Catch-22 2.0

Terence Blacker is right. We live in an age of cynicism and the negative does indeed seem to have become "the very air that we breathe." But the "knee-jerk cynicism" that Blacker ascribes to the British is actually a worldwide problem. He's also correct about the role the latest communications technology is playing in this descent into negativity. As he says:

Blogs and message-boards – the "new media", as its supporters like todescribe it – add to the generalised disgruntlement with their own peculiar ingredients of gloom and bile. The internet may have liberated intelligent debate, opening the window on the stuffy clubrooms of the political and media establishments to let in a blast of fresh air, but it has also introduced a new note of nastiness and stupidity.

Blacker correctly interprets new media's knee-jerk cynicism with what the "problem of laziness". He says that dismissing other people's ideas is "easier" than enthusing over them. I would argue, however, that what's really missing from the blogs and message boards is unashamedly ambivalent commentary on complex issues. Take, for example, the tenor of the public online discussion over the past four days about the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Reading these message-boards -- with their simplistically vindictive morality and vitriolic hatred of both Israelis and Palestinians -- is a truly depressing experience which generally confirms the most pessimistic opinions about human intelligence and dignity.

Unfortunately, the Internet is an easy-to-use platform to distribute such ignorance and hatred. But rather than being technology's fault, we are collectively to blame for new media's gloom and bile. Blacker is right to blame laziness. Web 2.0 technology like Twitter has been designed for lazy people who want a simple-to-use platform to broadcast their generally instantly forgettable opinions.

So what is the solution? Terence Blacker, the author of over 40 books himself, says that it is with "people who are daring to do something different" that the best hopes of the future lie. He's right. In our age of opinionated cynicism, being genuinely different means being both ambivalent and well-informed about complex issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Books are the ideal technology to distribute such ambivalence. But reading and writing books requires energy and self-discipline, the very qualities that are now missing. Someone once wrote a book about this dilemma. It was called Catch-22