Alan N. Shapiro's Diary of a Young Wikipedian + Internet Rant

Writer and technology theorist Alan N. Shapiro participated in a Geert Lovink-initiated conference a couple of years ago on the topic of Wikipedia. Against a chorus of intellectuals bemoaning the small pedantic minds that now shape our discourse, Shapiro proposed making changes to Wikipedia from within and kept a diary of his accepted and rejected language. His chosen topics included Star Trek and Baudrillard.

His "Diary of a Young Wikipedian" appears in the conference publication [link to PDF] and is also republished on his blog (unfortunately without blockquotes so it's hard to tell where sections start and end). The diary includes some sidelines into other conference-related topics, including a "further reading" recommendation he made on the conference mailing list. In response to the recommendation, the following comment was made on the list:

So where would you want to go with this? The links that you gave debouch, as they say, onto a very wide field, most of which is far more interesting than the Wikipedestrian defile on whose fruits we currently gorge -- or gag. To your new rhetoric I might well add the golden oldie of Peircean semiotic, but what would be the first critical step in the application to wikioid media?
Jon Awbrey

This kind of breezy academicspeak seems endemic to listServs (after writing it one imagines Awbrey sallying forth in search of some cheese-y comestibles) but Shapiro replied politely. Regarding sign-theorist Charles Peirce (see Wikipedia) Shapiro writes:

...Peirce is the best semiotician, better than Eco or Derrida or Baudrillard or Greimas or Jakobsen, because his viewpoint includes everything about the chains of signs and signifiers that is in their systems, but Peirce also emphasizes meaning, the referent of the sign.

The hypertext cultural theory crowd of the 1990s of Landow, Bolter, Brown University, etc. didn't really get Peirce. A Derrida-only-inspired view of hypertext is exposed to a kind of nihilism of the chain of signifiers, it seems to me.

That explanation came at the tail end of a fine rant by Shapiro on the current internet as a meaning-free zone:

I believe that a Peircian semiotic could be implemented on the Internet (or a successor to the Internet), and that this a very worthwhile goal. A sort of Peircian emphasis on content, meaning, or deep referent as counterpoint to what is currently happening on the Internet, which is the nightmare realization of the fundamental media-theory-insight of McLuhan-Baudrillard that "the medium is the message" gone haywire, on drugs, so to speak. Content means nothing right now. Everything is links, links, links, where can i get my website or blog linked or ping-backed to as many other websites as possible. And this happening in the context of the rampant reign of Homo Economicus. More links to my website equals more visitors equals higher google ranking equals the dream of the pot of gold.

Any chat of any kind today immediately deteriorates into: are you on Facebook?, are you registered at the Huffington Post?, do you have Skype?, MSN?, Yahoo Messenger?, etc. Meet me at odesk or elance and let's get exploited together. That's a nice app you've got, but does it run on iPad? Nice book there, but it is on Kindle? The media that overwhelms the message was TV for McLuhan-Baudrillard. Today that fetishized media is Facebook, skype, MSN, etc.

And add to that list the fetish of "just the facts, ma'am" of the Wikipedia gatekeepers.