May 31, 2007  ·  Lessig

Tomorrow is the official on-sale date for Andrew Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur,” but the book is already getting lots of attention. Keen, a writer, and failed Internet entrepreneur, spends 200 pages attacking the rise of the “amateur” and the harm — economic, social, cultural and political — these amateurs will cause. Without “standards,” without “taste,” without “institutions” to “filter” good from bad, true from false, the Internet, Keen argues, is destined to destroy us.

There’s much in the book that even we amateur-o-philes should think about. How can we build trust into the structures of knowledge the Internet is enabling (Wikipedia, blogs, etc.)? How can make sure the contribution adds to understanding rather than confuses it? These are hard questions. And as is true of Wikipedia at each moment of every day — there is more work to be done.

But what is puzzling about this book is that it purports to be a book attacking the sloppiness, error and ignorance of the Internet, yet it itself is shot through with sloppiness, error and ignorance. It tells us that without institutions, and standards, to signal what we can trust (like the institution (Doubleday) that decided to print his book), we won’t know what’s true and what’s false. But the book itself is riddled with falsity — from simple errors of fact, to gross misreadings of arguments, to the most basic errors of economics.

So how could it be that a book criticizing the Internet — because the product of a standardless process where nothing is “vetted for accuracy” (as he says of Wikipedia) — could itself be so mistaken, when it, presumably, has been “vetted for accuracy” and was only selected for publication because it passed the high standards of truth imposed by its publisher — Doubleday?

And then it hit me: Keen is our generation’s greatest self-parodist. His book is not a criticism of the Internet. Like the article in Nature comparing Wikipedia and Britannica, the real argument of Keen’s book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here’s a book — Keen’s — that has passed through all the rigor of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: No doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top — but also riddled with errors. Keen’s obvious point is to show those with a blind faith in the traditional system that it can be just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Indeed, one might say even worse, since the Internet doesn’t primp itself with the pretense that its words are promised to be true.

So lighten up on poor Mr. Keen, folks. He is an ally. His work will help us all understand the limits in accuracy, taste, judgment, and understanding shot through all of our systems of knowledge. The lesson he teaches is one we should all learn — to read and think critically, whether reading the product of the “monkeys” (as Keen likens contributors to the Internet to be) or books published by presses such as Doubleday.

I’ve outlined some of these errors in the Extended Entry below. I’ve also placed that enumeration on a wiki, and I invite everyone to help construct the The Keen Reader — listing and demonstrating the errors in his book, so others can see quite clearly just how brilliant a self-parody this book is.

Extended Entry

The Least Important (Lessig) Fallacy

I expect this is true with anyone whose work is described by others, but I had a pretty clear sense of the care and accuracy of Keen’s book early on, when he wrote this about my own work:

In a twisted kind of Alice in Wonderland, down-the-rabbit-hole logic, Silicon Valley visionaries such as Stanford law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig and cyberpunk William Gibson laud the appropriation of intellectual property. (p24)

I take it Keen means “misappropriation,” because while I do “laud the appropriation of intellectual property” in the sense that I support, for example, the legal licensing of creative work by others, so does Keen. So his claim is that I praise what some call “piracy.”

This is a claim too ridiculous to have to rebut. I certainly have argued in favor of changing the way copyright law functions. But I never have “laud[ed]” “piracy.” See, e.g., Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture 10, 18, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 139, 255 (2004) (describing “piracy” as “wrong”). Only the most careless of readers could make such a claim.

Likewise, midway through the book, Keen writes:

Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig argues that “legal sharing” and “reuse” of intellectual property is a social benefit. In fact, … Lessig wants to replace what he calls our “Read-Only” Internet with a “Read-Write” Internet, where we can “remix” and “mashup” all content indiscriminately. Lessig, misguided as he is, suggests that digital content—whether it be a song, a video, a short story, or a photograph—should be commonly owned for the benefit of everyone. What Lessig fails to acknowledge is that most of the content being shared—no matter how many times it has been linked, cross-linked, annotated, and copied—was composed or written by someone from the sweat of their creative brow and the disciplined use of their talent. (p144)

Let’s unpack this a bit:

(1) “Lessig argues that “legal sharing” and “reuse” of intellectual property is a social benefit.”

