He also got a short interview in Wired, which included the following exchange:
Wired: Isn't TV as easy to fake as the Net?
Carr: At least TV tries to check stuff out. Look, the Internet is basically a tool for buying things and for pornography. When it becomes more than that, it will become extremely dangerous.
Here is (paraphrased, since I didn't save a copy) the letter I submitted to Salon:
I just read Caleb Carr's latest work of fiction: "Information Poisoning." In it, he deftly captures the mindset of an ignorant, fearful neo-Luddite. He includes classic elements such as references to "child molesters" and "pornography" while also adding amusing topical references such as "I'm saying there should be an agency in place that would terrify Matt Drudge." He broadens what would otherwise be a trite one-dimensional portrayal by referring to real problems (the distinction between information and knowledge, corporate influences, etc.). He also added what I believe to be an homage to "1984" by his character's oblique reference to a "Ministry of Information." I recommend this short story, but only for it's value as light, psuedo-scary bedtime reading. I look forward to his next piece of fiction."
I vented my spleen. All well and good, but that wouldn't be reason to submit a story to K5. The more interesting questions are: Who would read something like this and agree with it? Does this accurately reflect how the public sees the Internet? And what about his (few) valid points?
It seems to me that Caleb Carr is basically afraid that misinformation will be take as gospel by those who traverse the Net, and that this will damage our society. He sees corporate or governmental censorship as the only alternatives, and chooses the government as the lesser evil. This references to kiddie porn and pornography in general condemn him to the kook file, and this lovely morsel
It therefore requires unprecedented attempts to assure the veracity of the content it purveys and to protect those who use it. And if that means suspending full First Amendment protection from the Internet, so be it.
buries him there so deep you'd need a bathysphere to find him, but he does have a few points.
First, we have the question of public perceptions of "The Net" (not to be confused with that Sandra Bullock confection that blew through the theatres a while back). For most people (IMHO), when they think of the net they think of email, the Web, and AOL chat rooms (if they're connected) or pr0n, email, the Web, and AOL chat rooms if not. Few know the ins and outs, the history, etc. I could see many people falling for Carr's babblings, replete with trigger phrases like "kiddie porn" and "sex offender". He's afraid, and he wants you to be afraid too. So afraid, in fact, that you will be willing to let the First Amendment fall by the wayside "for the children." Am I overreacting? Maybe. This is just one guy pimping his novel with scary stories. He isn't the first. But, he is being published, he is being interviewed, and he is being read.
Ever hear of the Big Lie Theory? Today, I tell you "Joe Blow is a fink." You say "No way! Joe is a great guy. " I come back two weeks later and say "Joe Blow is a fink." You think, "Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?" Two weeks after that, I tell you "Joe Blow is a fink." You say "Well, yeah! Everyone knows that." Repetition, particularly from multiple sources, and occurring over time, builds credibility... especially if the ideas being repeated are frightening, and if said ideas are not considered too deeply. And, alas, wild claims play better than facts. On to his points...
First, he fears that information technology is making us somehow dumber, making it easy for us to assemble vast quantities of information without our being able to integrate that info into a cohesive body of knowledge. Perhaps, but censorship and regulation would do nothing to help that. Maybe we should be offering school courses in "Information Integration." ?
Next, he fears we are so bombarded with entertainment and marketing that we are rendered incapable of objective thought. Again, censorship won't fix that, and in case he hadn't noticed, the net is hardly the primary conduit by which such material reaches us. Funny, he doesn't say anything about censoring TV, newspapers, magazines, or, dare I mention them, books. Surprise, surprise.
How are children dealing with their access to the Net? How is that access changing the nature of childhood and children's educations and experiences? Excellent questions. Too bad he drops them in favor of
I thought long and hard about ways to make information technology more socially beneficial. But in the end, I could not escape one central dilemma: Only two forms of regulation are available in the United States: governmental and corporate.
Thought long and hard, did he? He suggests applying fraud, false advertising, and libel statutes (don't they apply now? Any lawyers in the house?) to the net, and putting regulatory bodies in place to ensure that. He acknowleges the power of the net, but thinks that "Regulation is desperately needed to prevent widespread, even general, mental and intellectual poisoning of the public. " No doubt he would be happy to be chairman of the Ministry of Information... I mean, regulatory body that dispenses the permission to publish to those worthy of it.
Here is where he is (tangentially) on to something. Not regulation, but watchdog organizations that give a "Seal of Approval" to information sources. These could be just a bunch of people getting together and rating info sites for their veracity (sound familiar?), or, say, voluntary work by journalists, or scientists, or others knowledgeable in their respective fields. We sort of have that now, with multiple sites pointing out each other's mistakes.
Back to Carr. He states that "... I think the key is verification and attribution enforcement," but goes on to say that he isn't sure how this will turn information into knowledge, and that it's still up to the individual. So, how does regulation help again? Not to mention that teeny, tiny element he's missing: who decides what is true and what is not? Is an opinion "true"? What does that even mean in this context? This is not to say that there is no such thing as truth (as some black-beret-wearing pomo academics would have you believe), but that putting a single regulatory body in charge of a) determining the accuracy of everything stated on the net (some job, eh?), and b) given the authority to enforce it's judgements, is, well, loony. Perhaps he should stick to writing fiction, where he can wave his authorial hand and make such troublesome questions go away.
So, what do you all think?