Flakiness

Beat this for flakiness. In Fortune magazine's rather banal "virtual roundtable" on how "connectivity is changing the planet", Gary Flake, Director of Live Labs at Microsoft, is distinguished by the particular banality of his commentary. Mr Flake tells us that:

"the changes the Internet is bringing about are every bit as profound as previous historic milestones in the evolution of society -- like the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution."

First off, Mr Flake, society isn't an organism or a species. It doesn't evolve in linear fashion, like computer software, from version 1.0 to 2.0. Secondly, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution aren't "milestones" on any straight road to modernity. The Renaissance of classical values took place amongst a small elite of artists and wealthy patrons in certain northern Italian city states during the late Middle Ages and led nowhere except internecine bloodshed and chaos. Moreover, the causes and consequences of the industrial revolution are still incredibly controversial and complicated. Read Marx or Max Weber or Barrington Moore or Braudel or any of the thousands of historians who have been debating the causes of economic modernity since the middle of the 19th century.

Utopian technologists like Mr Flake should stop plundering metaphors from history to make their absurd remarks.  Think of it in reverse. Imagine a historian metaphorically describing a political and economic event as being like Windows 2000 or the iTunes music store. How silly would that sound?

Speaking of sounding silly, here's Mr Flake on why Internet connectivity represents the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution all rolled into one:

Think of it as the epoch of the empowered individual. A ubiquitous network exists on which every device is roughly equal, no matter who owns it, whether a teenager or a big company. Every person can, in theory, be a creative artist and freely distribute work to millions. That's both our Renaissance and our Industrial Revolution.

This is, of course, the height of flakiness. Even if what Mr Flake is saying is true (which it isn't), I see no reason to connect this so-called "epoch" with either the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, given the fact that the Web 2.0 upheaval is challenging the legitimacy of a cultural and managerial elite, one could argue that its most important consequence is the undermining of our core legacies from the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.