seller The Cluetrain Manifesto and is the author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined. He is currently a columnist for Darwin Online, Intranet Design and KMWorld and is a frequent commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now.” He is what we all would call an A-list blogger.
In October I approached David about an interview and he cheerfully consented, but he had to delay a few weeks due to other commitments. I charged forward and over the next several weeks we exchanged emails and I procrastinated, and he was working and one thing led to another and my desire for immediate gratification in the form of a published interview with no effort lost out to reality somewhere along the way.
Here’s how things developed. Notice that no matter how clueless or strange my behavior, David never calls me a schmuck. What more could I ask for?
Frank Paynter: David, I’m challenged by the opportunity to interact with you in our coming interview. How often does a person run across someone really smart and really principled with a wife named Margaret? I’m watching your blog for clues to good questions and kind of sifting other environmental variables through the DW Interview filter… I ran across this:
You may find it interesting. It could provide me with context for a question or two about systems and relationships and such.
David Weinberger: It’s too long and difficult. I don’t know about stuff like that, Frank. What is it that I do know? I don’t know. Can we do an interview in which neither of us has to do any homework?
My wife Ann Geller is going to be interested in hearing about my wife Margaret, btw.
Frank: Oh. Ann Geller? This will probably be a load off AKMA’s [whose wife is named Margaret] mind too. Is she related to Yuri? Can she do the spoon bending trick? I doubt it’s a genetic thing but it may have to do with a person’s name.
David: Surprisingly, she can bend spoons, but not with her mind. Just the old fashioned way.
Frank: So you would say that Ann is less a teleological catalyst permitting the spoons to reach a naturally bent state, than a physical change agent with good hands? Perhaps I shouldn’t put words in your mouth…
David: Yes, that’s exactly what I would have said.
Frank: You philosophers sure use big words. Today on Joho the Blog you said, “We aren’t simple objects defined in their apartness. We are our relationships. We present ourselves and comport ourselves with a sense of how we look to others. We are social selves and Rorty describes it well, but not as well as Shakespeare, Flaubert or Roth. (In fact, Rorty writes that it’s progress that novels are where we now work out moral issues.)”
Who are some of your favorite novelists? How do they present this complex of social selves and elaborated moral issues?
David: Hey wait, this smells like an interview! I thought we were waiting for two weeks, you sneaky bastard.
Frank: Drat! You caught me. Well, I figured I had some homework to do, reading back through “Small Pieces Loosely Joined,” for one thing – and you probably were just going to be traveling so you might not mind answering a few little informal sort of trial balloon questions to just give us some common ground for the real interview starts…
David: So, all casual like, in the past few years what little fiction I’ve read has either been really crappy books or the great works I hated the first time I read them because I read them under duress. I started hittin’ the classics when I was in my early 30s and discovered that Ulysses wasn’t just a random pile of words intended to stupefy undergraduate brains. I’ve been reading the Fagles translation of The Illiad for months now – I no longer sit down and read, so it makes getting through books a bit of a challenge – having loved his translation of The Odyssey. I’m also reading Trollope’s The Warden, a wonderful book of love and morality. And I’m also reading Bernard Cornwall’s violent and sorta dumb Medieval war series. I go through the crappy books faster than the good ones.
I do like Roth, Updike, Singer, etc., but I’m surprised every time I do.
Frank: Do you think a person should be ‘accountable’ for a fictive voice? For example, Jonathon Delacour, in a now blogospherically famous bit of fictionalizing created a stew because people thought he was relating some biographical detail. That’s a generic quandary, but maybe more to the point, how much can we know about Samuel Clemens when we read “Tom Sawyer” or “Huckleberry Finn?”
David: I don’t know. We’re inventing this stuff. It’s not unrelated to everything that’s come before. Nothing is. But we also know that the most inconspicuous changes in a social convention can transform it. The fact that blogs are daily or in reverse chronological order or have blogrolls on the left or right but not at the top or bottom may be determinative of much else. So, the little differences that make blogs blogs seem to have called into being a type of public self that’s not quite like any that we’ve seen before, at least not in such numbers. And we don’t really understand them very well yet because the clay is still wet.
Frank: You’re a writer and one focus of your work is electronic publishing. Does this use of the tools to shed light on the tools ever seem to you like a complicated set of Chinese boxes?
