The Cult of the Amateur
It is refreshing to read a book about web2.0, or user-generated content or crowdsourcing that is not written by someone goggle-eyed about how it is the best thing since even before sliced bread. This one provides such refreshment in spades: Far from vaunting limitless possibilities and long tails of endless choice, Andrew Keen has written the anti-internet polemic of the (last) decade. Actually he does make a lot of mention of endless choice—it’s just that it is all drivel, so it’s worse than limited choice because who wants to spend their whole life raking through sewage to find a dropped earring?
This reviewer suspected that Keen would have made not a few online enemies with this book, and in briefly searching its title she was not disappointed (although @ajkeen has several thousand Twitter followers). It looks as though the author’s self-confessed handicap as a converted, failed 'net entrepreneur is fuel for much ridicule. But ignorance and lack of experience or involvement in the movement would probably be derided even more heavily, she suspects. Of course, one does have to pay for this book to read it unlike the subject matter of most of its tirades—and it’s often a smart (lucrative) business strategy to write something that will get a lot of people browned off.
This reviewer doesn't know how much Keen has collected from its publishers to date, but she'd guess that some points are deserved here for "If you can’t join them, beat them (over the head with a stick)"
That aside, there's not really enough to be said in here that requires the 200 pages used to get to the last word, so much of it is, to put it unkindly, empty-headed ranting. The affront that is taken about internet hoaxing, and the fear that is apparent about the possibility for malicious harm are genuine enough points. But they come across as overdone. The citing of examples of "viral" episodes where something-that-is-wrong-on-the-internet sometimes propagates like a bush fire are entertaining and sometimes outrageous, but leave the impression that Keen misses the point about how rare they are as a fraction of the totality of unverified, unverifiable 2.0 content that is fashioned continually.
Even regarding every tweet, blog post, youtube contribution and facebook whatever as in the public domain (and therefore potentially another ignition point for a web-transmitted conflagration of stuff & nonsense) is incorrect—since there is as much chance of essentially private conversations between a handful of folks ever being publicly viewed as there is of the millionth monkey's Shakespearian Sonnet being found amongst the random keystrokes of its fellows. Most of the traffic that the author finds so abominable is unlikely to ever be intended for public consumption—it just uses technology that could allow that to happen. In fact, this makes Keen's pasting of some examples look as nosy as someone who skulks around public places listening to strangers talking to each other.
Lurking behind the stream of attacks on mass amateurisation, but audible nonetheless (because for all that, Keen's arguments are engaging and entertainingly written rather than strident, shrill calls to action) is a bigger worry, which is the social decline (AKA "dumbing down") that is feared to result from the new culture, its new rules, and its only slightly older tech kit. Rather than come out and say that society is getting dumber, the author points to declines in revenue, and therefore jobs, training and talent, of the professional league of publishing; in investigative journalism, general print, music, and other forms of creative content. Presumably if we are demanding less of all these, and filling the space with rubbish and or contributions of our own, then it is a safe conclusion that critical standards of knowledge, thinking and artistic appreciation are all going to take a dive? This reviewer suspects that deduction to be significantly too negative. But at least she's been warned (and amused)