The Internet Intellectual

Evgeny Morozov in The New Republic:

Jarvis3In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy. Building on “a little Marx, a little Freud, and a little social history,” Kirk posits that “there are no more private selves, no more private corners in society, no more private properties, no more private acts.” (And, according to Kirk’s sardonic wife, “no more private parts.” She finds her husband’s books “very empty” but “always on the right side.”)

One cannot fault Kirk for thinking too small. He is trying to prove that “sociological and psychological understanding is now giving us a total view of man, and democratic society is giving us total access to everything. There’s nothing that’s not confrontable. There are no concealments any longer, no mysterious dark places of the soul. We’re all right there in front of the entire audience of the universe, in a state of exposure. We’re all nude and available.”

Occasionally Kirk practices what he preaches—his sociology class is invited to see his wife give birth—but he hates it when his own privacy is violated. When a student (who is also his lover) reads his book manuscript, he protests that it is private. He is furious when another student, in a desperate attempt to document the professor’s promiscuity, starts chasing him with a camera.

Public Parts—the second book by Jeff Jarvis, the Internet’s loudest guru—reads like a glib, half-baked sequel to The Defeat of Privacy, produced by an older and more conservative Howard Kirk, who has swapped his tweed jacket for a tuxedo and his smoking pipe for an iPhone. Jarvis’s intellectual heroes are different from Kirk’s, and the latter’s hippie lingo is replaced by business-friendly clichés, but the message is the same.

More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]