Frank: JOHO has been published for quite a while and when blogs appeared you shifted the format for your main public presentation from straight HTML to blog software formatted stuff. Is it working for you?
David: Not really. I’m publishing my newsletter less and less frequently. There seems less point to it. Much of the newsletter now republishes links I ran on my blog, although I try to have two or three new and longer pieces unique to the newsletter.
Also, a big piece of the newsletter used to be email from readers. I’m not getting much email in response to the newsletter any more, either because the subscribers who care are writing blog comments and/or because the newsletter has gotten boring.
Frank: When I started blog-surfing and ran across your link providing the helpful advice on how to survive a nuclear war with just a hat, I was hooked. I knew this JOHO place had to be on my favorites list. In the last few years I’ve been hoping for some advice on how to survive a biological assault by friendly if ill-advised clandestine services. Do you think there might be something like that in the public domain?
David: Don’t inhale.
Frank: By the way, you can feel free to ignore the “trick questions.” Sometimes we interviewers try to get our subjects to go out a limb, and then it’s a long walk down a lonely hall at the Homeland Security office near you for the follow-up questions.
A year or so ago, Jaron Lanier told JD Lasica that he was exploring something he was calling thenotropics. Etymology of that one aside, it has something to do with “the way we connect the idea of information to the physical world.” I was wondering how this plays with your sense of the web.
David: Are you sure he said it’s the way we connect the idea of information to the real world instead of the way we connect information to the real world? If the latter: WTF? The idea of information isn’t even metadata. But if he meant the latter, then, well, I’m still not sure what he means, but it’s getting close to what I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m trying to write about metadata and the first issue you run into is that it’s easy to blur the distinction between data and metadata…especially if you’ve informationalized the world. If the world is information, then information about the world is metadata.
“Informationalization” is too ugly to suggest as a real word, but I seem to be using it anyway. It’s amazing to me that there are people around – smart ‘uns, too – who believe that the universe consists of information. This is why I find Wolfram fascinating, and why Kurzweil and the extropians irk me. They look at the universe and all they see are patterns. Then they decide that since the patterns are necessary for the phenomenon to be what it is – without a pattern of electrons firing, the brain is just gray jello (excuse me, Jell-O(tm)) – the patterns must be all that matter. Then they conclude that if you move the pattern into a new substance, you have a new instance of the original: a computer running the same patterns in silicon that a brain runs in flesh is conscious. But that’s just a silly logical mistake. Sure, consciousness needs patterns of neurons firing, but that doesn’t mean that anything with that pattern is conscious.
Wolfram takes it to the extreme in a wonderfully Hegelian sort of way. Space and time and matter all turn out to be patterns. Reality is purely formal. You have to admire his consistency. (Wolfram dislikes contingency with a vengeance; that’s why (IMO) he downplays the importance of evolution, preferring to see species more or less unfolding the way step #1,012 of a cellular automaton unfolds from step #1. Kurzweil calls him on this in a quite wonderful and insightful review of Wolfram’s book.)
So, since these guys are super-geniuses (really), how can they make what seems to me to be such a simple logical error? Either they haven’t and I’m wrong (which is the far more likely possibility) or a mysterious miasma has fogged their brains: the miasma of history. Step by step our culture has been advancing to the spot where we would throw out everything about reality except its formal properties, i.e., the patterns and relationships. This is like reducing a basketball to its geometry and a set of equations that predict how it will bounce. (It’s also, btw, pretty much where our thought begins, if you take Plato as our first full-fledged philosopher.)
So, this leaves me in a peculiar position. On the one hand, I spend a fair bit of my time writing about and cheerleading the Web. Go Web! Yet the Web is, obviously, f nothing but patterns of bits, which is why we can all see the same pages and why the Net will drive the recording industry to its knees. (Go Net!) And yet I believe stripping form from substance is an historic error. It’s dehumanizing. We’re flesh. Flesh is a miracle. So, why do I love the Web so much?
You tell me.
Frank: Betsy Devine, a Cambridge, Massachusian asks, “Is weblogging a life skill, something everyone should learn? Or is it like singing, something not everybody should do in public?” She also avers that this is your own question, asked at BloggerCon, and that she would like to hear your answer to it
David: It is my question. It’s like singing. Of course not everyone should, could, would or wants to write in public.
