Monday, 23 March 2009

Raw thoughts on "The Cult of the Amateur"

I stopped reading Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur
because it got too repetitive and annoying. Keen is expert at pointing out (quite amusingly, at first) that the glass is half empty, but his steadfast refusal to offer any kind of solution bugged me.

What was good, though, was that it made me wonder why it bugged me. And why I got similarly frustrated with Lee Siegel's Against the Machine

Here's why:

The biggest hole in Andrew Keen's argument is that he says web 2.0 actually leads to greater groupthink, while (presumably) indicating that the old world didn't do this, or at least it was easier for genuinely creative voices to be heard.

So how does that work? Would an Einstein or a Bob Dylan struggle to be heard more or less in the web 2.0 world than in the worlds they grew up in?

If you look at web 2.0 as an amorphous mass, a monoculture, yes, it's hard to be heard over the roar. But that's a mistaken way to look at it, a way of looking that comes from not actually participating or understanding the subjective experience of web 2.0.

Keen (and Siegel, for that matter) are not seeing the wood for the trees. As self-appointed guardians of man's destiny, they're doing one of two things, they're either:

1) Projecting their own personal tastes and preferences onto the rest of the human race (elitism)
2) Forgetting to enjoy the subjective, personalised experience of the web that they can tailor to their own interests (and therefore understand how it would work for others the same way) and instead taking an abstract, "objective" view because they feel they have to.

More on this later. If you're good.


You've been good. One more thing. Neil Postman does a good job of arguing against the information revolution, by actually suggesting something instead. Of course, a lot of his arguments are outdated and his concerns may not be so relevant to right now, but hey, Andrew and Lee, get a clue from Neil!

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Craig Dewe said...

Based on your comments since I haven't read the book, what Keen seems to miss is that Web 2.0 is segmenting our population more... not less. In fact, it's shown less groupthink as people drill down into their own smaller personal niches and ignore more of the mass media noise.

There's a reason the mass media are having trouble maintaining their followers as more and more sources appear to cater to more specific needs and interests.

And with this increased segmentation it's more likely for great thinkers to emerge... first within their own herd and then throughout the general populace if they have something of value to say. Web 2.0 actually increases the speed at which this awareness is created.

Your post is even an example that now we're more likely to challenge conventional wisdom and come to our own conclusions. It wasn't so long ago that people would accept a published author's insights for gospel.

Glad I found your blog Simon.


Simon said...

Thanks Craig, great thoughts!