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October 3rd, 2008


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01:52 pm - Soft Machine
People might be interested in this post by iainjcoleman about the generally disappointing nature of online criticism (he's talking primarily about Doctor Who fandom, but the point applies more widely of course), and how we find strategies to filter out what is worth reading.

The problem is that online criticism has a similar crap-to-gold ratio as online fanfiction or teenage goth poetry on LJ, with the extra twist that the worst of it is not just rubbish, but actively nasty and horrible. I've read some great insights into TV, books, music and films online. The trick is to find ways of filtering out the bottom 90%. In the world of traditional publishing, that's what editors are for. In the freedom of the web, you have to find your own way of filtering. There are various ways of doing this - a judiciously chosen friends list on LJ, websites and blogs that aggregate or link to the best online criticism, and so on. I don't know which way is best, but I do know that avoiding the open threads on Doctor Who Forum after a story has aired is a pretty good start.


It's interesting in itself, but it made me think about modern filtering strategies. Making use of the web is all about filtering out rubbish, and I don't think those who predicted the modern influx of information, predicted very well the strategies that we would use to negotiate it. Specifically that we create and maintain social networks which transmit and filter information quite efficiently. Funny it wasn't well predicted because these strategies involve long established human behaviours - like reputation, co-operation and reciprocation.

And I think that SF novels which predicted futures dominated by computerised information envisaged that it would be controlled by corporations, or by governments. Also that it would be mediated by money, and access to messages and information would be either restricted or imposed by centralised fiat. Perhaps it was because they extrapolated a kind of super-television model.

I know I am always going on about it, but I think the most accurate prediction of the modern Internet is in the Mars Trilogy (I know the Internet existed by that point, but it wasn't anything like it is now). For instance there's a passage in Red Mars where he describes a video of the Space Elevator falling, which someone has cobbled together from clips posted from hand-held devices, putting them in chronological order, and adding a music track. It's exactly the sort of thing that would appear on YouTube nowadays. Red Mars comes across as soft and idealistic, and yet it has correctly predicted how people work for nothing to create complex information landscapes.

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Comments:


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From:ozarque
Date:October 3rd, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
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That's a fine essay; I enjoyed reading it, and I thank you for posting it. I think you're absolutely right about the trouble SF novelists in the past had with imagining the way the Internet has turned out.
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
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I think it was easier for writers to envisage the importance that informal grassroots networks would have, for instance politically, but not how they would be mediated and expanded by computer technology
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:October 3rd, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
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I think the most accurate prediction of the modern Internet is in the Mars Trilogy

That's a good one, but I still think the prize goes to Philip K Dick, whose novels Galactic Pot Healer and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said both feature open, global communications networks. In the former book, this is mainly used by the lead caracter to slack off at work by playing silly word games with his friends, while in the latter it is mainly a source of depraved sexual gratification.
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2008 02:36 pm (UTC)
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But I never get the impression from PKD that he has much faith in the collective - it's all controlled by sinister powers
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From:dfordoom
Date:October 4th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
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while in the latter it is mainly a source of depraved sexual gratification.

Which shows just how remarkably prescient he was! He predicted the internet with uncanny exactness.
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From:kalypso_v
Date:October 3rd, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
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Funnily enough, Matching Mole is likely to feature in my next post...

Anyway, on the main point; is there a danger that we gravitate towards social networks reflecting our own thinking, and lose sight of what a great many other people are thinking?
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I think so. It's natural. Also, people who don't think like us are totally full of shit.
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From:kalypso_v
Date:October 3rd, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
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I think it's a pity that, due to pressure of time, the one of my three daily newspapers I rarely manage to read after pulling out the sports section is the Telegraph. A lot of the time the opinions seem preposterous, but I thought it was good for me to be aware of them.
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From:executrix
Date:October 3rd, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
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But I think that in the pre-Internet and indeed pre-telly days, the Little Puddleton Weekly Rep might or might not see the review in the Chipping Sodbury Gazette, which might or might not be intelligent and well-meaning. And the Rep wouldn't hear the opera-cream munchers in the stalls whispering "She looks dreadful" and "my, he's put on weight" whereas nowadays both the review and the gossip turn up online.
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)
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Yes. And I was going to say that that's why we have to try not to read things that would upset us. But sometimes it is quite fun to read the views of those awful awful people :-)

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