Frank: So, you said, “If the world is information, then information about the world is metadata.” I think thatâ€™s tautological and naturally I agree, but what if the world is NOT information? What if we have a four-space bounded sensorium and a language for sharing our perceptions filtered through our sensoria, and itâ€™s convenient to classify the information we share in this bounded fashion through the use of metadata.
In Small Pieces Loosely Joined you say that “the Webâ€™s character comes from text and thatâ€™s not likely to change in the foreseeable future.” “Words are the stuff of the Web.” You use modern novels from Nausea to Huck Finn as examples of how words transport us, convey deep meaning and evoke realities for us even though the works themselves are fictional. Do you think thereâ€™s a qualitative difference in our apprehension of meaning when the words are projected as phosphors on a screen rather than illuminated by a reading lamp placed near a comfortable chair in which the reader turns the pages of a book?
David: There’s a qualitative difference in everything. And reading on screen is so qualitatively worse than reading a printed book that few of us read books on screen. So far. But the bigger difference is, I think, that so much of what we do online is “social reading,” which is a new thing. (No, not totally new because nothing is: sitting in your parent’s lap and being read to was also a sort of social reading, and reading out loud in synagogue is a different type of social reading.) We’re so used to thinking of reading as being the definitive solitary act that the idea of reading while connected is really quite something. And when the day comes that we have affordable, high quality ebooks, even reading Huck Finn will be a social, connected act.
Frank: While outfits like MoveOn.Org have long loomed large in the virtual-organizing world, this is the first year that candidates for president have tried their hand at it. Ed Cone mentions that you were at the Oâ€™Reilly conference on Emerging Democracy last week. Was there a consensus there about how important a web presence will be for the 2004 elections?
David: There wasn’t consensus about – or even discussion about – how important the Net will be in deciding the 2004 elections. Since I’ve never been right in a political prediction, I don’t even have an opinion about that. But since the O’Reilly get-together was among people involved in the “emergent democracy” meme, I think it’s safe to say that we all think the Net is going to affect the political process long-term and perhaps in subtle and deep ways. That’s one big reason I’m supporting Howard Dean’s campaign: even if he loses the nomination, his campaign has been resetting expectations about how the Web can help make our country more democratic. (Note the lower case “d.”) Of course, the first priority, from my point of view, is to get Bush out of office, but I also happen to think that Dean is the most electable of the Democrats. (Note: Please review the part of the sentence above where I point out that I have never been right in a political prediction.)
Frank: Are you concerned regarding the move to automated ballots and computerized voting? Do you think technology misapplied could make us more vulnerable to election rigging in 2004?
David: I am worried but I have nothing interesting to say about it.
Frank: Blogging on the Many to Many site, you ask: “Does the Semantic Web ignore the fruit of social software as unreliable and unpredictable and unusable data? In other words, does the Semantic Web systematically route around some of the most important and human information on the Net?”
Well, what’s your judgment? Does it? Will it? Must it? Should it? Is this maybe where the distinction Shelley Powers creates between upper-case SW and lower-case generic semantic web comes into play?
David: What Shelley calls “the semantic web” is the Web itself. She puts it beautifully. And I agree 100% that the Web consists of meaning; it has to because we created this new world for ourselves out of language and music and other signifiers. But that meaning is as hard to systematize and capture as is the meaning of the offline world and for precisely the same reasons. The Semantic Web, it seems to me, often underplays not only the difficulty of systematizing human meaning (= the world) but also ignores the price we pay for doing so: making metadata explicit often is an act of aggression. Human meaning is only possible because of its gnarly, tangly, implicit, unlit, messy context. That’s the real reason the Semantic Web can’t scale, IMO.
If by “The Semantic Web” you merely mean “A set of domain-specific taxonomies some of which can be knit together to provide a greater degree of automation and improved searching,” then I’ve got no problem with it. It’s the more ambitious plans — and the use of the definite article in its name — that ticks me off when it comes to The Semantic Web.