True enough. “Legal sharing” (as opposed to “illegal sharing”) is a social benefit. Reuse of IP is also a social benefit. Does Keen think the opposite? Should we ban “legal sharing”? And should a song only be “used” once?

(2) “In fact, … Lessig wants to replace what he calls our “Read-Only” Internet with a “Read-Write” Internet, where we can “remix” and “mashup” all content indiscriminately.”

Not true enough. I have no desire to “replace” “our Read-Only Internet” with anything. As I try to say every time I talk about it, the RO Internet is valuable and good. I do praise the rise — or more accurately, the revival — of a RW culture, sure. But “indiscriminately”? Who ever argues for “indiscriminate” use? Certainly the examples I use and praise are quite discriminate in their “remix” of culture. That’s why they are so good.

(3) “Lessig, misguided as he is, suggests that digital content—whether it be a song, a video, a short story, or a photograph—should be commonly owned for the benefit of everyone.”

First, I was very disappointed that in the published version of Keen’s book, he changed this quote from what it was originally. Originally, I was not only “misguided” but “dangerous.”

But second, again, come on. No where do I argue that “digital content … should be commonly owned.” This is about as ignorant a summary of my work as one could proffer. I defend again and again (against copyright abolitionists) the value and importance of copyright. I argue that copyright must be preserved, even in a digital age. Even the Creative Commons project doesn’t argue that works be “commonly owned.” CC gives copyright owners the ability to exercise their rights, not common rights.

(4) “What Lessig fails to acknowledge is that most of the content being shared—no matter how many times it has been linked, cross-linked, annotated, and copied—was composed or written by someone from the sweat of their creative brow and the disciplined use of their talent.”

Another brilliant example of Keen’s self-parody. If you read this quickly, you might think that Keen is saying that an author creates wholly on his own, without building upon the work of others. But read again, and this time carefully: Note the pronoun “their.” Keen’s talking about the collective process that creativity always is. That at least is the charitable way to read the sentence. Otherwise, you’d have to say Keen doesn’t know basic grammar.

But misunderstanding my work isn’t much of a sin. Many brilliant sorts do that all the time (read, for example, the exams from classes I teach. Talk about a humbling experience…). The significant errors in Keen’s book are elsewhere.

I outline some of them here:

The “value” fallacy

Keen has a less than keen understanding of economic value. Indeed, the sort of understanding that would fail first year economics. See, for example, his attack on Google. As he writes,

Take Google, for example, the economic paragon of a truly successful Web 2.0 media company. With a market cap of approximately $150 billion, the Silicon Valley company took in $6.139 billion in revenue and $1.465 billion in profits in 2005. Telling is the fact that unlike companies such as Time Warner or Disney that create and produce movies, music, magazines, and television, Google is a parasite; it creates no content of its own. (p135)

In terms of value creation, there is nothing there apart from its links. (p135)

Why stop at Google? Why not attack, for example, the creators of phone books. They too are simply “parasites” “creat[ing] no content of [their] own.” But this argument is ridiculous. “Value” is created in both cases by improving the efficiency of access to others, or to their material. Efficiency is value.

The efficiency fallacy

Much like the previous error, Keen systematically ignores dynamic efficiency in favor of static loss. So, for example, he writes,

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune.” (p27)

And as he continues:

Of course, every free listing on Craigslist means one less paid listing in a local newspaper. Every visit to Wikipedia’s free information hive means one less customer for a professionally researched and edited encyclopedia such as Britannica. Every free music or video upload is one less sale of a CD or DVD, meaning one less royalty for the artist who created it. (p29)

There are at least three obvious errors here. First, Keen is apparently lumping two obviously legal changes (Craigslist and Wikipedia) with one not so legal (“free music or video upload”) though of course, not all “free music” or “video uploads” are illegal.

