Fans urge ICANN celebrity blogger to keep on blogging
Ode to Joi
Joichi Ito, the American businessman who after a kind of immaculate conception hatched forth as a pre-formed internet celebrity a couple of years ago, is having a crisis.
Ito's gauche weblog has built up a cult following amongst hopeful software authors, lonely maternal housewives, out of luck marketing consultants, and excitable South American computer enthusiasts. His reports from the high table of the internet's High Society have enthralled an audience that runs well into three figures, and will keep sociologists busy for years to come. "He doesn't need employees; he has the posse," burbled one typical piece of ass-kissing published in Fast Company magazine.
But now Ito now wonders if the public diary format of the weblog is too restrictive for his talents as venture capitalist, tireless networker and ICANN board member.
Soon after he blogged this a coterie of blog fans urged him to keep his fingers firmly welded to the keyboard. The blog must go on, they insisted.
One fan begged, "please do continue to post silly-opinionated-not-well-thought through stuff. i for one love your blog for just that reason".
"Don't let the bastards install a cop-chip in your head," was the rather bizarre advice from someone called Cory Doctorow.
Having got to know Ito personally we're in a privileged position. For a start, the private Ito is an engaging fellow who bears only a passing resemblance to the naif who writes the Joi Ito weblog. Far from being the "Help - I can't speak Engrish so well!" character that prickles the maternal instincts of menopausal Coffee Klatch Mums across the web - the real Ito is a funny, smart and slick American businessman.
He asks the right questions - a rarity amongst his cult following. Maybe we just recognize a cynic when we see one, but Ito is clearly a survivor.
So what's behind his deeper malaise?
"Emergence is our religion," Ito once told your reporter with a knowing wink, after a few beers. Over at life-enhancement.com, Ito recently enthused about how "a sort of intelligence will form just by connecting everyone together."
It's the old 1980s AI rhetoric, updated for the TCP/IP age.
But society isn't a computer network, and computer networks are a lousy metaphor for society. Systems thinking once excited a lot of people because it appeared to offer a way out of the over-specialization of the sciences. That may still be so, but it's a mistake to believe it can offer a substitute for a religion. Compared to the rich metaphysical belief system offered by a real religion, faith in computer networks invariably leads to disappointment, and from there, it's a short step to a fatalism and in some cases, a very cynical brand of misanthropy.
(When "getting everyone connected" is the goal, and a third to a half of the world stubbornly refuses to "get connected", the techno utopian invariably blames the people, not the computer).
So this kind of thinking attracts a lot of flakes, and it also produces rather flakey computer systems, which is where we begin to take an interest. If technology is going to benefit society it has to be much, much better than it is now. If it isn't, the results could be catastrophic.
So you don't need to be a paid-up God-botherer to see the shortcomings of this faith. The collected works of the Brothers Grimm - or perhaps even Captain WE Johns - offer a more coherent and useful framework.
And the techno-utopians have great plans for us, if only the world would listen - and the call to arms wasn't so comically bathetic -
"I think the recent back and forth including Paul Boutin's defense of Andrew shows that we're hitting a nerve, but that we probably should show some progress soon," Ito once wrote in a mailing to the "Emergent Democracy" mailing list, shortly before "Emergent Democracy" sank out of sight for good.
"Also, can someone send me the link to the Wiki? I moved machines and lost my bookmarks."
Would you buy a used PC, let alone a New Model Democracy, from these people?
Perhaps if Joichi could leave his career considerations aside for a moment, and he could make a lasting impact by blogging how ICANN really works from the inside. Or perhaps he doesn't need an online identity anymore, and he'll vanish from the "blogosphere" as rapidly as he arrived, leaving only trackbacks behind, as a kind of cybernetic placenta. We rather hope not, because in contrast to the gallery of grotesques that appears daily on his "Random Faceroll" - self-selected to be thin-skinned, humorless and outright creepy - he's been quite entertaining. ®
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