Frank: Marc Canter recently blogged: “RVW and ENT are all examples of SPECIFIC open formats and protocols – but what I can’t understand is why Dave Winer or David Weinberger don’t openly support and help these RSS 2.0 extensions succeed? Having OpenReviews or shared clouds of Topics – can move the blogosphere forward and ‘down the pyramid – to a HELL of a lot of more people, then the current base of “literate’ people.”
What is your reaction to this gentle chiding from Marc?
David: I’m not techie enough to have an opinion about RSS 2.0 extensions, especially ones like RVW that I’ve never heard of. I’ll have to look into it. I do know a little about ENT and have written about it. The last time I looked, Paolo Valdemarin and Matt Mower – both of whom I not only respect but really like – were expecting users to categorize what they’re writing according to some accepted taxonomy; I’m pessimistic about getting users to take that step. But if it works, it’d be fabulous and I totally support it.
I just don’t see how my totally supporting something makes a spit’s worth of difference, although I appreciate Marc’s thinking that it might.
Frank: From Pop!Tech
“The substrate of complexity is irrelevant, whether it’s carbon or silicon. That is, a computer is a computer is a computer, be it a Powerbook or a human being. The level of complexity is the important part.”
What do you think about that David?
David: This is one of the most pervasive beliefs in our culture and it’s just so weird! What’s happened to us? How did we forget about the importance of flesh?
Frank: What were you doing in 1993? Did you have any sense that the great public utility of the World Wide Web would supplant the private efforts of companies like Prodigy and AOL? Who was your provider then? How long before you left them and started surfing free?
David: In 1993 I was working for Interleaf as Chief Philosophical Officer. (The other side of my card said “VP Strategic Marketing.”) What a great job, and Interleaf was a fantastic place to work. I still can’t believe how generous the engineers were in answering a steady stream of dumb newbie questions from a marketing guy (“What’s kerning? How do keystrokes get turned into pixels on screen? Where’s the men’s room?”), beginning when I got there in 1986. Plus, it was a world-class engineering team. The mailing list of ex-Interleafers, called “interleft,” ten years later is going strong, a testiment to the bonds that we formed there.
Interleaf was interesting because it pioneered technology that, by accident, turned out to foreshadow much of what the Web was going to do. Starting its life as a creator of high-end word processors for tech publishing, Interleaf paid attention to the structure of documents, which meant that it was early interested in SGML, which meant that it was thinking about some of the issues that drove HTML and that definitely drove XML. (Larry Bohn, Interleaf’s VP of Everything, put together the SGML Open consortium that later became OASIS. I was pretty deeply involved in that effort.) Also, the company had one of the first viable, feasible and usable commercial products for electronic document viewing. We beat Adobe Acrobat to it by about a year and competed against them very successfully. Of course, Acrobat survived the Web while our product didn’t.
So, in 1993 (or around then – I’m not very good with dates) part of my job was looking out for what was coming. The company, being Unix-based and networked, took the Internet for granted as part of its working environment, but I heard about a conference in LA on the Internet and media. This was, of course, before the Web, yet people were talking about using the Net to distribute movies and TV programming. Oracle media servers! Video on demand! Set-top boxes! And all you’d need to do is remember a few command line switches! 🙂
I came back and reported that the Internet was poised to become far more mainstream and that we should be looking at relationships with media companies. Of course, I was only accidentally right. It took the Web to mainstream the Internet, and the Web was then just a burning sensation in Tim Berners-Lee’s loins. (Ok, it was more than that. But this was pre-Mosaic.)
Interleaf’s electronic viewer was becoming our lead product when the Web hit. Suddenly companies could get for free, and in an open format, the technology we were selling for appropriately exorbitant prices. We squirmed and wriggled and pointed out (accurately) that our product gave publishers control over the look and feel of their pages and that we had all sorts of high-end features built in – it was a great product – but ultimately the open environment of the Web doomed us. Acrobat survived because Adobe had the market presence – and marketing savvy – to get its viewer into lots of hands for free.
But I was in love anyway. What really thrilled me were the small, dumb sites, the type of stuff that never in a million years would have made it through a publishing house’s editorial process. Boom, we’re all publishers. That by itself would be enough to change the world.
Frank: I understand that you once worked for Woody Allen. What did you do for him? I donâ€™t know how to ask you if heâ€™s as neurotic in real life as he always casts himself in films. If he is, you probably wouldnâ€™t answer the question, would you?
