The Last Podcast Opinionated Web 2.0 News and Commentary


10 December 2007 @ 8pm


Doris Lessing gets Crunched

There is something interesting about the discussion of Doris Lessings Noble prize acceptance speech in the tech blogosphere today.

Duncan Riley at TechCrunch sees her whole speech as a condemnation of the internet and blogs in particular:

Whilst Lessing’s words should be taken somewhat in context: the ditherings of an ignorant old woman, Keensian (as in Andrew Keen) anti-internet speeches grow as the cultural elite in society continue to have their previous (often born-in-to) positions eroded. The likes of Andrew Keen and Doris Lessing ignore the many benefits the internet has provided in expanding access to knowledge to many, many more people than who may otherwise have had no access before.

I am actually quite appalled by this description (and, for the record, I don’t like Lessing’s writing much). I can only assume that he wrote this post as linkbait.

Thankfully, there are other voices on the net. Nick Carr calls her speech powerful,’ Matthew Ingram puts things into some more context, and so does Alexander van Elsas, who uses the speech as a springboard to discuss the internet,social interaction and Twitter.

It looks like everybody is a bit hung up on the following paragraph from Lessing’s speech, though:

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

Clearly, she ain’t no lover of post-modernism, but she has a point, in that at least in the world of academics, we are breeding specialists who can hardly look beyond the rim of their Starbucks cups.

Also, while most bloggers have probably stopped revering the written, printed word, in most of the world, a text isn’t ‘real’ unless it is printed.

For that matter, in large parts of academia, if it isn’t printed, it doesn’t exist. If you want to publish in my speciality, better make sure it isn’t some online journal, because those count for crap when it comes to getting jobs or tenure. It doesn’t matter that everybody actually gets the article from on online database – as long as there is a ‘real’ version in the library.

I think the same thinking plays into Lessings discussion of books.

We shouldn’t get hung up on her ideas about the net. She got the Nobel Prize for literature, not tech commentary, and she is clearly a little bit behind the times, but the overall message, I think, is something we should take to heart.

And yes, there is something funny about the fact that Lessing bemoans that people’s attention span has gotten shorter because of the net, and then most commentators have barely read the speech…

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