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Amateur Internet

Globe and Mail Update

  • Andrew Keen was online earlier Thursday for an hour to answer your questions on how the Internet is ruining culture.

Is the Internet populated by intellectual yahoos and digital thieves? Is Web 2.0 really a digital recreation of Marxism?

Andrew Keen, a London-born entrepreneur and intellectual, argues in his new book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture that a writhing mass of amateur content threatens to eclipse more important information found online.

In a well-circulated column from a Feb., 2006 issue of The Weekly Standard , Keen equates Web 2.0 and user-generated content to Marxism. "Just as Marx seduced a generation of European idealists with his fantasy of self-realization in a communist utopia, so the Web 2.0 cult of creative self-realization has seduced everyone in Silicon Valley."

On his blog, Keen describes his new book as the beginning, rather than the end, of a serious conversation about technology, media and culture, but that perspective is not shared by some high profile bloggers and Silicon Valley heavyweights. They argue he is an elitist intellectual, a conservative pining for a return to old ways, and a writer who cannot keep his facts straight.

"It makes him a curmudgeon, a conservative trying to hold onto the past, a mastadon growling against the warm wind of change" writes blogger Jeff Jarvis.

Is the Web, as Keen suggests, full of "user-generated nonsense" or do you think he's missed the point about user-generated content.

Andrew Keen grew up in North London, attended London University studying modern history. He was a British Council Fellow at the University of Sarajevo before earning a master's degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. After teaching at a number of universities, including Tufts University, Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts, Mr. Keen moved to Silicon Valley where in 1995 he founded, one of the most highly trafficked websites of the late 1990s.

Mr. Keen is the host of the popular Internet chat show, afterTV and regularly appears on television and radio. His commentaries can be read on ZDNet, Britannica and iHollywoodForum as well as in traditional publications like the Weekly Standard, Fast Company and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Editor's Note: editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Michael Snider, Technology Editor: Hello Andrew, thanks for joining us today. We've a bunch of questions and comments for you to handle today, but before we begin I'd like to ask if you motivation to write the book was spurred at all by the response you got -- positive and negative -- to the Feb. 2006 The Weekly Standard essay you wrote equating Web 2.0 to Marxism.

Andrew Keen: Absolutely. The Weekly Standard article unleashed a torrent of opinion, both positive and negative. The book came directly out of it — although it doesn't address the issue of Marxism and Web 2.0 as squarely. Most people assume that I'm a conservative because of the supposedly "elitist" nature of my argument and the politics of The Weekly Standard. But I'm actually a progressive and I think my argument is as relevant to the left as the right. In fact, I would argue that the left has been hurt worse by media illiteracy than the right and thus needs to defend mainstream media when it is indeed responsible and objective.

Rachel Sklar from New York writes: Is your book - now getting a lot of play on the Internet - helping to heal or kill the culture? And if it's the former, then how can you differentiate between the channels you're using to reach your audience and that of Justin Laipply, aka the Evolution of Dance guy? And who gets to be the arbiter of what is Good For Culture and what is Bad For Culture - some snobby on-high culture dude logrolling his buddy's crappy book of "art" photos or the public, who votes with their eyeballs and their mouse clicks and their time?"

Andrew Keen: There has always and will always be an arbiter of taste. Web 2.0's idealists suggest otherwise -- but behind their "democracy" is either an algorithm (easily gamed) or a new elite of generally anonymous tastemakers who are shaping wisdom of the crowd sites like reddit and digg.
I like professional arbiters -- reviewers, editors, agents, talent scouts. There's nothing snobby about it. But they need to be transparent and objective (ie: not in the pay of a corporation or political party)

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