Tom Wolfe has been a writer who has appealed to me over the years, but after seeing him in a smidge of the 3-hour sit-down with Brian Lamb on C-Span this afternoon, I've been wondering how such a smart and curious man could have such blinders about the internet.
Let's first just set aside the silliness he uttered about evolution not being provable (which seems to deny the observable adaptability of bacteria and viruses) and his notions of what college girls want. Let's talk about his thoughts on the internet.
Basically he said the internet is nothing special, just a matter of getting information faster. Maybe it's that he's about to turn 75 and that this is one area where he's a self-admittedly incurious fellow. But it seems to me that he's missing one important and essential thing: the internet is not as much about information as it is about interaction.
People who avidly sneer at blogs (pwasabs) and the blogosphere always rant about how you just get buried in information, and you can't trust any of it because there's so much unreliable information out there. In other words, they complain about too much information.
And it is TMI. Way too much. But they don't even realize what their real complaint truly is.
What's developing now -- really only in the past very few years -- is a new dynamic in how we relate to that information. With trackbacks and watchlists and link lists and referral tracking, we're just adding our first layer of interaction on all this information. On some sites, karma plays into the dynamic, too. All these things are ways of helping to filter out the chaff. The good stuff, once it finds its hook into the higher-traffic sites, tends to rise to attention.
But this is interactivity in its infancy. The fact is we don't even know what interactivity will look like in 10 years, let alone when the little toddlers scrambling around our livingrooms reach college age.
And yet, these pwasabs don't even see that much interactivity. In fact, many don't even grok the concept. To them, interaction is flipping channels with the remote control, or turning pages in a book, or (with a leap of faith) conversation with someone over coffee. So when they are complaining about too much information, what they are really complaining about is too little interactivity -- partly because they don't see what little there is, but largely because that interactivity is still not quite understood, and even feared.
Look at these AOL commercials for "a better internet." A lot of these are Luddite expressions of fear of the future, of uncertainty. Their pitch is to make the internet like television.
I cannot imagine a worse fate for the internet.
Tom Wolfe has been openly soliciting suggestions for the topic of his next book. Being as he prides himself on delving into topics of which he knows virtually nothing, I suggest that his next book is about interactivity and the internet. He just might learn something.