I just love guys like Andrew Keen - he's so irritated by the "messiness" of the web that he doesn't notice the messiness in his own writing. For instance - where does he get the idea that Wikipedia is a more trusted news source than CNN? I wouldn't bet against Wikipedia being more reliable than CNN, but I seriously doubt that the raw trust numbers from the public line up that way.
Keen's basic mistake is simple: he believes that a small body of experts can tell us everything we need to know, and having more voices just confuses and clouds things. I rather suspect that the anointed felt the same way about the invention of movable type - it was just no good having books be accessible to just anyone. All the web has done is take that 500+ year old revolution and kick it up a notch or three. There's no difference other than the specific words of objection used by the people being disintermediated (mostly priests then, and mostly reporters now).
Keen also suffers from the same lack of vision that cripples the RIAA and the MPAA: he can't see past the last business model, so any change is simply seen as badness - and must be held back by any means possible: (from the Toronto Globe and Mail)
Don't agree that the Internet is THE current culture. It's part of it. and it's the part that is growing very quickly, while the traditional part of media is in crisis. I've written my book to alert people to this. Many people don't quite grasp the imminence of traditional media's crisis. In particular, I want to alert people to the idea that in the not too distant future there may not be a recorded music business or many independent and reliable news organs. I can't imagine life without the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Can you?
Hmm. So the music business is just going to die? I seem to recall the movie and TV industry fighting tooth and nail against the VCR, and only noticing that it was a channel for making more money after the court system tossed them out on their ears. The music industry is currently in denial - digital music can be easily copied and passed around, and no amount of DRM is going to make that impossible for pirates. That doesn't mean that music can't be sold - it does mean that an awful lot of the middle men who grew fat and comfortable under the old model are going to have to find new jobs - just like most of the people who used to service the horse industry (circa 1890) had to find new jobs by about 1920. It's interesting that Keen can't see that, but there it is.
Later in the Globe and Mail piece, we see exactly where Keen comes from - he's pining for the era of broadcast scarcity, and fears the current era of (for all intents and purposes) no limits:
I think that the percentage of good blogs is lower because the system has no filters. At least mainstream media has professional filters which, if not ideal, certainly gets rid of some of the dross and finds some jewels. Professional filters don't always work and tend toward somewhat conservative, populist and predictable taste. But I prefer to have my culture served up to me by professional tastemakers than an algorithm or by anonymous people on the Internet acting in the name of the virtuous crowd.
Back when the printing press was invented, I'm sure the elites were every bit as outraged by the idea that "just anyone" could push out a pamphlet and get their voice heard. Far better when it was the anointed few who could broadcast to the masses, either at state functions or churches. Keen is in the same place as the elites of that era, and he simply doesn't like the fact that "the rest of us" can broadcast an opinion now. This becomes even clearer with this:
Globe and Mail: I wonder if you making people slightly more rational and media literate than they actually are. I'm a media pro and I can't find my way around the blogosphere. So how can we expect people who don't have much time or experience on the Internet to figure out the best few blogs out of the 70 million? Go to Technorati with its oligarchy of A-list technology bloggers? That's more oligarchic than mainstream media.
Keen: Think two-way conversation is great when both parties reveal themselves (like this dialogue). I really do not like conversations between anonymous people, which tend toward abuse and cretinism. The most engaging conversation is real-time chat between people who have something coherent to say for themselves. Often these are professionals, but any passionate, well-informed opinion is worth listening to -- provided we reveal who we actually are.
Umm, yeah - without the strong hand of Walter Cronkite to guide me, I'm just helpless out here, Andrew. Sheesh - people figure out what to read the same way they figure out what restaurants to go to - word of mouth. Some of it is physical word of mouth, some of it is virtual (links in posts, blogrolls, etc). It's really not that hard. As to anonymity, I'll point out that Benjamin Franklin published anonymous political commentary after the founding of the Republic. At the risk of sounding like an appeal to authority, I'll count Franklin's opinion as having more value than Keen's.
Fully in denial mode, Keen goes on to say this, in answer to the question "who is this harming, anyway?"
But the profound decline in music sales (20 per cent just this year), the bankruptcy of Tower Records, the closure of independent bookstores, the laying off of thousands of professional journalists, mass redundancies in Hollywood are all concrete evidence of the way in which mainstream media is losing the battle against the digital revolution. Just look at the impact of The Long Tail and editor of Wired, suggests that the closure of independent bookstores are "road kill" on the way to his technology utopia. I strongly disagree with Chris. The future isn't always better. Perhaps the time has come to regard certain aspects of media as a public utility which add value to society. Then we can protect them from the ravages of the free market.
I answered that above, but hey - if this is his worry, then he has a long list of victims to deal with. Factory workers made redundant by technology, for instance. Heck, right within media - what about all the people who used to physically move type around? Should we bring them back for the common good, too? What Keen forgets is that the newspaper business has been changing for a long time. Before radio, there were lots more papers. Before TV, many papers put out multiple editions per day. Now, the immediacy of cable news and internet reporting has made weekly news periodicals obsolete, and is doing the same thing to printed newspapers.
Ultimately, Keen is that guy shouting "stop the world, I want to get off". In 1450, he would have objected to movable type. In 1830, he would have hated the railroad. In 1910, he would have hated the car. Today, he hates the internet. We've seen Keen's type before, and passed him by on our way to a better tomorrow.
media, internet, culture