Polemic: an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another (M-W.com - professional)
Polemic: An aggressive debate, attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another (en.wiktionary.org - amateur and stolen?)
Groucho Marx once quipped, "I was so long writing my review that I never got around to reading the book." While I actually read Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture (Currency, 2007), I may have been so busy mentally writing the review as I read, I wonder if I really comprehended it.
As a self-proclaimed polemicist, Keen sets out to be deliberatively provocative and succeeds. Starting in the introduction by setting up and referring to social web content providers as Huxley's infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters (disgusting that anyone would do this), Keen argues that non-professional content providers, intellectual property thieves, and the new Internet moguls who control Google, YouTube and Facebook are destroying civilization as we know it.
Let's get some of the quibbles out of the way first:
- Despite arguing that edited content must be encouraged and preserved, Keen saves his most virulent criticism for authors appearing in traditional media - Chris Long's book The Long Tail and a Kevin Kelly article appearing in the New York Times Magazine. If the blogarati are so deluded and the professional writers are so saintly, wouldn't you think Keen would have disagreed with the monkeys instead of the blessed?
- Keen attributes all the decline in newspaper publishing, music production and film-making to free amateur content, free services (Craigslist) or stolen intellectual property reducing the profits of the established media companies. He finds no fault with the poor quality products that have been the result of the accountants in these companies making the creative decisions based on profitability. Might it be that people are not watching TV, buying music or getting newspapers because today's TV, music and newspapers have been so starved by bottom-liners that they are not much distinguishable from the amateurs.
- While the first part of the book stays pretty much with the theme of the amateur driving out the professional, Keen digresses in the final chapters into a general condemnation of the Internet itself, trotting the tired old pornography, identity theft, child safety, and lack of privacy stories out just for good measure. Damned by association, I believe this called.
- Much of what Keen is describing is an economic shift - power moving from the traditional media companies to those which are web-based. Is there really any reason I should care that the president of Disney or Gannett is taking home a few hundred thousand less in bonuses this year and the folks at Yahoo or YouTube are taking home more?
Yet I have some of the same concerns Keen shares about the fate of authors, musicians, and newspaper reporters and how they will remunerated for their intellectual creations. Music companies and mainstream publishers do provide the services of development and marketing of talent. (John Perry Barlow and Esther Dyson predicted as early as the mid-90s that digitized creative work was so easy to steal that other forms of income generation would be necessary for artists, writers and musicians.) I would hate to think of a world from which Peter Jackson's work has been replaced by home clips of fart lighting on YouTube.
It's probably in the news are where I share Keen's concerns the most. Society still needs the Third Estate and were professional journalism's power diminish to the point it no longer could be a governmental check, we'll all be in trouble. Of the LWW and my four children, only one takes a print newspaper - and these are educated young people! Professional news is lacking in credibility with lots of people right now who feel the "people" offer a more fair and balanced view. We need to think hard about this one.
My sense is that the more infatuated one is with the Web 2.0, the more important it is one read this book to get a look at the darker side of the changes being wrought. I always find I learn more from critics than I do from friends.
A few take away quotes:
- What happens, you might ask, when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule?...The monkeys take over. p 9
- Wittingly or not, we seek out the information that mirrors back out own biases and opinions and conforms with our distorted versions of reality. p 85
- History has proven that the crowd is not often very wise. After all, many unwise ideas - slavery, infanticide, George W Bush's war in Iraq, Britney Spears - have been extremely popular with the crowd. This is why the arbiters of truth should be the experts - those who speak from a place of knowledge and authority - not the winners of a popularity contest. p. 96
- These days even the clergy are turning into plagiarists. p 144
- Well, the Web 2.0 is the democratization of that Orwellian nightmare; instead of a single all-seeing, all-knowing Orwellian leader, now anyone can be Big Brother. p 177
- Can we really trust society to behave properly in the Wild West culture of the Web 2.0 revolution? p 196
- ...as a parent, I feel we need to enforce the laws [COPA, DOPA] designed to protect our kids from morally corrosive Internet content. p 201