Second, not even the RIAA suggests that there is a 1 to 1 substitution between “free” and “paid.”

But third, and most significant, Keen writes as if there is an economic loss when people get to do things more efficiently. As if there is a reason for a policy maker to be concerned when, for example, the costs of some activity drop because society has found a way to do the same activity more efficiently. He points, for example, in the context of printed books, to the many people who have earned a living from that lumber-ware. He asks: ” Isn’t this a model worth preserving?” (p115)

Again, econ 101: Thousands used to work to support circuit switched networks. Many fewer are needed to run packet switched networks. Does that mean we should ban the Internet in order to “preserve” circuit switched telephone networks? Every new and more efficient technology displaces less efficient economies before them. How many of those should we “preserve”?

Or perhaps, my favorite quote. Again, remember, this is in a book attacking the Internet for its lack of truth and failure of “balance”:

Every defunct record label and round of newspaper downsizing are a consequence of “free” user-generated Internet content—from Craigslist’s free advertising, to free music videos, to free encyclopedias, to free weblogs. (p27)

Every? Really? It’s the sort of claim that would earn a freshman essay a D.

The wiki fallacy

Keen spends a great deal of time attacking Wikipedia, and its founder, Jimmy Wales. As Keen writes, “Wikipedia … is almost single-handedly killing the traditional information business.” (p127-8). I take it not even Wales would exaggerate the importance of Wikipedia like this. And again, implicit in Keen’s argument is the efficiency fallacy mentioned above.

But the real error here is betrayed in the following:

Since Wikipedia’s birth, more than fifteen thousand contributors have created nearly three million entries in over a hundred different languages—none of them edited or vetted for accuracy (p4).

“None of them edited or vetted for accuracy”? On one level, of course, this is absurdly false. Wikipedia is constantly edited, and attributions constantly vetted for accuracy. Indeed, for many of the articles, the level of editing and vetting is vastly greater than any article published in any encyclopedia ever.

But on a different level, what Keen must mean is that it is not “edited” or “vetted” by experts. Or exclusively by experts (for again, experts certainly participate in Wikipedia). This is related to Keen’s obsession (indeed, I’m sure if he has one, his shrink must have a field day with this obsession) with “experts” and makers of “taste.” So central is this to Keen’s argument, it deserves its own heading.

The Expert Fallacy

The most pronounced theme throughout the book is the faith in the “experts” of the non-Internet world. Consider some sample quotes:

But what had once appeared as a joke now seems to foretell the consequences of a flattening of culture that is blurring the lines between traditional audience and author, creator and consumer, expert and amateur. (p2)

Because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent. (p15)

Yes, a number of Web 2.0 start-ups such as Pandora.com, Goombah.com, and Moodlogic.com are building artificially intelligent engines that supposedly can automatically tell us what music or movies we will like. But artificial intelligence is a poor substitute for taste. (p.32)

Recently, Jurgen Habermas, one of Europe’s most influential social thinkers, spoke about the threat Web 2.0 poses to intellectual life in the West.” The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralized access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus.” (p55)

But what these online stores don’t have is the deeply knowledgeable buying choices depend upon the anonymous Amazon.com reviewer—a very poor substitute for “the bodily encounters” that Tower once offered.(p132)

When media companies flounder, employees and executives lose their jobs and shareholders lose their investments. But all the rest of us lose out, too, as the quality of programming is compromised. (p124-25)

Keen is particularly harsh about the effects on democracy:

The downside of all this “democracy,” which the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson described as the “greatest outburst of mass exhibitionism in human history” is the integrity of our political discourse. (p54)

The YouTubification of politics is a threat to civic culture. It infantilizes the political process, silencing public discourse and leaving the future of government up to thirty-second video clips shot by camcorder-wielding amateurs with political agendas.(p 68)

Or consider one final favorite:

“News aggregating sites like Digg or Reddit or Rojo, which rely on the collective behavior of other users, also limit our access to fair and balanced information.” (p93).

