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The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Cultureby Andrew Keen
Synopses & Reviews
Amateur hour has arrived, and the audience is running the show.
In a hard-hitting and provocative polemic, Silicon Valley insider and pundit Andrew Keen exposes the grave consequences of todayâ€™s new participatory Web 2.0 and reveals how it threatens our values, economy, and ultimately the very innovation and creativity that forms the fabric of American achievement.
Our most valued cultural institutions, Keen warns — our professional newspapers, magazines, music, and movies — are being overtaken by an avalanche of amateur, user-generated free content. Advertising revenue is being siphoned off by free classified ads on sites like Craigslist; television networks are under attack from free user-generated programming on YouTube and the like; file-sharing and digital piracy have devastated the multibillion-dollar music business and threaten to undermine our movie industry. Worse, Keen claims, our "cut-and-paste" online culture — in which intellectual property is freely swapped, downloaded, remashed, and aggregated — threatens over 200 years of copyright protection and intellectual property rights, robbing artists, authors, journalists, musicians, editors, and producers of the fruits of their creative labors.
In today's self-broadcasting culture, where amateurism is celebrated and anyone with an opinion, however ill-informed, can publish a blog, post a video on YouTube, or change an entry on Wikipedia, the distinction between trained expert and uninformed amateur becomes dangerously blurred. When anonymous bloggers and videographers, unconstrained by professional standards or editorial filters, can alter the public debate and manipulate public opinion, truth becomes a commodity to be bought, sold, packaged, and reinvented.
The very anonymity that the Web 2.0 offers calls into question the reliability of the information we receive and creates an environment in which sexual predators and identity thieves can roam free. While no Luddite — Keen pioneered several Internet startups himself — he urges us to consider the consequences of blindly supporting a culture that endorses plagiarism and piracy and that fundamentally weakens traditional media and creative institutions.
Offering concrete solutions on how we can rein in the free-wheeling, narcissistic atmosphere that pervades the Web, The Cult Of The Amateur is a wake-up call to each and every one of us.
"Keen's relentless 'polemic' is on target about how a sea of amateur content threatens to swamp the most vital information and how blogs often reinforce one's own views rather than expand horizons. But his jeremiad about the death of 'our cultural standards and moral values' heads swiftly downhill. Keen became somewhat notorious for a 2006 Weekly Standard essay equating Web 2.0 with Marxism; like Karl Marx, he offers a convincing overall critique but runs into trouble with the details. Readers will nod in recognition at Keen's general arguments — sure, the Web is full of 'user-generated nonsense'! — but many will frown at his specific examples, which pretty uniformly miss the point. It's simply not a given, as Keen assumes, that Britannica is superior to Wikipedia, or that record-store clerks offer sounder advice than online friends with similar musical tastes, or that YouTube contains only 'one or two blogs or songs or videos with real value.' And Keen's fears that genuine talent will go unnourished are overstated: writers penned novels before there were publishers and copyright law; bands recorded songs before they had major-label deals. In its last third, the book runs off the rails completely, blaming Web 2.0 for online poker, child pornography, identity theft and betraying 'Judeo-Christian ethics.' (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] shrewdly argued jeremiad against the digerati effort to dethrone cultural and political gatekeepers and replace experts with the 'wisdom of the crowd.'" Michiko Kautani, New York Times
"Keen takes hard-line stances and repeats points again and again rather than letting readers draw their own conclusions. Nevertheless, this book brings to light controversial Web 2.0 issues and is ultimately a thought-provoking read." Library Journal
"Keen's arguments are both scary and convincing, and he writes clearly and with verve." Cleveland Plain Dealer
Our most valued cultural institutions, Keen warns in THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR–our newspaper, magazine, music, and movie industries–are being supplanted by an avalanche of amateur, user-generated free content. Our newspapers’ advertising revenue is being drained by free classified ads on sites like craigslist; television networks are under attack from commercial-free TiVo’s; file-sharing and iPods are devastating the multibillion-dollar music business, and may soon undermine our movie industry; and Google’s print-scanning technologies jeopardize the profitability of conventional publishing. In a “cut-and-paste” online culture where intellectual property is freely swapped, stolen or “aggregated,” royalty income is lost from the pockets of our artists, journalists, and creators.
Keen argues that the new digital revolution, dubbed Web 2.0, is threatening our culture as well. In a world where anyone with an opinion, however, ill-informed, can create a blog or a podcast, or an entry on a reference site like Wikipedia, the distinction between trained expert and uninformed amateur, between author and audience become blurred. Perhaps the greatest casualty in a world where wisdom of the expert is drowned out by the noise of the amateur, and anonymous bloggers can derail a presidential campaign--as happened with the swift boat incident in 2004--is truth itself.
A clarion call about the frightening consequences of the Web 2.0, THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR concludes with concrete solutions for how we can counter the havoc we are unleashing on our economy and society.
In a hard-hitting and provocative polemic, Silicon Valley insider Keen exposes the grave consequences of todays new participatory Web 2.0. He reveals how amateur, user-generated free content threatens the very innovation and creativity that forms the fabric of American achievement.
About the Author
Andrew Keeni s a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose writings on culture, media, and technology have appeared in The Weekly Standard, BusinessWeek, San Francisco Chronicle, Fast Company, Jazziz, and The Guardian, as well as on his own weblog, TheGreatSeduction.com. He hosts the acclaimed podcast AfterTV, and is frequently featured on other media outlets. He lives in Berkeley, California.
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