Caught in the Web: A cultural critic – and former blogger – looks at the Internet and finds nothing good

We must first address biography, as the author does in his introduction. Lee Siegel, an editor at the New Republic, wrote a culture blog for the magazine. When readers responded with slurs and curses (as is common on the Web), Mr. Siegel posed as a member of his own audience, whereby he delivered a screed against his detractors and a paean to himself. This ended his blogging career. Siegel describes his actions as a “prank.” Later in the book, however, he shakes his fist at a succession of online liars and frauds (some of whom might also consider their actions to be “pranks”). It would at least be sporting if the author had made a nod toward himself as a possible member of that tribe.Siegel’s book is a jeremiad against the ills the Internet has visited upon our lives. He raises important points, many of them previously made by others but forcefully recapitulated here: the Web’s role in promoting social isolation; the confusion of popularity — voting for favorites — with true democracy; the economic motives driving the Web, and the use of “participatory culture” as a lure for customers; the constant delivery of undigested information bits, knowledge “withering away into information.”

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