The Cult of the Amateur: How Blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the Rest of Today's User-generated Media are Destroying Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values

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Doubleday, 2007 - Computers - 236 pages
15 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 today'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 reign 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.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Razinha - LibraryThing

Keen's book, published in 2007, is a ranting polemic against Web 2.0 and the sad fact that there is no journalistic integrity anymore in an arena where anyone can say anything virtually without ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - nandadevi - LibraryThing

Poor Keen. Smart, but a long way from being wise, or even sensible. He cherry picks examples while praising the skills of balanced neutral research and reporting which can only, one surmises, be ... Read full review

Contents

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III
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IV
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VII
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VIII
135
IX
158
XI
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XII
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Copyright

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About the author (2007)

1

The Great Seduction

First a confession. Back in the Nineties, I was a pioneer in the first Internet gold rush. With the dream of making the world a more musical place, I founded Audiocafe.com, one of the earliest digital music sites. Once, when asked by a San Francisco Bay area newspaper reporter how I wanted to change the world, I replied, half seriously, that my fantasy was to have music playing from "every orifice," to hear the whole Bob Dylan oeuvre from my laptop computer, to be able to download Johann Sebastian Bach''s Brandenburg Concertos from my cellular phone.

So yes, I peddled the original Internet dream. I seduced investors and I almost became rich. This, therefore, is no ordinary critique of Silicon Valley. It''s the work of an apostate, an insider now on the outside who has poured out his cup of Kool-Aid and resigned his membership in the cult.

My metamorphosis from believer into skeptic lacks cinematic drama. I didn''t break down while reading an incorrect Wikipedia entry about T. H. Huxley or get struck by lightning while doing a search for myself on Google. My epiphany didn''t involve a dancing coyote, so it probably wouldn''t be a hit on YouTube.

It took place over forty-eight hours, in September 2004, on a two-day camping trip with a couple of hundred Silicon Valley utopians. Sleeping bag under my arm, rucksack on my back, I marched into camp a member of the cult; two days later, feeling queasy, I left an unbeliever.

The camping trip took place in Sebastopol, a small farming town in northern California''s Sonoma Valley, about fifty miles north of the infamous Silicon Valley--the narrow peninsula of land between San Francisco and San Jose. Sebastopol is the headquarters of O''Reilly Media, one of the world''s leading traffickers of books, magazines, and trade shows about information technology, an evangelizer of innovation to a worldwide congregation of technophiles. It is both Silicon Valley''s most fervent preacher and its noisiest chorus.

Each Fall, O''Reilly Media hosts an exclusive, invitation-only event called FOO (Friends of O''Reilly) Camp. These friends of multi-millionaire founder Tim O''Reilly are not only unconventionally rich and richly unconventional but also harbor a messianic faith in the economic the cult of the amateur and cultural benefits of technology. O''Reilly and his Silicon Valley acolytes are a mix of graying hippies, new media entrepreneurs, and technology geeks. What unites them is a shared hostility toward traditional media and entertainment. Part Woodstock, part Burning Man (the contemporary festival of self-expression held in a desert in Nevada), and part Stanford Business School retreat, FOO Camp is where the countercultural Sixties meets the free-market Eighties meets the technophile Nineties.

Silicon Valley conferences weren''t new to me. I had even organized one myself at the tail end of the last Internet boom. But FOO Camp was radically different. Its only rule was an unrule: "no spectators, only participants." The camp was run on open-source, Wikipediastyle participatory principles--which meant that everyone talked a lot, and there was no one in charge.

So there we were, two hundred of us, Silicon Valley''s antiestablishment establishment, collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars, gazing at the stars from the lawn of O''Reilly Media''s corporate headquarters. For two full days, we camped together, roasted marshmallows together, and celebrated the revival of our cult together.

