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The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture Hardcover – June 5, 2007
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Keen's relentless "polemic" is on target about how a sea of amateur content threatens to swamp the most vital information and how blogs often reinforce one's own views rather than expand horizons. But his jeremiad about the death of "our cultural standards and moral values" heads swiftly downhill. Keen became somewhat notorious for a 2006 Weekly Standard essay equating Web 2.0 with Marxism; like Karl Marx, he offers a convincing overall critique but runs into trouble with the details. Readers will nod in recognition at Keen's general arguments—sure, the Web is full of "user-generated nonsense"!—but many will frown at his specific examples, which pretty uniformly miss the point. It's simply not a given, as Keen assumes, that Britannica is superior to Wikipedia, or that record-store clerks offer sounder advice than online friends with similar musical tastes, or that YouTube contains only "one or two blogs or songs or videos with real value." And Keen's fears that genuine talent will go unnourished are overstated: writers penned novels before there were publishers and copyright law; bands recorded songs before they had major-label deals. In its last third, the book runs off the rails completely, blaming Web 2.0 for online poker, child pornography, identity theft and betraying "Judeo-Christian ethics." (June)
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What the experts are saying about Andrew Keen’s thought-provoking polemic
“My initial reaction to the book was: ‘Geez, I have a lot of things to think about now.’ For people immersed in the social communities of Web 2.0, this is bound to be a thought-provoking and sobering book. While I don't agree with everything Keen says, there is page after page of really interesting insight and research. I look forward to the much-needed debate about the problems that Keen articulates—which can't be lightly dismissed.”
—Larry Sanger, co-founder, Wikipedia and founder, Citizendium
“Marvelous and provocative . . . . I think this is a powerful stop and breathe book in the midst of the obsessions and abstraction of folks seeking comfort in Web 2.0. Beautifully written too.”
—Chris Schroeder, former CEO, WashingtonPost/Newsweek online and CEO, Health Central Network
“Important . . . will spur some very constructive debate. This is a book that can produce positive changes to the current inertia of web 2.0.
—Martin Green, vice president of community, CNET
“For anyone who thinks that technology alone will make for a better democracy, Andrew Keen will make them think twice.”
—Andrew Rasiej, founder, Personal Democracy Forum
“Very engaging, and quite controversial and provocative. He doesn’t hold back any punches.”
—Dan Farber, editor-in-chief, ZDNet
“Andrew Keen is a brilliant, witty, classically-educated technoscold—and thank goodness. The world needs an intellectual Goliath to slay Web 2.0's army of Davids.”
—Jonathan Last, online editor, The Weekly Standard
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His main argument is that the new Internet promotes popularity over expertise, trivia over serious news, and sound bites over substance. He also talks about things like the death of specialty music stores because of easy access to downloadable music; the slow demise of newspapers and TV due to "citizen journalism" through blogs and forums; and the growth of on-line gambling, pornography and other "Net nasties".
I don't agree with everything he says, but I do think he's right - to some extent. This is a well-reasoned book, and one worth reading, especially if you're a fan of everything Web 2.0. There's so much out there praising it; it's worth seeing the opposite side of the debate.
I certainly see that the picture Keen paints with, for example, music recording, also applies in the areas of military badge collecting, for example, or wargame publications. There used to be a number of wargaming magazines, to continue the example, that in part reviewed new games. These magazines have all gone bankrupt thanks to free content on the internet. (The destruction of old institutions by the Internet is one of the themes Keen explores.) A look at YouTube or sites like boardgamegeek will show thousands of review videos now, by untrained amateurs, that are mostly rambling and incoherent with low or no production values. Videos of people unwrapping boxes. Videos by people who haven't played games, giving 'first impressions'. Some of these, as Keen points out, may even be corporate shills for all we know, with a veneer of trustworthiness unearned. There are a relative handful of high quality productions, but the energy expended in finding them is immense, and moreover, what has the cost been in providing them?
Keen lays the foundation for anyone to make the same connections with their own interests and hobbies. Perhaps the negative reactions to the book are predictable. Web 2.0, as he calls the democratization of the Internet, is empowering. People generally like doing what is bad for them. Like eating a whole bag of potato chips, we just can't stop ourselves.
But, the last chapter saves the day, as Keen concedes that web 2.0 is here to stay. We then enjoy questions about finding balance between web 2.0 versus the need for authoritative information. If you find the text to be tedious, too, then skip to the last chapter.