Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Cult of the Amateur: how today's Internet is killing our culture

by Andrew Keen

I'm kind of glad I didn't write up this one immediately after I read it. Nonfiction books are difficult to review to begin with, and with a book like this one there's also the danger of getting bogged down in a point-by-point argument for or against whatever the book is for or against.

Anyway, this guy made a bunch of money in the original, Clinton-era interwebs bubble, spent some time trumpeting the salvational virtues of the web, managed to get out without losing his shirt, and has now written a book warning of the perils of Web 2.0 technology. Pretty much the usual arguments (Google is making us stupid; YouTube is sometimes amusing and almost always useless; Wikipedia isn't reliable enough; the "wisdom of the crowd" isn't actually all that wise; if no one pays for music and anyone can put their crappy songs on Myspace, there's no way for the good stuff to rise above the crap; etc.), all of which have some validity, up to a point. As in all polemics, some of his points are overstated, in order to draw attention and... to make a point. It's a pretty short book, so worth a gander if these issues are of interest to you; in any case, it won't be a huge waste of time.

I agree that Google is making us stupid, but I also know that, most of the time, Google does the trick. I also think cell phones weaken the memory — how many phone numbers do you have memorized now that you have a cell? I hate it that so many things on the web are video, because I like to read and because it isn't always convenient to watch/listen. (Not to mention that it's kind of lazy for "citizen journalists" and bloggers to just post the clip instead of making the effort to describe something in words.)

Ultimately, however, I believe that both the boosters/futurists and the negative nellies are right, and wrong. I just hope I die before everything goes video.

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