philosophy, web

"And I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in"

Attention Spynotebook-ers — note two bits of Athens and Athens Academy content below …

One of the frustrations I have with the blogosphere is that there’s little respect for good old-fashioned intellectual back-and-forth.

In academia, here’s how it’s supposed to work: Someone raises a hypothesis and tests it. Others test it as well, perhaps offering refinements or even outright refutations. The person who raised the hypothesis then answers, conceding some points and defending others. Ideally, this is all done with mutual respect and honesty.

I can’t say how often this actually happens in academia — maybe Quinn can answer, since we share an alma mater and all. All I know is that it never happens in the blogosphere.

Two examples, both coincidentally linked from Down With Snark. (Michael does none of the damage here — I agree with what he posted about each of these.)

1. The Noka chocolate controversy. Michael sums it up well. A food blogger (mmmm … food blog …) started to wonder how this relatively new chocolate company could get away with outrageous prices on its chocolate, and he wrote a 10-part series that could double as a business-school course (BUS 302: Intro to Chocolate). Criminals are put away for life with less evidence than he compiles here.

And yet I have some sympathy for the company here. I could just imagine a happy couple enjoying the holidays, then coming back and finding that a blogger has destroyed their business. Besides, they’re hardly the first entrepreneurs to trump up their products with creative marketing. What the hell is “Corinthian leather,” anyway, other than something nice for Ricardo Montalban to pronounce?

That hasn’t happened, as far as I can tell. The only mention of Noka in the news is that they offering new keepsake packaging. That’s also the newest info on their official site and the only news posted since an August photo of the owners with Michael Gross. (Yes, the dad from Family Ties.)

In the blogosphere, you’ll find some discussion of an exuberant defender of the Noka brand who has since been hired by the Noka brand. Perhaps that’s shady, but you’d have to concede he’s being open about the ethical issues.

Up to a point, the discussion remains civil. The blogger — who doesn’t have comments on his blog but does run a messy message board — gives Noka a chance to defend itself.

Inevitably, the comments descend to the “gotcha” level, and I can’t help wondering why anyone would take such delight in taking these people down a peg.

The original investigation is impressive and informative. But Noka doesn’t owe anyone a retraction, an apology or an out-of-court settlement. I don’t see anything Noka’s doing here that differs from typical luxury branding. I’m sure someone could do the same investigation on Prada, finding that they use the same components as cheaper competitors. For better or for worse, creating status around a brand is a skill. The message behind Noka never really was “I care so much about you that I bought chocolate 10 times better than Godiva’s.” The message is, “I have money and will spend it on you.”

Besides, it’s chocolate. It’s subjective. Some people like Special Dark; some like Krackel.

(And yes, someone made a comparison of Krackel and Nestle Crunch, though it’s a little less serious.)

2. Goatse-ing the MySpace crowd. I’d never heard of “Goatse” until today, having wandered onto the Internet for the first time in 1995, just after the Usenet craze. If I had ever seen that word in the past, I would have assumed it was a misspelling of Goetze — Vicki Goetze, a schoolmate of mine and possibly the best amateur golfer of the past 30 years.

The link above is a safe Wikipedia entry, but if you’d rather skip any and all description, we’ll just say it’s a disgusting image that you’d have to be tricked into seeing. Unless you’re preparing it for someone else to see, which is a variant of the Teabaggers’ Dilemma — why should the teabagging recipient be any more embarrassed than the the teabagger?

So it seems one Jason Scott got ticked that a MySpace template was nicking one of his images. His post is full of techie condescension, but he has a point. He pays to host his images, and his bill ran up quickly when a template-maker made it available for MySpace users.

His solution: Substitute the “Goetse” image for his own. That’ll show ’em.

We’d all agree the response was hysterical. The people who made the template told him he should take down the image.

Let’s repeat and recast: The people who “borrowed” his image without permission are asking him to change it. That’s like Vanilla Ice asking Queen to remix Under Pressure for better sampling.

Funny stuff. But when you read the comments on his site and at Digg, it’s easy to jump off the bandwagon. A sample:

If you have a child who browses MySpace… Kill them. You’ve made a terrible
mistake bringing them into the world, and society as a whole should not have to
pay for that mistake. Just stuff them in a burlap sack with a few bricks and
drop them in a river. No law enforcement agency would begrudge you. You’ve taken
a future scumbag off the streets and in so doing have saved them a lot of work.


In this case, Scott set the tone. He compares pre-1993 (in other words, pre-AOL newbie avalanche) Internet usage to the early days of air travel, when most people on a plane knew how to fly it. Today, he says, most people are like airline passengers and have no clue. Isn’t that a bit like saying the cavemen who invented the wheel should be the best race-car drivers?

Besides, MySpace isn’t totally useless, even if you can blame it for the decline of Dane Cook’s career. Just today, I found a nice archive of a great forgotten Athens band, Dreams So Real. (You may not find a better four-song blast of ’80s guitar pop than this.)

So once again, I’m stuck with reservations that keep me from joining the fun. I’m like the guy at the party who’s worried the cops are going to show up. (One day, I’ll tell the story of how a couple of us back in the office with the police scanner saved half my newspaper’s staff from certain arrest.)

Limit the blogosphere to a few safe areas, and I’m fine. I’m perfectly happy talking music with the music bloggers listed here and talking parenting with a few others. Like Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy, we’re mostly harmless. I don’t see Blender going out of business because of my last few posts.

Does anyone else feel the same way? Is it “the more, the messier” on the Web?


8 thoughts on “"And I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in"

  1. Dane Cook sold 360,000 copies of Vicious Circle over xmas AND is RETALIATION cd went couble plat.

    Just so you can correct your decline comment.

    DC MOD

  2. Yes, but he’s not as funny. Compare his “Danecast” podcasts with his Comedy Central special and other appearances from that era, and you’ll see what I mean.

    I like the Dane. Just wish he’d quit being an Internet marketing genius and bring the funny again.

  3. He compares pre-1993 (in other words, pre-AOL newbie avalanche) Internet usage to the early days of air travel, when most people on a plane knew how to fly it. Today, he says, most people are like airline passengers and have no clue.

    “Ah, for the days when aviation was a gentlemen’s pursuit. Back before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to Raleigh-Durham.”

  4. 1. The Noka folks posted a comment in my USAT blog — general platitudes re standing by their product etc., but they did identify themselves as company reps.

    2. Dude, you remember Dreams So Real! Loved those guys. Have the album around here somewhere.

    2a. Online since the earth cooled and never ran across goatse before. I’m… amused. It’s a Steve Carrell movie in the making.

  5. (YOU never having seen goatse before, I mean. I don’t remember a time before that was burned into parts of my brain I probably needed; I hang out on Slashdot after all…)

  6. Bravo for singlehandedly resurrecting Dreams So Real. My copies long since vanished into the ether, so I’m delighted you found the downloads.

  7. Neel — I loved Kelsey Grammer’s delivery there … “Duuuuurham”

    AG — You do know you’re the acceptable fringe of the Slashdot crowd, right? I consider that whole site the verbal equivalent of the Goatse.

    Lex — Saw Dreams So Real twice. Once in Athens, once on the quad at Duke. They were a solid live band as well.

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