Journalism

Is this what passes for an argument in technology punditry?

Tech journalism is a bland, vacuous echo chamber populated by lightweights intent on celebrating one another

Two of the most popular geek-gossip writers, Joshua Topolsky and MG Siegler, are having a squabble. Oooh, pass the popcorn.

Actually, don’t bother: it’s excruciating to watch the back-slapping. Topolsky writes:

I want to state clearly that this isn’t about MG and John, who I think are smart guys with lots of really spot on opinions and observations.

Tell it like it is, Josh. Siegler replies:

Before I begin, for the record, I think [Topolsky’s site] The Verge is great. […] This is the way a tech blog should be done IMO.

Hit him where it hurts. Honestly, it’s like watching Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestle.

Topolsky’s complaint with Siegler is his ‘particular line of thinking that I fundamentally disagree with (and think is ultimately damaging to our community)’. By ‘community’ I assume he means the self-selecting group of nerds that deride celebrity tittle-tattle while considering the iPad 3 rumour-mill an intellectual pursuit.

What’s really damaging to the community are these boring, pointless, self-serving, inside-the-Beltway arguments where the passive-aggressive tags are a parody of themselves. Give me a real literary feud any time.

Take the one between Niall Ferguson and Pankaj Mishra. In an article for the London Review of Books, Mishra reviewed Ferguson’s book Civilization, accusing him of being ‘homo atlanticus redux’ and writing ‘white people’s histories’ with ‘a mood, at once swaggering, frustrated, vengeful and despairing, among men of a certain age, class and education on the Upper East Side and the West End’. Ouch.

Ferguson countered with a vitriolic letter to the Review: Mishra ‘mendaciously misrepresents my work’ and ‘much of what I write is simply too threatening to the ideological biases of your coterie’. He finished by saying ‘Pankaj Mishra’s libellous and dishonest article brings the LRB as well as himself into grave disrepute’. Touché.

It gets better. Mishra replied to the letter and implied that Ferguson is merely one of many that ‘fret about feckless white Americans being outpaced by hard-working Asian-Americans’ and ‘his writings […] manifest a wider pathology among intellectuals once identified by Orwell: “the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible”’.

Now you can bring me the popcorn. This glorious spat continues, and while Mishra has contained his comment to the London Review Ferguson is talking to anyone who will listen — even telling The Guardian that if Mishra ‘won’t apologise for calling me a racist, I will persecute him until he does’. Delightful.

This is an argument worth having, and it’s beautifully written regardless of who you empathise with. But the tiff between Siegler, a man who never fails to be second to discover a story, and Topolsky, whose writing is always blandly American, will never have the guts to match it.

Oh, did you watch the wrestling scene I linked to? Good. I probably should have said it wasn’t suitable for work, but it’s more fun this way.