Robert Scoble fails to change the world

Jason Calacanis and Dave Winer weren't the only ones lowering the Gnomedex geekathon's quest for spiritual uplift. Robert Scoble, the outspoken videoblogger, took issue with Warner Music digital guru Ethan Kaplan's critique of the conference. Not, mind you, for anything Kaplan said, but for his failure to address bigger issues that plague the real world. Scoble thinks that Kaplan is hypocritical for working for a record label that publishes a rapper with an "evil" no-snitching policy. As fellow Valleywag contributor Nick Douglas astutely points out in the comments, Scoble is saying that an employee is culpable for and complicit in any and all wrongdoings committed by an employer during his tenure at the company. It's an outlandish standard that Scoble himself couldn't meet at current employer PodTech, let alone previous paycheck-issuer Microsoft. But it's typical in displaying geek hubris. Sure, we can all change the world. Let's hold hands and blog!


The "no snitching" meme in hip-hop and urban culture has been in the wild for months, of course. Scoble only caught wind of it from a "60 Minutes" piece, replayed yesterday, that originally aired in April. Scoble reminds us that "60 Minutes" is "an important TV news show in USA" without observing that the Anderson Cooper piece may be the esteemed program's worst recent example of sensational journalism.

The entire story keys on Cam'ron, a hip-hop artist looking to revive his career and street cred after the foolish career move of festooning himself, his car, and his videos in the decidedly unmasculine color pink. Despite the claims of "60 Minutes," Cam'ron did not influence young black men to wear pink. The exact opposite occurred: young black men stopped buying Cam'ron albums. While the issue of white men making fortunes by marketing the ills of black, urban culture as glamorous to young white Americans is a real one, "60 Minutes" destroyed their own street cred by hooking the piece on Cam'ron, a figure entirely lacking in street influence.

Opposition to "snitching" is a sentiment that is deep-rooted and longstanding in the urban community. One rapper exploiting that sentiment does not influence youth; instead, Cam'ron's just trying to boost his own cred by playing into a reality that already exists. It was a reality long before Cam'ron; before the O.J. Simpson murder trial; even before Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther party. Warner carrying a foolish pop rapper like Cam'ron is not evil — it's just stupid.

Moreover, Scoble failed to do his research. After the airing, Cam'ron's publicity stunt backfired, predictably, and he retracted his statements and issued an apology:

In 2005, I was a victim of a violent crime. I was shot multiple times without provocation by two armed men who attempted to carjack my vehicle. Although I was a crime victim, I didn't feel like I could cooperate with the police investigation. Where I come from, once word gets out that you've cooperated with the police that only makes you a bigger target of criminal violence. That is a dark reality in so many neighborhoods like mine across America. I'm not saying its right, but its reality. And it's not unfounded. here's a harsh reality around violence and criminal justice in our inner cities."

But my experience in no way justifies what I said. Looking back now, I can see how those comments could be viewed as offensive, especially to those who have suffered their own personal tragedies or to those who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens from crime. Please understand that I was expressing my own personal frustration at my own personal circumstances. I in no way was intending to be malicious or harmful. I apologize deeply for this error in judgment.

This is why geeks shouldn't try to change the world. Nor should they be held accountable, as Scoble's trying to do to Kaplan, for not changing the world. They aren't equipped to. They are ignorant of the real world. They live narrow, insular lives defined by their monitor screen, a reality that has very little to do with the outside world. It's a world that they cannot learn about by searching Google, and a world they can't change by writing a blog post.