David: At the height of his fame and before he was evil, he had a King Features comic strip in something like 700 papers. I wrote about 40% of the gags during the strip’s 7-year existence. I’d send him 50 jokes a week. The fun part was sometimes getting edited by him. (Also, I made $25 for every gag that ran, which made a big difference when I was in grad school and teaching.) I met him a couple of times, once after a pre-release screening of Annie Hall at which I told him that it was confused and wouldn’t do well. Seven Oscars later, he didn’t ask my opinion about movies again.
Given what we all know about Woody Allen, I’m a little surprised that you have to ask if he’s neurotic, Frank. He married a girl who was functionally his step-daughter.
Frank: So if he married his stepdaughter, that would make his ex- his mother-in-law, which would really mess anybody up!
I was at a workshop today and I heard that when Internet penetration hit 30%, that categorized it as mass media. Newspapers, movies, radio, TV — all of them became mass media at 30% saturation of the market. Newspapers have a narrow bandwidth controlled interactivity by way of advertising and letters to the editor. Radio could be said to be an interactive medium when combined with the telephone on talk shows. Movies and vids seem pretty one-way, but I guess my question is this: Do you think the â€˜net will subsume other media types, ultimately providing a new publishing platform for local news, providing transport for broadcast media and so forth? And if you see that, then what changes does that portend in our society? What will we have to watch out for? What should gladden our hearts?
David: Yes, I do think the Internet will subsume other media types – well, I don’t think the other media will vanish, but for some of them, the Net will be the dominant transport medium – but it won’t make any difference if the incumbent media giants manage to exert the same control over the Net that they do over their current media. So, if the Net becomes the medium by which phone calls are accomplished, if it’s still the current phone companies who provide that service in the same centralized way, then who cares? We’ll still be paying more for long distance calls and will still be reliant on the telcos to come up with – and charge us for – new services.
That’s what we have to watch out for. What should gladden our heart is the same ol’ stuff that people have been talking about since ’94: conversations instead of broadcast, everyone has freedom of the press not just those who own presses, etc. That’s a lot of heart gladdening.
I still believe (“still” because I have been wrong for the past 15 years about when this is going to happen) that once we have e-books that are cheap with paper-quality displays, what is happening to the recording industry will happen to the newspaper and publishing industries. It’s an inflection point to look forward to. (It’s also an inflection point that’ll be about ten years wide.)
Frank: As a Dean supporter and therefore presumably a Democrat, how do you feel about his commitment to re-regulation of public utilities and corporations that offer employee stock options? What does it say about Clark and Lieberman that they oppose this?
David: Go Dean!
Frank: I think if you would leap a little higher and shake the pom-poms…
Has your life changed since you co-authored The Cluetrain Manifesto? Do you find the burden of authority put on you by guys like me who are knocked out by your work very difficult to bear?
David: I just assume you’re kidding. As you either are or should be.
Frank: Iâ€™ve been meaning to ask, but Iâ€™ve been so bound up in trying to educate myself in the higher realms of pomo-cyber-epistemology in order to be able to interest you in the interview — I almost forgot one of the most important questions! What are you working on now? Do you have a book in the works? Can you tell us what itâ€™s about? When it will be available?
David: I’ve been working on a book indirectly, whatever that means. Well, what it means is that I know what themes and topics I’m interested in but I haven’t figured out a way through them that anyone else would care about. But I think I’m getting close.
The themes have to do with the importance of the unspoken in business and life: the implicit, the messy, the smudgy, the ambiguous, the ambivalent, the analog, the non-formal, the fleshy. I’ve been writing and speaking about these topics for the past couple of years in various forms.
But I’ve been wrong so many times in the past few months about how to organize this that I don’t want to say now what path I’m currently on.
Frank: Whom would you rather be seated next to at a dinner party: Martin Heidegger, Howard Dean, or Woody Allen? And why? What would you want to talk about?
David: I’d rather sit next to Howard Dean because he may well be in a position to actually change the world. Also, he’s not a Nazi or a pedophile, which are pretty much my minimum requirements for dinner companions. On the other hand, I’d love to see what effect the Web would have on Heidegger’s view of technology and on what it means to be.
