The rational question, of course, which Nick seems intent on not asking, is not whether 2.0 offers a perfect world - it's whether it offers a better world. That is, very simply, do the social benefits of 2.0 exceed the costs?
For guys cloistered in ivory towers, I suppose this doesn't matter.
But for those of us focusing on real economic value creation (as opposed to snark) it does. Snark is easy. Creating value is hard.
I am better off because my kid sis can Skype me whenever she wants.
I am better off because my friends and family (and clients) across the world can read my blog.
I am better off because Last.fm lets me find - and subsidize - music I couldn't find otherwise.
I am better off because Google, Wikipedia, delicious, and even Yahoo magnify the productivity of kids in 3rd world countries who ping me to tell me I am wrong.
Multiply that by millions of people, and you have a deep, revolutionary, fundamental economic shift. As copiously demonstrated by the huge - yet not irrational - erosion in the value of, for example, Media 1.0 industries, and the concomitant explosive shift in that value to players like Yahoo and Google.
Umair Haque, in response to Nicholas Carr, makes good points about aspects of the betterness of "Web 2.0." The answer to the question as he presents it, though, assumes a binary answer. Either we are better off or we are not. My back-and-froth with Ross about the Wikipedia discussion, in which he recently said Wilipedia, which we both agree is a powerful positive force, should be "celebrated" is of the same ilk, that there is a binary answer to the question of whether progress is good.
Progress is good, but progress can also introduce problems, albeit it often transitory problems. My point and, I believe, the point of people who criticize "utopians," is that we can be better off and not better off as the result of change. When Ronald Reagan asked if I was better off than four years ago back when he was running for re-election in 1984, the answer was "it's a mixed bag," as some things about America were better than the late 1970s and other things—social and economic things—were a lot worse.
So, if it is a crime to point out what can be improved about the "improvements," I'm guilty.
Umair's statement that the erosion of Media 1.0 industries, which, according to the nomenclature would not be newspapers and television, but the first generation of Web sites (though I think he means newspapers and TV) is a bit of a gloss over the reality of the situation. Instead of declining value, we're seeing the impact of a disconnect in distribution—newspaper Web traffic is growing in proportion to paper subscription declines, for example.
It is too easy, when trying to view the world as either/or to generalize, even when you're not being snarky. Umair's snark at "ivory tower" guys is the flip-side of the utopian critique and both are somewhat unfair, though recognizably convenient rhetorical devices.
Talented people need to be connected to intelligent and engaged communities. That's the challenge for every era. Web 2.0 has made strides in that arena, but it is far from perfect.
Finally, I've been thinking about the tendency to claim special dispensation for new technologies of creative expression. Way, way back all creative work was done by the priestly castes (holy men and artisans who served gods), and even up to the invention of the press monks hand wrote most books—and scribal output exceeded printed output for several decades after the press was introduced in Europe—making books and their owners slightly infallible. In religion, too, the Reformation took priestly work and put it in lay hands. In every era, a new special class has emerged—as the step-son of a minister, I may be bitter about this—that claims to be better because it has taken up the high-minded work of previous generations' higher castes.
We really need to put the priestly ways behind us for good. Instead of claiming exemptions from criticism, our creators of beauty and economic value must welcome the egalitarian criticism that comes with new technologies and new social and economic orders. When we stop acting like the practitioners latest and greatest are slightly elevated above the population as a whole, we'll be making some real progress. When we stop organizing ourselves as Web 1.0 People vs. Web 2.0, for example, it will be a Good Thing.
We're all in this together now or, at least, to the degree we really are in this together and recognize one another as being equal, that's progress.