Andrew Keen vs. the New Media

Andrew Keen has made his strong polemic on ‘the destructive impact of the digital revolution on our culture, economy and values’ well known. His arguments against the ‘Web 2.0’ are detailed in his book ‘The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing and Assaulting our Economy’. Written in 2007, the book outlines many of the growing trends and fears associated with the new emergence of citizen journalists, social media and the decline of traditional media. The theme revolves around a world where media institutions are “being overtaken by an avalanche of amateur, user-generated, free content”.

Keen is himself subscribed to Twitter, Facebook, has a podcast and a blog. Quite a bit of involvement for someone preaching the end of civilization is stemming from this new form of internet. In an interview with FUTURIST senior editor Patrick Tucker, Keen says while he is unsure of these social networks and methods, “as a speaker and a social critic, I have an economic incentive in finding an audience.”

The new Web 2.0 offers new methods for merging information in a user friendly manner. Wikipedia and YouTube are just two sites that Keen expresses concern and dismay in. Keen says these can be tools for corporate propaganda or contain inaccurate information. He doesn’t address that traditional media can be just as guilty. The ‘amateurs’ are also helping to keep media in check with providing reliable and accurate information. The 24/7 news cycle may provide an overload of information but also the opportunity to respond and comment on stories.

Time Magazine said that the Web 2.0 ‘will not only change the world but also change the way the world changes.” This is exactly what is happening. The fear that Keen expresses is justifiable, just as it was justifiable for the Luddites to fear the Industrial revolution. Change can be frightening, especially when the future of a change is unknown. However, change is a barreling force that can’t be stopped. In his review of Keen’s book, Atara Frenkel-Faran states that even ‘not knowing how this brave new world will economically reward creators should not stop us, just as (thankfully) it did not stop the print revolution.

Keen chooses to critique and point out what could happen and what is being taken away, he can’t stop it. He seems to have realized this, adapting to the new modes of communication such as blogs or social media. This can seem either highly hypocritical or that he just decided to join the expansion to help change it. To critique anything one needs to be competent on the subject. Keen has immersed himself in the new methods and growing trends becoming familiar with what he is protesting. This is no different than when opposing candidates inform themselves on each other’s points to craft rebuttals.

Differentiating an expert on an issue from an amateur may have been a concern in 2007, but Keen didn’t account for the common sense of most people. For example, just because someone isn’t an expert on the internet doesn’t mean they can’t use common deducing skills to filter through inaccurate information. Books with outlandish opinions have been published for generations. Keen refers to citizen journalists as only having the duty to, “spread gossip, sensationalize political scandal, display embarrassing photos of public figures, and link stories on imaginative topics such as UFO sightings and 9/11 conspiracy theories”. People have the capacity to read and make their own opinion regarding the issue and not just take what is printed as the blind truth. Keen needs to address a person’s ability to competently discern between an amateur and an expert.

Keen surmises the lines between a traditional author and audience are being blurred and ‘old media is facing extinction’. This revolution of new methods to communicate doesn’t mean extinction but evolution. The printing presses were introduced in 1439 and people opposed them but it continued on. Radio came about and revolutionized obtaining information. With television and now the internet it is only a logical step. Things change, not always for the better but it is the natural progression on the world. We constantly strive for something new, especially when it comes to technology.

Privacy has been a long standing issue with the constantly changing internet and is an issue to examine closer. Keen envisions the possibility that our culture is headed to a place where there will be no concept of privacy, no distinction between public and private. He claims the internet is dismantling the idea that there won’t even be a distinction. This is the issue that might sway the largest audience to his opinions. Society is currently split into those who remember life without the internet and those who can’t imagine doing anything without it. The gap is rapidly closing as the I-generation expands. What Keen doesn’t address is that it is up to the individual to decide how much they are willing to share. People can decide how much they want their personal lives broadcasted or not to participate at all. Just because these entities exist does not mean people will or have to use them.

Keen warns of the impending doom for professional journalists. What he doesn’t realize is that everyone is adapting to the new form. Whether we agree that privacy is being rapidly diminished or revel in the newfound sharing system, journalists realize that it is necessary for survival. He agrees himself that it is in his ‘economic incentive’ to become engaged.

Keen has found his niche as a self-proclaimed ‘social critic’. He makes valid arguments concerning the Web 2.0 and presents an almost extinct view himself. It is important for people to be wary of changes and not just accept them on face value, and Keen emphasizes this in his thorough analysis.


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