Ok, let’s take this in reverse order. How exactly is someone “limit[ed]” from access to “fair and balanced” (I assume Keen got permission to use Fox’s trademark here) by the presence of a ranking system? Does USA Today’s ranking of movies limit my access to films its reviewers don’t like?

Or on politics: The Internet is challenging “the integrity of our political discourse”? This assumes a fact not in evidence — namely the “integrity of our political discourse.” Is FOX News part of that discourse? Were the Swift Boat Veterans the product of the Internet?

Or on taste generally: No doubt, public intellectuals like Habermas are not happy with the rise of competition for the attention the public gives to his words. Ah, for the good old days, when a handful of writers got to tell the world how to think. How sad it is that those writers now must compete with blogs.

But whether victims of competition are happy or not doesn’t determine the quality of the competition. In my view, there’s little evidence of “taste” in the product of “media companies.” Do I get to publish a book with Doubleday now that I’ve observed I don’t like what media companies produce?

The argument about taste is either ridiculous or banal. Who is Keen to define what “taste” is. And if he isn’t doing that, then yes, of course, there are millions of places in which society choses things that I, or others, don’t like. Let’s start with democracy. Is that an argument against democracy?

(And really: did Keen ever go into a Tower Records and ask for a recommendation about a Mahler symphony? Or about anything? No doubt, there were some great people at Tower Records. But on average?)

The “Piracy” fallacy

A couple notes about a familiar fallacy: Keen writes:

Thanks to the rampant digital piracy spawned by file-sharing technology, sales of recorded music dropped over 20 percent between 2000 and 2006 (p8)

Sloppy: what percentage of the 20% is because of “piracy”?

And:

At the iTunes price of 99 cents a song, the 20 billion digital songs stolen in a single year adds up to an annual bill of $19.99 billion, one and half times more than the entire $12.27 billion revenue of the US sound recording industry in 2005. That’s $19.99 billion stolen annually from artists, labels, distributors, and record stores. (p106)

Wildly exaggerated: Not even the RIAA uses retail prices to estimate the losses from “piracy”

Over the last 10 years, the listening hours of eighteen to twenty-four year olds have dropped 21 percent. (p123)

Sloppy: what percentage of the 21% is because of “piracy”?

What author reading any of the works written recently about this question could be so sloppy?

The Amateur Fallacy

The final fallacy I’m going to take the time to enumerate is perhaps the most amazing. Here is a book about “amateurs”. And here is how Keen defines the term “amateur”:

The traditional meaning of the word “amateur” is very clear. An amateur is a hobbyist, knowledgeable or otherwise, someone who does not make a living from his or her field of interest, a layperson, lacking credentials, a dabbler. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Hell is full of amateur musicians,” but that was before Web 2.0. Today, Shaw’s hell would have broadband access and would be overrun with bloggers and podcasters. (p36)

This is a very distinctive view of the “amateur.” It is not, however, quite the “traditional meaning of the word.” The OED defines an amateur as follows:

1. One who loves or is fond of; one who has a taste for anything.; 2. a. One who cultivates anything as a pastime, as distinguished from one who prosecutes it professionally; hence, sometimes used disparagingly, as = dabbler, or superficial student or worker. b. Often prefixed (in apposition) to another designation, as amateur painter, amateur gardener.; 3. a. Hence attrib. almost adj. Done by amateurs. Cf. amateur gardener with amateur gardening.; b. Used disparagingly. Cf. sense 2.

Keen’s thus relying upon not the “traditional meaning” (which I agree is “clear”), but on a “sometimes used disparaging” meaning. No doubt that meaning is also clear. But it is far from the ordinary sense of the word, and indeed, far from its origin, which is one who does what he does for the love of what he does, and not for the money.

