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Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur, Citizen Media, and Web 3.0

[[[Andrew Keen]]] was at Mahalo HQ today to talk about his book Cult of the Amateur and what he thinks of Mahalo and what we’re doing. It was an interesting discussion, which you can watch right here (fast forward until about 45 minutes in as we set up the video early and ended up waiting far too long for our lunch to arrive; it was very late):

As you’ll notice from my question for him (which had something to do with citizen journalism, but even more so with the human need to express what’s happened when something happens), I don’t really agree with his stance, because I think it’s too polarized, hyperbolized, and far too oversimplified. He kept mentioning that the book was intentionally polemic and that he was more interested in the discussions that it has created. Discussion is always good, and I did like that he likes what we are doing at Mahalo.

However, having read a lot of books over the years about changes in communication and media (from the transition from oral tradition to writing, the transition from scribes and scriptoriums to the printing press) and even in forms within different media (the rise of the novel and short story), his arguments sound much too much like the same resistance to change that occur throughout history. The pendulum swings and there has to be some loud counter-swing to pull it back in the middle where the balance of the next steps really lie, but that counter-swing always comes across as too far towards the way things were to be effective. Andrew kept talking about how we have to get to Web 3.0, which I agree with, but I really do take issue with calling the entire Web 2.0 movement “monkeys typing away at keyboards” (I’m paraphrasing here from his book); That’s simply not the correct approach, no matter how much discussion it creates.

Here’s Andrew’s blog, which I’ve added to my reader and will be following with interest. He had an epiphany that sent him into his current thought patterns and, normally, people who have epiphanies continue to have them whether they want to or not. I’m curious to see when his next one arrives if he ends up in some much more interesting place.

UPDATE: I realized I took a picture of Andrew’s business card. He specifically referenced it at the beginning of his talk, referencing the label “the antichrist of silicon valley” (which he put there himself and which he pointed out that he put there himself); very self-labeling, very British, and given Keen’s background in working in online music, very very Sex Pistols:

andrew keen's business card

Thinking about this more, positing yourself as an antichrist assumes a christ. In a discussion of evolving cultural norms surrounding new media and online media it limits the discussion to an overly simplistic this or that, two option scenario. That’s what’s great about chaos and anarchy when they apply to invention and cultural change: black and white and even grey aren’t enough to paint an accurate picture. What’s odd about Keen’s argument is that he seems to be warning us against the anarchy, when he is actively labeling himself as an anarchist by the strong association with the Sex Pistols. Hypocrisy or a clever trick of the devil?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Matthew Wayne Selznick 3/27/2008, 11:59 pm

    I think his epiphany was “Great Scott! I can take a contrary stance against where culture is headed and make a career from books, articles, and speaking engagements for the next five years, minimum!”

    He did one good thing through his po-LAME-ic book and contradictory, hypocritical talk — got me hot to blog actively again, create more stuff, and release said stuff to the mercies of the arbiters of quality that are my peers… aka the Internet. Must… finish… website upgrade…!

  • Lon 3/28/2008, 12:06 am

    What’s strange is how frequently he contradicts himself, and how he refuses to follow his arguments through to their logical conclusions. I think the “it’s a polemic” thing is less a dodge and more an admission that he’s just being contrary for its own sake rather than genuinely offering these ideas as demonstrably true.

    I’m not sure whether the entire project of tearing down the Internet is tongue in cheek, or a ploy to get his name out there and sell books, or a message he feels people genuinely NEED to hear…but even he doesn’t seem too invested in it.

  • c.k. 3/28/2008, 1:47 am

    I think he’s very British in his sense of humor and I think a lot of that is missed when you read the book. Today, in person, I saw him having some fun with it, so I’m not sure if he’s as dead on serious as we’re taking him when we engage and disagree with what he’s saying.

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