For the media-savvy members of a certain generation, who came of age as news consumers in the era of 9/11 and are now facing the prospect of middle age, the shuttering of Gawker.com marks more than just the end of an entertaining site that focused on media and political commentary (whose merits and sins can be endlessly debated). With Gawker gone, we have to face the prospect of the end of blogging and of the utopian enthusiasms of our youth.
We were all bloggers, or so it seemed circa 2003. Blogging was where those of us who didn’t trust the Bush administration’s push to war got alternative takes from Juan Cole, Marcy Wheeler, and other informed sources. Or if we were conservatives, blogging was where we fisked (remember fisking?) the lamestream media. Blogging was where a new wave of feminism was born on sites like Jezebel (a surviving Gawker Media property), launching writers like Irin Carmon and Anna Holmes. But blogging wasn’t just for the young. It also energized older writers (Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus) and gave them a much larger audience than they’d had before.
”Sunt nevoit să mă prezint sub numele de cod Ioan Gez și numărul de identificare 0460046 atribuite prin decret prezidențial specific încadrării în statutul de ofițer sub acoperire, în urma detașării în interes de serviciu în Unitatea Militară 0358, în data de 10.01.1979, sub consemnul Vulturii Carpatici, aflată sub comanda generalului colonel Petru Antim. (…) Mă folosesc exclusiv de numele de cod întrucât în prezent sunt lipsit de propria identitate urmare a declarării în ascuns a morții mele prezumate”, își începe generalul Gez scrisoarea către președinte, la care a atașat și o copie a pașaportului de serviciu personalizat: S.0460046.”
For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people. Jean-Jacques Rousseau summed up this revolution in Emile, his 1762 treatise on education. When looking for the rules of conduct in life, Rousseau found them “in the depths of my heart, traced by nature in characters which nothing can efface. I need only consult myself with regard to what I wish to do; what I feel to be good is good, what I feel to be bad is bad.” Humanist thinkers such as Rousseau convinced us that our own feelings and desires were the ultimate source of meaning, and that our free will was, therefore, the highest authority of all.
Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data. This novel creed may be called “Dataism”. In its extreme form, proponents of the Dataist worldview perceive the entire universe as a flow of data, see organisms as little more than biochemical algorithms and believe that humanity’s cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system — and then merge into it.
The oil billionaire J Paul Getty was famously miserly. He installed a payphone in his mansion in Surrey, England, to stop visitors from making long-distance calls. He refused to pay ransom for a kidnapped grandson for so long that the frustrated kidnappers sent Getty his grandson’s ear in the mail. Yet he spent millions of dollars on art, and millions more to build the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He called himself ‘an apparently incurable art-collecting addict’, and noted that he had vowed to stop collecting several times, only to suffer ‘massive relapses’. Fearful of airplanes and too busy to take the time to sail to California from his adopted hometown of London, he never even visited the museum his money had filled.
Getty is only one of the many people through history who have gone to great lengths to collect art – searching, spending, and even stealing to satisfy their cravings. But what motivates these collectors?
Debates about why people collect art date back at least to the first century CE. The Roman rhetorician Quintilian claimed that those who professed to admire what he considered to be the primitive works of the painter Polygnotus were motivated by ‘an ostentatious desire to seem persons of superior taste’. Quintilian’s view still finds many supporters.