It is an interesting fact about what our culture has become that we can so quickly be led away from this original meaning to the disparaging. Shaw notwithstanding, it was not always so obvious that an amateur should be belittled. Consider, for example, the words of John Phillip Sousa. In an essay criticizing the rise of “mechanical music,” Sousa laments the lost of capacity in ordinary citizens to create and share music:

“This wide love for the art springs from the singing school, secular or sacred; from the village band, and from the study of those instruments that are nearest the people. There are more pianos, violins, guitars, mandolins, and banjos among the working classes of America than in all the rest of the world, and the presence of these instruments in the homes has given employment to enormous numbers of teachers who have patiently taught the children and inculcated a love for music throughout the various communities. [And when machines produce music?] And what is the result? The child becomes indifferent to practice, for when music can be heard in the homes with-out the labor of study and close application, and without the slow process of acquiring a technic, it will be simply a question of time when the amateur disappears entirely… The tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant.” Sousa, The Menace of Mechanical Music, Appleton’s Magazine 9 (1906).

Sousa is lamenting exactly the dynamic that Keen is praising — the loss of “amateurism” from our culture. And I take it Keen would be praising what Sousa laments — the disappearance of this amateur culture.

I’m with Sousa on this, and quite against Keen. I think it is a great thing when amateurs create, even if the thing they create is not as great as what the professional creates. I want my kids to write. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop reading Hemingway and read only what they write. What Keen misses is the value to a culture that comes from developing the capacity to create — independent of the quality created. That doesn’t mean we should not criticize works created badly (such as, for example, Keen’s book, at least if you don’t adopt the self-parody interpretation of it). But it does mean you’re missing the point if you simply compare the average blog to the NY Times.

  • Andrew Glen-Young

    I have not read Keen’s book and so I cannot comment on it. But I really do object to the disparaging use of the word “amateur” – as this book seems to do. As if anything that is created is only of any value if money is exchanged.
    I suppose that it is always a good idea to read opposing points of view.

  • http://www.tarletongillespie.org/scrutiny/ Tarleton Gillespie

    You’re bringing up sideways a point I like to make head-on in my classes. I find the most interesting aspect of these phenomena (be it Wikipedia or blogging or YouTube or Amazon recommendations) is the way that they force is to recognize that the established mechanisms and institutions of information and culture (be it Encyclopedia Brittannica or The Wall Street Journal or NBC or Consumer Reports) are themselves socially produced, historically contingent, institutionally bound, and systematically imperfect systems. They too have an implicit, built-in philosophy of where knowledge and culture come from and how one knows to trust or appreciate it, they too are structurally better at getting at some things and worse at others, they too can be mishandled or exploited. This is not to say that we should adopt a relativist position, that any way of producing information is okey-dokey. We can have a discussion about specific kinds of resources are best served by particular arrangements, some of which may benefit from wider, amateur participation, others benefiting from more bound, trained communities. But it obligates us to give up this kind of comfortable certainty we enjoy about those traditional forms, the social authority they have built up over time that cloaks their imperfections. And just as much as the Internet and its applications may be highlighting this, the traditional institutions of knowledge are doing a fine job revealing their own weaknesses all by themselves � from the failure of the political press to challenge the run up to war in Iraq, to the diminishing cultural relevance of major label music, to the crushing consolidation of corporate radio , etc etc.

  • http://www.generosity.org/stoner/ John Stoner

    Funny thought: is the opposite of “amateur” “prostitute,” not “professional?”

  • Michael Rattner

    There is one more interesting effect that blogging has had on the way we read. All of us are amateur at something. For many of us, that something is writing. In the past, the words of experts, many of whom would be considered amateur writers, were only available filtered, either through magazine reporters, TV editors, or in any number of other ways. Even professional writers had no direct way to speak to their audience.

    Blogging has allowed us much more direct access to the experts. In the past, there was no way we could get insight, unfiltered, from the top venture capitalists, thinkers, doctors, researchers, and yes, even lawyers. Many of these experts would never had had the time or inclination to write in any professional context, and yet they blog, sometimes daily, or more.

