Ka Vang’s life online with Web 2.0
Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” For a week while I was in college I was a die-hard Marxist. It was the same week that I dated a true comrade, who carried a copy of Mao’s red book. These days, without temptation from the opposite sex, I believe the masses of America, and possibly the world, or at least those that can afford a computer have a new opiate-the Internet.
We currently live in a digital utopia with the emergence of Web 2.0, which is distinguished by a new generation of participatory websites such as YouTube.com, MySpace.com and Wikipedia.
On YouTube anyone can be a star. On MySpace even the most socially awkward person can make friends from all over the world, and stay instantaneously connected to these friends through message boards, blogging and emails. On Wikipedia, you can become an expert and enter an article on any subject. With its emphasis on user-generated content, community networking and interactive sharing, Web 2.0 is ushering in the democratization of the world with more information, more perspective, more opinions, more celebrities, more-more-more, and most of all this “more-ness” is being distributed without filters, gatekeepers, fees or censorship. Anybody with Internet access can be a somebody online.
Author Andrew Keen argues in his new book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” that it’s wrong to allow the masses to create and shape the content of the Internet because the masses are asses. He points out examples in history where ordinary people got it wrong: slavery, infanticide, George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, Britney Spears and 17th-century tulip mania in the Netherlands. He suggests that Web 2.0 undermines mainstream media and intellectual property rights. He thinks the creation of our culture should come from people who have a right, legally and intellectually, to create and distribute content on the Internet.
I disagree with Keen’s perspective, but I have my own concerns about Web 2.0. I worry that we will become computer zombies without the ability or desire to smell fresh air, read a book, or engage in meaningful relationships where you can actually touch the person you desire. I see a future where people become addicted to being online and see cyberspace as a reality when it really isn’t. In college I had a friend who didn’t eat, sleep or go to the bathroom for 24 hours because he was chatting online with his “girlfriend” from France. I won’t mention the dozens of friends who have been on either academic or work probation because they stopped attending classes or working just so they could watch the latest videos on YouTube.
Web 2.0 isn’t all bad, of course. A family member posted a clip of a performance I did on YouTube six months ago and since then it has gotten over 1,502 viewings (and not all the hits were me watching myself). Yes, I am on YouTube, MySpace and Wikipedia. because it’s a way to get reading gigs and promote my writing (in addition to writing for the Women’s Press I also dabble in poetry, playwriting and prose). It’s my husband who convinced me to make friends with Web 2.0. “Come on, Ka,” he said. “All the writers are doing it.”
So does this mean that if Maya Angelou jumps off a bridge I will too? Maybe. When I learned that Billy Collins, 11th poet laureate of the United States, had his own MySpace page, I signed up too. Collins only has eight friends including Tom who is the inventor of MySpace and therefore is automatically everyone’s friend. I am still waiting for Collins to accept me as a friend, and he really needs me! I may be a little-known writer from Minnesota, but I have 186 friends. As for Wikipedia, someone created an entry for me. It is actually quite detailed and even includes that little-known fact that I attended St. Agnes Catholic High School in St. Paul and that my parents were shaman-animist. No family members will admit to setting it up, so I think it must be a close friend. I monitor my presence on YouTube, MySpace and Wikipedia closely, afraid someone is going to hack into my accounts and declare that I am dead on Wikipedia as they did with the comic, Sinbad; send a virus to my MySpace friends; or post a nasty message on my YouTube page.
I know from first-hand experience that Internet usage can be addictive and if we are not careful we can be sucked into its bottomless hole. For a month I couldn’t stop watching YouTube clips of Charo on “The Love Boat”-until my husband told me I should be watching something important like ’80s music videos. It’s a question of priorities.
Ka Vang was born in Laos and raised in St. Paul. She is a poet, playwright and community activist.