Wrong song, Michael Gorman

I’ve been watching with some detached interest over the past few weeks as Michael Gorman decided to become one of the “blog people” and launch a blitzkrieg against what, one would presume to be, “all the other blog people.”

Oddly enough, given my personal feelings on the matters in question, I found myself not taking offense to any of it, nor am I particularly bothered by it, so naturally I needed to examine that a bit further.

It helps that his points are, by-and-large, valid when considered from within his frame-of-reference. And despite his very pronounced colloquy that seems to drive people mad, he is a concerned citizen with some legitimate beefs. But it’s two recent posts of his that betray his misunderstanding of our 2.0 world and his subsequent strategy for coping with it. The Siren Song of the Internet, parts I and II make it clear that he’s misinterpreting the music. His biggest mistake is to assume that the flow of information through the Net is a zero-sum game and that there should be a procedural framework imposed upon it. You might just as easily catch the wind in a bag and to expect such from the internet will leave you in perpetual disappointment. Which is obviously where Gorman is currently mired. He thinks it is the sirens’ song we’re hearing. But it’s not. (Incidentally, I always thought that the wind-bag setback was simply a matter of poor, untransparent management on the part of Ulysses)

It’s more likely we’re hearing a song like that sung “beyond the genius of the sea” in Wallace Steven’s “Idea of Order at Key West.” It’s a poem that can never be explained, only understood. It defies logical examination, but conveys far more than the sum of its words in a clarity that is either grasped, or not. The metaphor is much more relevant here:

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

There is no permanence online, there is little to no authority online, there are no borders online, there are fewer inhibitions online. “Online” has overwhelmed convention like a rising tide over a sand castle, it confounds giants like the RIAA and MPAA while simultaneously turning tiny David voices into Goliath ones. There is no pushing back against it. If information was a physical object, the internet would be a black hole of matter so densely packed that the laws of physics become irrelevant. So too are Gorman’s machinations, valid as they may be. They don’t apply, never will. We’re in a place where Apples can sometimes taste like pomegranates, where the down escalator often goes up.

But it’s not all naked chaos. There is a self-governing pattern of information exchange that arranges itself fractally into representations of a much larger truth. Sometimes we just need to back off and look at it from thirty-thousand feet before it reveals itself. But these are not truths that we can cite in scholarly papers or use as a basis for proof of anything. Ultimately they’re truths about the nature of humanity that present themselves for only a brief moment before they dissolve into another . Because the vehicle upon which all this has evolved is science-based technology, Gorman assumes its payload should, too, conform to the same laws.

Even though it’s not appropriate, his response to this nebulous new world is that of Ulysses’–tell his crew to put wax in their ears and lash him to the mast. So it’s no surprise to me that many of us (who he mistakenly thinks of as harpies) are really just sitting on the shore, listening to some really great music, sipping mai tais and casually wondering, “what the fuck is going on in that boat?”


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