Gabler's careful not to argue that people have got less attentive or more stupid, just that there's a lot more to be distracted by. I like some of Jaron Lanier's suggestions for using the blogosphere in such a way as to promote ideas rather than distraction:
- Create a website that expresses something about you that won't fit into a template available to you on a social networking site
- Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view
- Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection (You are not a gadget, Penguin 2011)
The 'modern' argument against is that the web allows ideas and products to be developed collectively, by groups of people who may not even know each other, and that apart from anything else, innovations produced in this way will have fewer bugs because more people have contributed to their development. This is the argument made by Eric Raymond more than ten years ago, in his important paper The Cathedral and the Bazaar (http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/) comparing the production processes of the Windows and Linux operating systems. A key element of the Linux process, according to Raymond, is the regular publication of updated versions of the code, so that innovations in the design are available to be checked: this didn't happen with Windows because, of course, the Windows production process was and is secret, so as to protect Microsoft's profits. In this way, the web's ability to facilitate collective design and production is seen as intrinsically better than traditional, individually driven processes of innovation.
But this argument doesn't address the issue of time and maturation as key elements of quality processes: whether collectively or individually-produced, successful innovations are usually the product of processes that take time. Lanier fulminates against the so-called 'wisdom of crowds' - a concept which may embody democracy, but doesn't at all guarantee quality or even factual accuracy, though it may guarantee a kind of bland acceptability. Is this what we want? Lots of stuff that's 'not bad', or 'will do'?
My view is in sympathy with Gabler's, but I would argue that even if the cultural sphere is dominated by trivialities, there's no reason for ideas not to thrive. There will always be discerning voyagers on the web, looking for material that is different from the noisy stuff that's on all the front pages. It's up to those who think ideas and arguments are important to get active and contribute, and also to signal themselves clearly, so as to be found more easily by those looking.