Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Unbearable Cynicism of Being

One strange side effect of Law and the Internet 3rd edn coming out has been that the geeks have noticed a law book has an XKCD cartoon on the cover. I was pretty pleased when a friend of that persuasion passed me a link to where someone had kindly started a thread called "Probably the best front cover for a law book you wil ever see.. xkcd!"

I was less pleased though when reading down I found a bunch of people had independently assumed we had stolen the cover, ie used it without permission from Randall Munroe, the creator of XKCD. It seemed the joy of imagining a law book containing chapters on copyright on the Internet had pointedly ripped off an actual IP creator, outweighed the inherent utter unlikeliness of such a tactic. The fact that I'd written here in easily Googleable form about how delighted I was that we'd been given permission also didn't stop some doubters (though to be fair, a minority).

So when I posted to say that yes, actually we had permssion, and Randall had given us it for free, what a sweetheart! I thought everyone would be relieved. No, that merely provoked A`N Other geek, no doubt pissed off a losing sight of an easy target, to post under my own name, ("theRealLilian Edwards") saying I'd lied about this in public. Meanwhile someone else posted, after I had made my correction, asserting that the legality was still in doubt. (EDIT: now amended, ta.)

It's this sort of thing writ large that gives geekdom and the blogosphere the bad reputation it has with people as diverse as the Daily Mail and my mum. I know on the scale of things this hardly compares to being pursued by dubious paparazzi making up lies about one's love life, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I am, as I usually say, at least part-geek myself, and this cover was in a way my gift to myself and the geek community. It has thrilled me to use it. I was hurt people could think we could be so stupid and malevolent as to use it without consent.

Andres Guadamuz spoke eloquently about technophobia at GikII Amsterdam , one of his prevailing themes. The usual reasons that get cited as to why people react to a technological society badly are a combination of ignorance, fear of change and media manipulation. To these I would add that geek culture - and much of web 2.0 culture - is a product to a large extent of the Asperger's spectrum and leans towards the tactless, rude and pointlessly combative. This is fun when you're in your teens and twenties, less later on when life is already too full of the stresses of work, mortgages and parking fines to want to get a blast out of a right-on hardcore flame war in your leisure time. Politeness and forethought become the new anti-authoritarianism.

Matthias Klang says on Twitter he's writing a chapter on web 2.0 and integrity. I'm beginning to be tempted to write something on web 2.0 and social dysfunction myself..


Unknown said...

At least this incident reminded me to order the book.
The apology was pretty feeble on the other blog was rather feeble though.

Good to see your publisher stepping up and putting it straight.

Unknown said...

My typing leaves much to be desired, especially when I don't have my specs on.

I meant to say.
The apology was rather feeble on the other blog though.

Andres Guadamuz said...

I've posted a reply.