The second generation of internet-based services and usages, or the so-called “Web 2.0”, is being indicted by Andrew Keen, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and cultural critic, for having brought about “an endless digital forest of mediocrity”.
In his about to be released book, “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture” (subtitled “How the democratization of the digital world is assaulting our economy, our culture and our values”), Keen laments the harm caused by the self-authored content of the internet. He seeks to warn the world of the dangers of unbridled blogging, as the number of new blogs doubles every six months. In Keen’s words:
If we keep up this pace, there will be over five hundred million blogs by 2010, collectively corrupting and confusing popular opinion about everything from politics, to commerce, to arts and culture. Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite, that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com
Keen exaggerates, but he has a point. Traditional culture and values are being undermined by the new participatory, self-broadcasting web culture. Its amateur hour, all day, everyday. Anyone with an opinion can publish a blog, however insipid or ill-informed. In the free-wheeling blogosphere, the distinction between hard facts and conjecture is often blurred.
The anonymity offered by the web has also created a cyberswamp of sleaze. As observed by Keen, “ this rotten culture of anonymity has spawned a contemporary internet of social deviants, loonies, perverts and get-a-lifers”.
True, the net does have a lot of trash. But there are also gems among the rubbish. And even Keen has to concede that the internet has broadened the world’s democratic space. But he seeks to alert us on the cultural dangers of the Web 2.0 revolution. As he sees it, the user-generated content of the web is often irreverent, narcissistic or pornographic or all three simultaneously.
Keen is unabashedly an elitist, but his elitism is founded on merit, creativity and honest intellectual work. As he explains:
I fully admit to being an elitist. I believe in a strictly meritocratic society of experts, one in which creative ability is rewarded. I think that most people have little talent and shouldn’t be encouraged to think of themselves as writers or musicians or porn stars. I want to be educated and entertained by the opinion of Habermas, Zizek, Lucy Kellaway or Maureen Dowd, rather than the ranting of a half-educated blogger. And, in contrast with our local web 2.0 radicals, I believe that our traditional media institutions — national newspapers, big music labels, Hollywood studios, large publishers —do an excellent job filtering information and talent.
Keen’s polemic is sure to spur a lively debate among the denizens of the social communities of Web 2.0 in the coming months.
Technorati Tags: Web 2.0