Hue and cry everywhere today as Michiko Kakutani positively reviews Andrew Keen’s book "The Cult of the Amateur". Taking on the concept of the wisdom of the crowd, Keen eviscerates it with the likes of Britney Spears, the irrational exuberance of the 1990s, and the war in Iraq.
But framing your argument as the chatter of the amateurs vs. the considered opinions of "experts" is just silly. It’s not a question of the rabble on MySpace or YouTube out-talking the "qualified" commentator. If that commentator is truly qualified, he’ll get listened to. Or rediscovered. Meanwhile, that means the average person isn’t allowed to talk? Even if he’s as dumb as a stump – he’s somehow got no right to speak his mind? It’s bad for society for everyone to have a platform to speak?
That doesn’t sit right with me.
Web 2.0 technologies are transformative – and still figuring themselves out, and of course there’ll be the elitists in the castle, throwing the occasional pot of boiling oil over the ramparts while bemoaning that things aren’t what they used to be. Kakutani parses:
Mr. Keen argues that the democratized Web’s penchant for mash-ups, remixes and cut-and-paste jobs threaten not just copyright laws but also the very ideas of authorship and intellectual property. He observes that as advertising dollars migrate from newspapers, magazines and television news to the Web, organizations with the expertise and resources to finance investigative and foreign reporting face more and more business challenges. And he suggests that as CD sales fall (in the face of digital piracy and single-song downloads) and the music business becomes increasingly embattled, new artists will discover that Internet fame does not translate into the sort of sales or worldwide recognition enjoyed by earlier generations of musicians.
And all these things are true. Totally true. Newspapers are going to have to find different business models if they are going to survive – and they might not survive. Old radio shows didn’t survive once television hit. Copyright law is going to change – as is the creative process itself – but why is that a bad thing? New music artists will have to figure out how to market themselves differently – but again, why is that bad?
I think of changing neighborhoods – "everything was fine until the Puerto Ricans/blacks/Irish/Dominicans/Italians moved in". I think of Ivy League universities as admissions standards changed – "everything was fine until Jews/women/financial-aid students could live in the dormitories with the rest of us". Eventually those attitudes die out. And they will in these virtual neighborhoods as well.
"The cult of the amateur is a misnomer" – it isn’t a cult. It’s the way things have always been – particularly in this country. Things change. Upstarts come on the scene. And in my expert opinion…Andrew Keen is a weenie. So there.