    Almost every day I read the opinions of experts that 5 years ago would have been unavailable in any context anywhere. I’ve been quoted in a newspaper story and I know that what’s written is not always what’s said. So I’d much rather read an expert’s opinions, even if they are an amateur writer instead of the writings of a professional with amateur knowledge of the stories they are reporting.

  • Michael Rattner

    There is one more interesting effect that blogging has had on the way we read. All of us are amateur at something. For many of us, that something is writing. In the past, the words of experts, many of whom would be considered amateur writers, were only available filtered, either through magazine reporters, TV editors, or in any number of other ways. Even professional writers had no direct way to speak to their audience.

    Blogging has allowed us much more direct access to the experts. In the past, there was no way we could get insight, unfiltered, from the top venture capitalists, thinkers, doctors, researchers, and yes, even lawyers. Many of these experts would never had had the time or inclination to write in any professional context, and yet they blog, sometimes daily, or more.

    Almost every day I read the opinions of experts that 5 years ago would have been unavailable in any context anywhere. I’ve been quoted in a newspaper story and I know that what’s written is not always what’s said. So I’d much rather read an expert’s opinions, even if they are an amateur writer instead of the writings of a professional with amateur knowledge of the stories they are reporting.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Andrew Keen is working the contrary angle of the Web 2.0 hucksters. But, note, you’re playing into his professional-wrestling game. That is, the Web 2.0 snake-oil seller says “UTOPIA! Give me ATTENTION!”. Then that creates an opening for an anti-Web-2.0 pundit to say “DYSTOPIA! Give me ATTENTION!”. And both can then play to their respective audiences (and yes, there is still an audience, one of the most blatant lies of of blog-evangelism is for A-listers to claim that there is not).

    Maybe you want to put on the costume and get into the ring with him. I suppose it’s nothing that hasn’t happened many a time. But note many people have been repeatedly pointing out all the dishonesties of Internet cyberblather, and that doesn’t seem to have done any good, so I’m not sure if the inverse will do any good either.

    But then again, I’m bad at politics, so that should also be taken into account.

  • http://www.movingtofreedom.org Scott Carpenter

    Yep, those amateurs, they should stay out of professional business. They can’t possibly compete. :-)

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    Is this blog entry an even greater self-parody of blogs? Lessig can write excellent books and published articles, but this seems like an attack rant not much better than most political blogs.

    A mainstream media book review would outline the book, cover the book�s major arguments and perhaps point out a few factual errors.

    While the words �laud the appropriation of intellectual property� might not be the most accurate, Lessig subjects us to his interpretation from �appropriation,� to �MISappropriation,� to �piracy.� While Lessig may not like the crowd that he is sometimes grouped with, if one writes a book with FREE in the title and gives it away free, one might not be surprised if a few people (maybe Keen, maybe not) get the idea the Lessig encourages piracy, which he does not. Although, Lessig did have a few nice, �second best,� things to say about copyright piracy of films in the past.

    But who cares if Lessig, except Lessig, was marginally misrepresented in the book. From the authority Digg.com, we all know that the top article of all time is the code to unlock copyright protection and pirates abound on Web 2.0 sites.

    Keen calls Google a �parasite� because it builds on the content of others, but the entire point is that Google creates no content (besides links), and none of Google�s revenue goes to content creation. While �parasite� may be dramatic and negative, it�s not an absolute falsehood. It�s true that Google creates no significant content, while taking advertising revenue billions that could have supported content. It�s also true as Keen argues, that Google, by mining the collective �knowledge� of the web, is somewhat �Web 2.0.� with the same advantage (finds popular sites) and fault (also finds popular sites). Lessig objects to the word �parasite.� A mainstream news editor would tell him, who cares.

