I just finished reading Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur, a highly provocative and controversial book that argues that the net’s user generated content is in fact destroying our culture. Keen decries everything he believes to be wrong with the Web 2.0 which is namely the mediocre work of amateurs:
… democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent. As I noted earlier, it is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions. I call it the great seduction. The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more peopleâ€”more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.
Moreover, the free, user-generated content spawned and extolled by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating the ranks of our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced (â€œdisintermediated,â€ to use a FOO Camp term) by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, homespun moviemakers, and attic recording artists. Meanwhile, the radically new business models based on user-generated material suck the economic value out of traditional media and cultural content.
Keen is an excellent and engaging writer and whilst I dont actually agree with his views I did find them interesting, thought provoking and quite entertaining. I have to be honest, his over the top vitriol against the collaborative and distributed nature of the content generated on the internet in this Web 2.0 world, is at times so over the top that I couldn’t help but laugh.
Keen does raise some very important points about intellectual property, authenticity, authority and even identity and whilst its easy to dismiss some of his vitriol as the rantings of a self proclaimed (although he was being sarcastic at the time :p ) “disgraceful fascist luddite communist control freak monarchist failed dotcom entrepreneur” ,you can’t dismiss the fact that some of concerns he raises are not only valid but deserve thought – even if you have to dig to see it!
I also took the time to read one of the articles Keen wrote for the Washington Post in which he likens the promise of Web 2.0 to Marx’s promise of Communism …
Just as Marx seduced a generation of European idealists with his fantasy of self-realization in a communist utopia, so the Web 2.0 cult of creative self-realization has seduced everyone in Silicon Valley. The movement bridges counter-cultural radicals of the ’60s such as Steve Jobs with the contemporary geek culture of Google’s Larry Page. Between the book-ends of Jobs and Page lies the rest of Silicon Valley including radical communitarians like Craig Newmark (of Craigslist.com), intellectual property communists such as Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig, economic cornucopians like Wired magazine editor Chris “Long Tail” Anderson, and new media moguls Tim O’Reilly and John Batelle.
You don’t have to like his views or even agree with them, but it would be a mistake to ignore them entirely. For that reason I think the The Cult of the Amateur is a valuable text that will hopefully spur on some constructuve debates within the Web 2.0 community.