The Internet was back! And unlike the Gold Rush Nineties, this time around our exuberance wasn''t irrational. This shiny new version of the Internet, what Tim O''Reilly called Web 2.0, really was going to change everything. Now that most Americans had broadband access to the Internet, the dream of a fully networked, always-connected society was finally going to be realized. There was one word on every FOO Camper''s lips in September 2004. That word was "democratization."

I never realized democracy has so many possibilities, so much revolutionary potential. Media, information, knowledge, content, audience, author-all were going to be democratized by Web 2.0. The Internet would democratize Big Media, Big Business, Big Government. It would even democratize Big Experts, transforming them into what one friend of O''Reilly called, in a hushed, reverent tone, "noble amateurs."

Although Sebastopol was miles from the ocean, by the second morning of camp, I had begun to feel seasick. At first I thought it was the greasy camp food or perhaps the hot northern California weather. But I soon realized that even my gut was reacting to the emptiness at the heart of our conversation.

I had come to FOO Camp to imagine the future of media. I wanted to know how the Internet could help me "bring more music to more orifices." But my dream of making the world a more musical place had fallen on deaf ears; the promise of using technology to bring more culture to the masses had been drowned out by FOO Campers'' collective cry for a democratized media.

The new Internet was about self-made music, not Bob Dylan or the Brandenburg Concertos. Audience and author had become one, and we were transforming culture into cacophony.

FOO Camp, I realized, was a sneak preview. We weren''t there just to talk about new media; we were the new media. The event was a beta version of the Web 2.0 revolution, where Wikipedia met MySpace met YouTube. Everyone was simultaneously broadcasting themselves, but nobody was listening. Out of this anarchy, it suddenly became clear that what was governing the infinite monkeys now inputting away on the Internet was the law of digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated. Under these rules, the only way to intellectually prevail is by infinite filibustering.

The more that was said that weekend, the less I wanted to express myself. As the din of narcissism swelled, I became increasingly silent. And thus began my rebellion against Silicon Valley. Instead of adding to the noise, I broke the one law of FOO Camp 2004. I stopped participating and sat back and watched.

I haven''t stopped watching since. I''ve spent the last two years observing the Web 2.0 revolution, and I''m dismayed by what I''ve seen.

I''ve seen the infinite monkeys, of course, typing away.

And I''ve seen many other strange sights as well, including a video of marching penguins selling a lie, a supposedly infinite Long Tail, and dogs chatting to each other online. But what I''ve been watching is more like Hitchcock''s The Birds than Doctor Doolittle: a horror movie about the consequences of the digital revolution.

Because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent. As I noted earlier, it is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions.

I call it the great seduction. The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more people-more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.

Moreover, the free, user-generated content spawned and extolled by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating the ranks of our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced ("disintermediated," to use a FOO Camp term) by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, homespun moviemakers, and attic recording artists. Meanwhile, the radically new business models based on user-generated material suck the economic value out of traditional media and cultural content.

We--those of us who want to know more about the world, those of us who are the consumers of mainstream culture--are being seduced by the empty promise of the "democratized" media. For the real consequence of the Web 2.0 revolution is less culture, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information. One chilling reality in this brave new digital epoch is the blurring, obfuscation, and even disappearance of truth.

Truth, to paraphrase Tom Friedman, is being "flattened," as we create an on-demand, personalized version that reflects our own individual myopia. One person''s truth becomes as "true" as anyone else''s. Today''s media is shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile. To quote Richard Edelman, the founder, president, and CEO of Edelman PR, the world''s largest privately owned public relations company:

In this era of exploding media technologies there is no truth except the truth you create for yourself. (1)

This undermining of truth is threatening the quality of civil public discourse, encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft, and stifling creativity. When advertising and public relations are disguised as news, the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Instead of more community, knowledge, or culture, all that Web 2.0 really delivers is more dubious content from anonymous sources, hijacking our time and playing to our gullibility.

Need proof ? Let''s look at that army of perjurious penguins-"Al Gore''s Army of Penguins" to be exact. Featured on YouTube, t

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