Frank: There is a lot of discussion about who invented blogging, but no one has stepped forward to challenge my assertion that I invented flame mail. Have you ever found yourself in a “flame-war?” How did you manage to move through those ill feelings?
David: I’m a pacifist in flame wars. I also am thin-skinned. So, I sometimes write the perfect msg that not only refutes the charges but shows up the flamer for exactly what he (and occasionally she) is. But then I delete it. Responding kindly actually has the possibility of making the world ever so slightly a better place.
Frank: There are bloggers who got into blogging because of your inspiring vision, a vision that this is something fundamentally new and different and that we can control its shape and development. Do you think that the “massness of the web” (a term you offered in SPLJ) is starting to weigh down our experience in the blogging world?
David: The Web’s massness is the massness of 700 million individual voices. Weblogs are a perfect example of that. Just try to aggregate even a couple of dozen of them and it becomes obvious that this is a massness that doesn’t reduce real well, unlike the broadcast media’s idea of massness. We — all of us — are in the process of working out how we’re going to manage in a Web world that contains a practical infinity of voices. So, no, the plenitude of voices isn’t going to weigh us down. (Spam, on the other hand, is the intrusion of the broadcast media’s idea of massness onto the Web.)
Frank: Is irony dead? If so, what killed it?
David: Passion is clipping irony’s wings. I love irony because it’s fun and because it introduces a critical distance from the world that’s necessary to keep the finitude of one’s own position in mind. But irony is also often a lazy and even cowardly refusal to engage in what matters most.
Frank: Can satire survive in a culture nominally “led” by GW Bush?
David: More than ever. The only issue is whether self-satire is outstripping third-person satire.
Frank: In your Chris Lydon interview you spoke eloquently about voice and persona on the web. Voice and persona are two qualities that are also used to assess the quality of fiction. How do we assess the truth of a blogger’s virtual projection? Don’t we run the risk of being “taken in” by some really good writers who are able to gin up authentic sounding voices and personas on the net?
David: You hit it right on the head, Frank. What is the truth of fiction? We have always (well, at least in the modern age) put forward personae. We dress, speak, and behave aware that it’s all constitutive of the public selves we create. We do the same thing in the new public of the Web except that it’s overwhelmingly a written medium. We can do drafts. All of us stand in an authorial relation to our Web selves to one degree or another…just as we do to our real world selves.
Frank: “The architecture of the web is links.” I’ve heard you express this thought in the Lydon interview and other places regarding the generosity of sending people away from our sites rather trying to retain them as (ick) “sticky eyeballs.” Still, isn’t it reasonable to try to do both so that you can enjoy the company of your visitors longer than the time it takes them to scramble off down the first branching link you offer them? Some people for example, use HTML that opens the link in a new window. Am I ethically challenged if I do this?
David: Probably, unless your site is explicitly a guide to other sites to which the visitor wants to return repeatedly.
Frank: Do you think your vision of the web is “utopian?” In a discussion a year or two ago you said “What makes the Web utopian (in some sense) is that it’s connective.” Some people think that all this connectivity is dystopian, that we live in a surveillance society and that the web is one of the enabling technologies behind all that. How much do you credit those fears?
David: Of course those fears are right. But that’s one big reason why we ought to be fighting the attempts to institute digital ID as the norm and default. And don’t forget to join the EFF.
Yes, I do think my view is utopian in that I think it important to remind people that despite the daily annoyances and uncertain future, what we’ve created for ourselves with the Web is deeply wonderful.
Frank: I asked Alex Golub for his impressions of David Weinberger. He replied, “He’s kinda like Sartre – except while Sartre’s belief that he was pursued by giant malevolent hedgehogs was a drug-induced illusion, Dave’s plight is frighteningly real. You don’t think he attends all of those conferences for _fun_ do you?” never at a loss for words, Alex went on to say that “David Weinberger is exactly like the character of Unicron in the 1986 feature length Transformers movie – his personality combines the gravitas of Orson Welles’ voice with the ingeniousness lightheartedness of transformery fun. Additionally, he has the ability to digest entire planets in order to absorb their energy – and it is only his threat to use this power that has kept Chris Locke in check.” David, I have no idea where to go with this information. Do you have any suggestions?
David: Clearly you left Alex between Heidegger and Woody Allen for too long at dinner.