Main | The Wayward Newspaper »

On The Cult of the Amateur

The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen has its hits and misses. One thing I had to star and underline is that the resource being challenged by all this amateur content is our time. There is not enough time in a day to try to consume the content available – even the content you want. I also agree that there are downsides to Web 2.0 that are acting like a thorn in our collective side (i.e. identity theft, false information and lack of credibility, any form of spam and scams, lies and rumors about someone, misrepresentation, etc.). But not every aspect of the Web 2.0 technology is useless and evil.

I think it’s unfortunate that after citing some drawbacks, Keen automatically dismisses an application for user-generated content. Maybe society is still trying to weed successfully through the best way to use these applications, but right now, while they’re new and exciting, everyone wants to try them. Perhaps in having everyone try them, we can find the flaws. I don’t think there’s anyway around the fact that someone somewhere is going to use an application in an unintended way that stinks for the rest of us so nothing is ever going to be perfect. You can only hope the benefits to society outweigh the bad and figure out how to negate the bad best you can.

Of the applications he talks about, I pick blogs. I do not agree that all blogs are just piles of unedited, misinformed, and useless information. It’s not fair to make generalized judgments like this and apply them to every blog. Are all blogs relevant? No, probably not. I think a blog is simply someone’s opinion, an opinion that the blogger is entitled too. I’m entitled to ignore it. It’s not like we’re being chained to our computers and being forced to read blog after blog until we believe what they say to be true. Regarding political blogs – I read some on occasion and they always seem to be about the blogger’s opinion on some particular news story, not that the blogger is trying to replace his/her blog with mainstream media. More often than not, the blogger offers a perspective that wasn’t covered in the news article and can help to make connections between different facts because they take the time to stay on top of that. And I find Keen’s notion that we’re all going to turn to blogs for stories and facts absurd. There’s no way I would substitute a blog for the detailed news story at the New York Times. Blogs are only supplemental.

Secondly, we do not have to rely solely on gatekeepers to lead us through the swamp of information and tell us what is useful and credible and what is not. Many of us can figure this out on our own, but to be safe, many college classes (high school?) are now teaching students how to make these distinctions on their own. We don’t have to sit passively by waiting for some gatekeeper to put some information in front of us. So how is Keen able to assume that most of us trust the information in Wikipedia (page 46)?

There are a couple other things I read that stuck with me about books (but aren’t totally about the new media we focus on in class) so read on if you like.

What is wrong with writing a review at We the consumers bought the book or movie so why can’t we be allowed to say what we think of the material? We ought to be considered “experts” on the book/movie. We read or watched it so why is it incomprehensible that a sensible, thoughtful review can be written? Yes, some reviews aren’t helpful (and some may be written by someone involved with the material), so you skip it and go to the next one. I look at reviews if I’m unsure of buying a book or movie to gauge whether or not it’s something I’d be interested in. It’s not like we’re saying the New York Times should be printing what we say, but the reviews are there to help others.

Keen is also quick to lump all self-published books as untalented and a waste of paper (or space). There are books that have been self-published and have managed to generate enough of a following through word-of-mouth that a major publishing house has sat up and re-published the book. And some of these people slaved over their manuscript as much as a published author, but they still can’t get their book published. Is it because they’re untalented and don’t deserve to see their work in print? I doubt it. Others decide to self-publish because they don’t want to go through the rigorous process of publishing with a major house and losing some creative control. Keen is also giving too much credit to editors in choosing the best books to publish or accomplishing their gatekeeping role to the best of their ability in making manuscripts the best book they can be. See Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. Many reviewers thought the book was terrible despite the popularity of the series and wondered where the editors were in making that plot coherent.

Last, but not least, the “liquid version” of the book (library) sounds incredibly…dumb. So I agree with Keen there. The annotating, indexing, extracting, citing, cross-linked, remixed – ugh, I’m getting a headache just thinking about it. If you want to dedicate a site to something like this and wait for people to offer their work to be remashed, fine. But to take everything ever published? No. It sounds like a hellacious experience to try to make sense of book – especially if it’s fiction. Ick.