    As a Ph.D. Economist, Lessig is correct the Keen made some economics mistakes. The dollar loss to mainstream media by Craigslist is a back of the envelope overestimate. Also, the gain to consumers from free Craigslist ads was neglected. While Keen did overestimate the dollar amount, the point that there is less money for newspapers and journalists remains. It is a valid question if the reduction in money for mainstream media news will have adverse effects on democracy. News is a public good, and the free market alone usually does not provide enough information on government.

    Keen may have also taken the worst estimates of music losses from piracy, but this does not invalidate the point that there is piracy. Does the world need more (well paid) bands/journalists/movie stars?

    The advantages of Wikipedia (anyone can edit) and disadvantages of Wikipedia (also anyone can edit) and a nonexpert �consensus� (which is rarely consensus in reality) governance system is a complex subject that Keen takes a jab at.

    Lessig focus on the weakest line � � none of them edited or vetted for accuracy� to attack the entire argument. Is this a parody of the gotcha journalism that Keen objected to?? One stupid word on video, then YouTube, and your political career is finished.

    Actually, I doubt that Jimbo Wales or Keen understands the academic problems with consensus, but I would hope that a law professor, because of consensus in jury trials, would know the serious problems. Consensus is a false utopia for democracy that gives preference to the status quo (not guilty in court is an OK status quo) and requires a small selected group of twelve with no conflicts of interest (connection to the accused) to work.

    I agree that Keen�s book is rather one sided, but it serves a purpose in presenting the other side to Web 2.0 gurus� arguments which are covered online in the mainstream press usually without questions.

    I thought only ignorant peasants in the 1800s thought that everything printed was true, and I have not heard such claims from mainstream media.

    I would agree that mainstream media is far from perfect. Unfortunately, I have usually seen worse from Web 2.0.

    I would also agree that Keen�s book is not the most academic, but it�s in the middle of the pack for Internet books.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Steve – measured, thoughtful critiques – of Web evangelism, or critics – DO NOT GET ATTENTION. Make of this what you will, in terms of paradox or self-proving.

  • http://clicknoise.net Jean

    While there are reasonable reservations to be had over the diminution of the role of the auteur in an era of accelerated anonymous repoproduction (if you’ll excuse the excessive neologisms), it’s clear Keen is not voicing them.

    Once we get used to the entry of new “amateurs”, though, I’m sure it can work itself out. Just imagine what we’d have lost had Eno not started making music as an amateur, knowing little about synthesis or studio technology as he initially did. We’d have even fewer alternatives to the dominant George Martin/Brian Wilson tradition than we have currently. Things would suck.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    “Larry Lessig has put up a wiki page for the collective authorship of a thoroughgoing rebuttal to Halprin�s piece. There have been dozens of edits so far,”

    Is there another Lessig wiki on Keen or have you just made up the dozens of edits?

    I see TWO edits. To/ToO and tradition/TraditionAL. Even you if count every letter, it’s only three letters.

    http://wiki.lessig.org/index.php?title=TheKeenReader&diff=2065&oldid=2052

    Is this another parody of Web 2.0, showing how it was a waste of my time to look for dozens of good edits?

    Also, it’s not a wiki neutral point of view or an academic open mind to have every section called a fallacy.

  • Steve Baba

    OK, I think I get it. The Times editorial mentioned above as calling for a rebuttal has to do with perpetual copyright and nothing to do with Keen or amateurs, the topic of this post. A different wiki having nothing to do with Keen or amateurs does have a few dozen edits. The Keen wiki has two grammatical edits at this time. This looks like an example of amateurs not being able to express as well as professionals. Not that I don�t write quickly myself online. Back to the Sunday paper where an editor checked things out before I waste my time on it.

  • http://cnewmark.com Craig Newmark

    I was on a panel with Andrew at PDF, and I pointed out one very obvious whopper, and he changed the subject.

    I believe Dan Gillmor has pointed out many other errors in the book.

    Me, I’m confused… we all see a lot of crap on the ‘net … but if you’re paying attention, you see far, far more good stuff.

