Thursday, August 28, 2008

Halfwitted journalist thinks only rich people should blog

This Washington Post writer suggests that blogs are not only unimportant, they are actively harmful to democracy and society. Therefore, the government should make them more expensive, so that regular people can't afford to have them.

And if that wasn't already lunatic enough, he proposes to do it by a massive energy tax.

This is so awesome I thought for a minute it was satire. Dusty Horwitt, pissant little environmentalist, lawyer, and journalist (and Bill Clinton impersonator, on the side) thinks blogging is the death of democracy.

Apparently democracy means a few rich people talk, while everyone listens. You... yes you... have the right to shut the hell up and be a good audience. Stop blogging! You're polluting the infosphere! You're killing newspapers, communities, democracy, and the environment, and if you're in the U.S., you're forcing jobs overseas! All by creating an "information avalanche". God knows we should all beg to go back to the days when we apparently sat around getting a political "education" from notorious anti-Semite and Hitler fan Charles Coughlin... as Horwitt suggests.

Here's Horwitt's argument:

1) The proliferation of blogs make it impossible to find relevant information
2) The only important information is "politics and news"
3) The Internet hurts newspapers
4) And Democracy!
5) Fragmented media outlets fragment society!
6) Personal computers, and data centers, are bad for the environment
7) Therefore, create an energy tax so regular people can't afford to have computers, and can't blog! That way, they'll shut up and listen to proper sources of information and become "educated".

So, regular people shouldn't have access to computers. This is a new one on me. Let's increase the digital divide, to.... empower people! and to Make America Great!

Rather than call for government regulation of technology itself, perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread.

Horwitt doesn't consider for a second that the rest of the world will still be posting, even if the U.S. makes it hard for people to have access to computers.

This is the best part,

It's possible that over time, an energy tax, by making some computers, Web sites, blogs and perhaps cable TV channels too costly to maintain, could reduce the supply of information. If Americans are finally giving up SUVs because of high oil prices, might we not eventually do the same with some information technologies that only seem to fragment our society, not unite it? A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now.

Horwitt seems to be an amateur comedian and songwriter. You'd think his attempts at comedy would help him write a better satire if that's what this is supposed to be. Or is it all an elaborate hoax, an enormous troll? He's also an "analyst" for the Environmental Working Group. Wonder how well his analysis is informing the EWG? I like this bit of their site - "How EWG Does It: Our research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know." Hmmm. You have a right to know... What the likes of Dusty Horwitt want you to know. Apparently you don't have a right to speak.

The Washington Post just argues against Horwitt's big point that newspapers deserve to survive at all -- by having published this massive piece of bullshit. This is the legitimacy of mainstream, traditional media?

It'll serve this dude right to be mocked on as many blogs as possible. He thinks viral information doesn't work? Maybe a million pissed off bloggers will let him know otherwise. God, if only I could find his personal Myspace... I'm sure it's comedy gold.

Digg this


gs said...

Does anyone know how to spell "luddite"? :)

The mocking appears to be in full swing. For example, here's the title from a post at

Dusty Horwitt, embarrassment for EWG...
Dusty Horwitt is about to start on his 15 minutes, I hope.

gs said...

Okay, having now read Dusty's "article," I'm pretty sure he's just a troll, looking to see what kind of a rise he can get out of, well, everyone. Maybe he sold this to the editors at the Post as "provoking discussion."


gs said...

Yeah, you're right, it is an odd venue for a troll. On the other hand, it's an odd venue for a nutcase, too.

Well... maybe not. :)

I don't know why you shouldn't pitch to the Post. You have an interesting niche in the interface between technology and social issues, and you're more grounded than most of the tech writers I read.

On a funny note, I just "associated" the word "halfwitted" in your blog title with Dusty's last name: Horwitt. We could coin a new word: "horwitted," meaning bascially the same thing as halfwitted. :)

It will be interesting to follow how all this plays out. Thanks for the tip. I wouldn't miss this for anything.

Liz said...

I also love the dude's name, simultaneously hoar-wit and whore-wit; it's like Ben Franklin traveled forwards in time to make him up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link and the great summary! I posted and mocked in my LiveJournal!

Anonymous said...

Comcast just announced caps on bandwidth starting October 1st.

The entertainment industrial complex really hates it when you're not watching American Idol, QVC, Fox News, or other crap.

