The World Is Not Flat

July 27th, 2007 · 7 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

The thing that has amazed me the most these past months is the onslaught of publicity given to Andrew Keen. Keen, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, has written a book. Following the traditional author trajectory, he has embarked upon a round of appearances and media carnivals. Given that the circus has been in town for more than a month, it’s safe for you to assume that Keen’s continuing success is due more to schtick than quality prose.

Are “professionals” truly the epitome of excellence for writers, musicians, actors?

I do not begrudge Mr. Keen’s right to make provocative statements — his revolve around the them of “How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy” (the subtitle of his book The Cult of the Amateur) — but I do find the fawning attention given to his unsubstantiated comments disturbing. Put another way, would it be too much to ask that journalists exercise a strong dose of skepticism?

Across the board, critics cite Keen’s resume as evidence that his theories about the Internet are solid. Valid. Worthy of note. If that were the case, every failed dot-commer on the planet should be rushing to write book proposals. Just think, you, too, can be on Leno.

Granted, you have to polish one particular skill: the zinging one-liner. For all the nonsense that Keen spouts, he does it very well. Authors, likely by virtue of their preferred method of work, are not the greatest when it comes to public appearance. Who hasn’t felt sympathy pains while watching an author at a “reading”? Who didn’t feel that J.K. Rowling’s interview by Meredith Viera was forced — things got so much better when the kids asked the questions (though what kid would ask, in all seriousness, about an author’s influences?)? Keen has proven that a little media training is a very good thing indeed.

But I digress. I am, not surprisingly, very much in favor of the Internet. I am very much in favor of “amateurs” creating content. In fact, had this freedom been denied to me, well, you wouldn’t be bored to tears by this article. Cause. Effect. It’s so cool.

Keen’s primary argument seems to be that the Web 2.0 revolution is destroying the guardians of Old Media. In his mind, this is bad. Of course, the counter to this notion is that Old Media, stifled by shareholder accountability and never-ending consolidation, has corporatized (word? maybe.) itself into irrelevance. Across the board — movies, television, music, books, magazines — the pursuit of the dollar has lead to safe programming. Safe programming is code for “dull”.

If the amateurs of the world weren’t out there rebelling, every shelf in every bookstore would be filled with clones of The Da Vinci Code. It is the way of entertainment media to replicate past successes. Risk, when undertaken, is done with the kind of caution that one associates with grown men walking to the grocery store in helmets and padded suits. You never know when you might bump into a sharp corner.

You need look no further than the lack of serious analysis leading up the Iraq war for proof that traditional media failed at its job. You need look no further than commercial radio in any U.S. city to know that traditional media is failing its suppliers. You need look no further than the bought-and-paid-for displays in bookstores to understand that readers are the least important part of the publishing equation.

Of course, the major flaw in Keen’s argument is that the definition of amateur is so fluid. Am I truly amateur if I make money off of this site? If I am offered writing jobs on the basis of what I produce here? Do I remain amateur until NewsCorp purchases me? What is an amateur? More importantly, what is a professional? And are professionals truly the epitome of excellence for writers, musicians, actors?

Andrew Keen makes some fair points about the free-wheeling online culture. Anyone can start a blog; whether that’s advisable is another question. There is a lot of bad content being created and put out there for the world to find. It is not necessarily the best stuff that rises to the top — as a species, we do have a love of the lowbrow.

Rather than focusing on the bad, however, I like to think about the idea that so many humans are engaged in creative activities. There’s a lot of stuff being thrown at the wall and some of it is sticking. I also think about the fact that amateurs are giving consumers — readers, listeners, watchers — varied perspectives. They’re exploring the nooks and crannies of life that, sure, might only appeal to a small group of individuals. Is that really a bad thing? Don’t we all deserve the opportunity to connect with people who understand our obsessions?

While the Internet is an old concept, its present incarnation is barely legal. What rocks our world today will likely be seen as charmingly retro in five years. We are limited today more by technology than imagination.

[tags]creativity, writing, publishing, andrew keen, web 2.0, cult of the amateur[/tags]

File Under: The Future of Publishing

7 responses so far ↓

  • Don Linn // Jul 27, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I’d just like to be on the record as saying Mr. Keen is already charmingly retro and has been for some time now.

    And you, dear, are no amateur.

  • Clive Warner // Jul 27, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    If you take a look at Amazon.com reviews for this book you will find an interesting differential between Amazon UK and Amazon USA. The US reviewers dispense their share of vitriol, like the one below, but the UK reviewers were almost unanimous in rating Keen’s book as fit for the bin.
    Perhaps Keen would like the world to return to the Middle Ages when the Guilds ruled all branches of commerce and woe betide anyone who dared to try a different idea. I shall certainly not be buying it!

    One reviewer wrote:
    In a strange ironic twist, his book proves that just because content is professional doesn’t necessarily mean it is any good.
    I returned my copy of the book. There is no way I’m giving this guy any money for this garbage.

  • C.M. // Jul 27, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Almost anything is too much to ask of “professional” journalists, whom represent the flaws of Old Media.

    This is populist versus popular again. We find that the popular shall continue to win. The massive, ungainly machine of publishing shall happily continue to commit its mistakes.

    It is still, however, regrettably profitable to attempt the populist approach…

  • Lorra Laven // Jul 29, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Yes, anyone can start a blog. But why would I read nonsense and garbage?

    I read Booksquare because it is informative, well written and entertaining.

    Of course I still read newspapers, magazines and books in tangible paper format, but I cannot imagine life without the internet.

    It is blogger like you, Kassia, that inspire me to light candles to the gods of the internet. You all are an integral part of my everyday writing life.

    Thank you.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 29, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Lorra — thanks for checking in. It’s always good to know you’re out there!

    Don — you should see me play softball. Amateur is too high praise for my skills (g).

    I am most interested in this story because there seems to be an almost, shall we say?, unquestioning belief that what Keen says is true (despite the fact that even he does not, cannot, believe what he’s saying). I am reminded of a moment in my distant youth where I was assured that a then-new band called U2 would never amount to anything. They did not, in the eyes of their detractor, have the appropriate commercial sensibility. Well, does anyone recall Christopher Cross these days (other than me?)? He came from the “professional” side of the music spectrum; U2 came from the, if you will, DIY side.

    Just goes show how wrong one can be, no?

  • KathyF // Jul 30, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Lorra’s right; spewing forth nonsense and garbage is a fruitless activity.

    Wish I could stop.

  • Joe Devon // Sep 14, 2007 at 9:58 am

    I don’t see any difference between the world of internet bloggers and the world of bands out there playing tiny bars and clubs in the hopes of honing their sound, having some kicks, or getting discovered.
    Publishing the written word in a format that’s accessible to a large number of readers has always been costly. With the internet it’s much much cheaper.
    Literature now has garage bands. That’s all that’s happened. I’m pretty sure we’re better for it.