Let's take, for example, his claim that the Internet is eliminating intermediaries. Yes, the Net has made it possible for consumers to do some purchasing directly. But when Morris asserts that "we are increasingly buying our clothing, food, pharmaceuticals, books, compact discs... without ever setting foot in a store," he's only half right. It's true that you're not physically traveling to a store to make these purchases, but online retailers do not always cut out the middle man--they're just different kinds of stores.
Morris's book ignores economic reality in many other key ways. He believes, for example, that "the Internet will do for journalism what free agency has done for baseball players," by which he apparently means that journalists will become rich and powerful and able to set their own agendas. The reasoning is flawed: even with free agency, ballplayers depend upon team owners to hire them to practice their craft, and the salaries are widely divergent. Journalists who try to become one-man online enterprises will find that the success of Matt Drudge is not necessarily a harbinger of the future. (For that matter, Drudge's only real financial success came when he allied himself with big-media conglomerates--and his moment in the sun seems to have vanished along with the clamor for Bill Clinton's impeachment.) Morris similarly believes that all news outlets will become equal online: "Users will find their way to any site to read a story that strikes their interest. The brand name will count for little." While his belief in the willingness of online users to dig relentlessly for information is admirable, it's just as likely that corporate agreements between traditional media outlets and portals like Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo! will ensure that most people see a version of online news that's primarily a "new and improved" version of the same old product. And let's not forget that huge sectors of the populace aren't even on the Internet yet.
There's plenty about Vote.com that's laughable, like Morris's repeated invocation of "the X Generation," but the biggest joke of all may be the very notion of "Internet voting." Boiled down to its essence, the concept is nothing more than self-selecting opinion polls. Expressing one's opinion isn't necessarily the same thing as voting, and the results so far have been mixed. (Remember when a Howard Stern sidekick became the choice of the masses for People's Sexiest Man Alive?) Yet Morris gazes into the future of "direct democracy" with starry eyes: "What small size and intimate geography permitted ancient Athens to accomplish, the Internet will let America and the world accomplish." (Perhaps somebody should point out to Morris that ancient Greece was only a democratic paradise if you were lucky enough to be a citizen; women, slaves, and the working classes didn't have it as well off.) There's also a bunch of material in Vote.com about how Bill Clinton's "unimpeachment" represents the death knell of old media power, which Morris attempts to piggyback onto his proclaimed rise of new Internet power. His political analysis in those chapters is sharper, but it doesn't do much to rescue the book from its most fundamental flaws. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Morris is also persuasive when he offers his theories on how President Clinton survived what the author calls the "unimpeachment." By the time of the Lewinsky scandal, he contends, the news media had hammered the president in so many "scandals" that they had simply lost credibility with the public. At the same time, the partisan combat in Washington had become so unremitting that "Americans had a hard time seeing the unimpeachment as anything other than the next step in the inexorable increase in the venom and intensity of party warfare in our nation's capital." -- New York Times Book Review, February 27, 2000 --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.