There’s some chatter in our apparently zombified blogosphere about an article on the “rise and demise of RSS,” one of my favorite topics about an earlier (but faintly persistent) era of Internet readership culture. I’m not going to sketch some rosy picture of the pre-social Internet, but I’m wondering how we’re expected to react to this brief paragraph near the end of the write-up:
Regular people never felt comfortable using RSS; it hadn’t really been designed as a consumer-facing technology and involved too many hurdles; people jumped ship as soon as something better came along.
It’s of course a great achievement that technology has become accessible to all kinds of people–every face-to-face video-chat between a grandmother and her far-away grandson is a powerful testament to that accomplishment. But for every techno-miracle, there are lamentations about our pandemic of troll armies, bigoted doxxers, and millions of Internet users of whatever caricatured generation happens to rank lowest in our political estimation (likely millennials or boomers).
In other words, I’m not quite sure how we’re supposed to square the circle of both admiring how Internet technologies are increasingly available to all kinds of people (which I very much support) but also bemoaning how this broad digital enfranchisement extends to those who use the Internet in ways we find thoroughly unvirtuous.
This paradox recalls some mixed-bag assessments of democracy–Machiavelli, in particular–and it’s a potent test of our commitments to and definitions of participatory society. For now, though, the Internet seems not to have made up its mind about how much user-friendliness and how many hurdles are actually self-salutary. I have my own inclinations, but I suppose I haven’t totally made up my mind either.