Anonymous said...

Liz just stumbled upon your brilliant blog! I'm laughing and getting prickly all at the same time... will be coming back for more.

Thank you- *Tracey aka: t-Mere

t-Mere said...

Apologies... forgot to log-in (re above)... shouldn't have been posted as 'anon' :(

-shanti *t

Anonymous said...

Reduce the flow of information to make this country great again!

Hm. Haven't we heard this idea before?

SpencerAR said...

I don't know, maybe I'm looking too much at the surface argument...I'm seeing Horwitt's article as not saying blogging is bad, but as a variation on the "It's the quality, not the quantity" debate combined with the "Law of Unintended Consequences".

Consider the real world example of a dinner party that starts out with 10-15 people. Lots of interesting topics, plenty of action - it's almost guaranteed to entertain and inform you to some degree for the evening. Now do a time lapse as more people show up at the party. You're now up to say, 200 people, all talking at once and they're all speaking from a position of authority - whether they are factually an authority or not. If you're capable of discriminating out an individual voice, then you have to wonder if the position is factually accurate. And if you can't do that, then the entire environment becomes an exercise in white noise - nothing makes sense. And if you want a real world equivalent of the energy required to make this party happen for these 200 people, they're going to be in a warehouse-sized loft with all the lights on and the heat and/or AC running at full tilt. And don't forget the cost of the food, gas to drive to the party, etc.

Here's how I would counter your interpretation of Horwitt's argument:

1) The proliferation of blogs make it difficult to find relevant bias-free information without the use of a search engine, scrutiny and corroboration with other blogs and news sources. Of course, plenty of folks would argue that newspapers were never bias free in the first place.

2) With the web (and by extension, blogs) providing so many choices from which to get information, how do you pick "the best one?" In an era of always being "on the go" and becoming slaves to the instant gratification of Google (present company included), will we ever research anything in-depth? When there are people out there who focus only on the blogosphere equivalent of Fox News (or CNN for that matter), are we ever going to go critically into anything below the surface?

3) The Web, like TV and radio, is another competitor for news-seekers attention. Some people use it in a complementary fashion, but they are a definite minority. More times than not it's going to be some form of either/or/or/or information consumption. Car radio and non-cable TV news cost less than a newspaper. And what one can get from the web overall can cost less than a month's worth of newspapers.

4) To revisit my example from above, if in the long-term, communication OVERLOAD inadvertently brought about by blog proliferation (which is the focus of the piece) isn't properly managed, then shouldn't something be done about it? Granted, I'm not in favor of his suggestions per se. To borrow the analogy of 500-channel cable TV, let the information seekers become more informed about their choices and let them accurately decide. In the meantime, the ISP's and server farms should be trying to get more energy efficient equipment because they'll save money in the long run.

5) That one I just didn't see. Sorry :-)

6) The materials used in the manufacture of electronics (especially computers) are bad for the environment upon disposal. The recycling of said materials has only now started to take off, and it's not without its hiccups (there was a piece on "60 Minutes" a few weeks back that truly incensed me). As for energy needs, data centers (which are the backbone of the Internet) draw a HUGE amount of power collectively. Blade servers are lessening that drain to some degree...but there's still climate control, battery backups, redundancies, etc. All of those computers have an impact, and they don't run on perpetual motion.

7) I agree with you that the energy tax is probably not the best way to go about dealing with this. To be honest, I can't say what would be. Open discussion, like on this blog, perhaps? The evolution of our society from the world of the 60's and the 70's to the world of the 21st Century has seen us become acclimated to doing things in a much different way, a much faster way usually, with unexpected consequences. When is the last time any of us actually bought a newspaper and sat and read it at a leisurely pace? For me, it's probably been over a decade. Granted, I don't consider blogging to be the cause of the problem. In fact, I consider blogging to be one of the ways that I try to stay informed by looking at data on my smartphone when I can.

Joseph said...

I agree with you Liz, Dusty Horwitt is a half-witted journalist if he thinks that the uneducated and middle class people of the US should be mindless drones and do what they are told. Why would anyone think that blogging is just for the rich and that it will be the death of democracy? Blogging has become mainstream (for the masses) and comes in so many forms it’s hard to comprehend. This is why we, the US have a democracy because we can speak our minds. He just wants to take that away and that’s not right.