For idiots, by idiots.
You’re the idiot reading this. I’m the idiot who wrote it. Shame on us!
That basically sums up Andrew Keen’s tantrum about the Internet. The full title of the book is–The Cult of the Amateur: How Blogs, Myspace, Youtube, and The Rest of Today’s User-Generated Media Are Destroying Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values.
Wow, look at him go.
The first ten pages of the book were fairly thought provoking, if fairly logic-free. But then it quickly became apparent that Keen had done most of his typing with tears of rage streaming down his face as he stomped his foot under his computer desk.
He’s really quite upset, the poor fellow, and he thinks you should be as well. Nay, he demands it of you, unless you’re one of those mouth-breathing blogger types.
The fact that it is now so easy for everyone to share their thoughts and ideas online is undermining the efforts of experts while stealing their livelihoods.
If you have ever shared a Tweet, a Facebook status update, searched Craiglist or ran an ad on the online classified site, have written a blog post or filmed a Youtube video or have downloaded a song from iTunes, you are one of Thomas Huxley’s infinite monkeys, typing away on a keyboard.
If you do any sort of sharing and you are not one of Keen’s qualified experts, you better shut up. Otherwise, you better own up to your evil doings and preface every single babbling word that comes out of your mouth or keyboard by twiddling your well-waxed mustache.
You are stealing valuable ad space from the venerable old newspapers.
You are responsible for the collapse of Keen’s beloved Tower Records.
By writing a blog post about something in the news, you are saying to yourself, “Bwahahaha, time to cause some layoffs at the New York Times.”
If your read an entry or edit a page on Wikipedia you are spitting in the faces of the Britannica editors.
Not without merit
A problem with this book is that he raises many valid points. But the points have been discussed elsewhere in less shrill, more cogent arguments. Because Cult of the Amateur is not an argument. It’s an ill-formed indictment voiced in shrieks.
Is there a lot of user-generated crap out there? Of course. Has it changed the face of the music business, the movie business, the publishing business, and the news industry? Hard to argue against that.
Could someone be misled by a blog post out there if they had no idea (or didn’t care) that it wasn’t written by an expert?
Is it easier for kids to discover things online that were previously the province of plastic-wrapped magazines behind the counter at 7-11? Yes.
But none of these support his rather vague statement that our culture, values, and economy are dying. Maybe there are associations, but they aren’t causes, no matter how loudly he types.
A couple of suggestions for further reading
If you are interested in reading books about this topic that are actually logical and engaging, I highly recommend:
The Shallows – How The Internet is Changing Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Understanding Media by Marshall Mcluhan
Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman
All three of these books present many of the points Keen thought he was making in a lucid, engaging way.
There are many ideas in Amateur that I believe are worth considering and I’m not pretending that the Internet doesn’t have any negative consequences. There are many trends that I find extremely troubling.
And there are many wonderful things, and he dismisses these out of hand. It is easier than ever before to spread ideas. Many of those ideas are worth spreading. If I learn something that I feel is worth knowing, I don’t care if it came from Youtube vs. a lecture at MIT.
If I read a book review on a blog that leads me to a book I enjoy, why should I think Wait, do I really want to help kill our culture? just because it didn’t come from Harold Bloom?
So let’s talk. Book discussions. If you read the book, what did you think? Did you find it persuasive? What do you find are the best and worst aspects of the online sharing culture?