    I handle problems all day, as a customer service rep at craigslist, but even I see that the bad stuff represents a very small number of people, proportionately.

    Fact checking is good.

    Craig

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    The Net evangelist says: “Ignore the bad stuff. Look, look, shiny, shiny, good stuff”

    The Net critic says: “Ignore the good stuff. Look, look, ugly, ugly, bad stuff”.

    Which drowns out the real questions as to whether the *proportion* of bad stuff vs good stuff is getting worse, why that might be, and difficult ways to change it (net evangelist screams “DON’T THINK ABOUT THAT! Bad man! Bad man! That’s *elitist*, that’s *undemocratic*, shut up!” – which why only the net critic can be heard screaming back “Communist!”)

  • Eric Gauvin

    Steve Baba seems to have the most intelligent comments on this post, and I agree that Lessig just seems to be making a personal complaint and not really a thoughtful analysis of Keen’s main points. It seems a lot like those blog fights that degrade into attacks on people’s grammar and typos.

  • http://www.larrysanger.org/ Larry Sanger

    I agree that the book is full of errors a good fact-checker (or just an informed reader with a lot of time) might have caught. I myself prevailed upon Keen to correct some errors he had written about Wikipedia and Citizendium.

    This is an obvious flaw, but he also advances a lot of arguments the substance of which cannot easily be dismissed. I’ll be interested to see whether what Seth calls “Net evangelists” actually respond to the substance of those arguments. Clay Shirky did, for one.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Larry Sanger: Actually, I don’t think Clay Shirky really responded to the substance. In fact, it struck me as a more sophisticated dismissal, just without the typical focus on Keen’s flame-baiting. But still fundamentally problematic. Shirky almost literally said that the response should be “Why do you hate *freedom*?” (quote: “The book is a polemic against the current expansion of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association.”). That was very much akin the obnoxious Libertarian (Ayn Rand sense of the word, not ACLU sense of the word) tactic, that when called on some particularly negative aspect of their ideology, such as relegalizing racial discrimination in business, or people selling their bodily organs to pay off debts, they sneer “That’s *freedom*, and you HATE FREEDOM, you Nanny-stater”. They can rant on and on in that vein: “Once upon a time, the big bad government could tell people what to do, but now there’s a revolution, where people have the FREEDOM to associate with those who they please [like not with other races ...], and you can’t tell them what to do, you moralist. I know this upsets you with your control-freak mentality, but too bad, you can’t run people’s lives anymore like you could in the old days, let freedom ring [in the lunch counters, and in the bus seating, and in hiring ...]“. In fact, something akin to this sort of set-piece is very much what one can often hear from Net evangelists. And it’s not very substantial, just a long repetition of the assumptions of the dogma.

    What’s hard to discuss, because of all the evangelism and selling and marketing, is that while of course there’s a profound technological change underway, there’s also very profound institutional response to try to channel that change in certain ways (e.g. cheap copying leads to the DMCA and DRM).

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    I could not have said it better myself if I were a sock puppet: �Steve Baba seems to have the most intelligent comments on this post.�

    I and whoever wrote it know I am not a sock puppet but the rest of you don�t know. If this were an edited newspaper, you could be 99.99% sure that the person said the quote, while on Web 2.0 depending on the site, the chance of such a supporting comment being made by a sock puppet might be up to 50%.

    I also agree that controversy sells in both old and new media. Controversy may also be fueling Wikipedia�s growth. Will Citizendium get to be on fake news shows if one can�t triple the number of elephants? Will as many people visit Citizendium to check on and fight what�s on Bush�s and Clinton�s web page. There�s not that many factual errors, but Bush�s has a picture of an European holding a Worlds-number-one-terrorist sign, while Clinton�s is much favorable. The media and Republican are responsible for his impeachment. How much of Wikipedia�a appeal is because it�s a free multiplayer game?

  • Oligonicella

    Perhaps he would also disparage Mr. Hall, the world’s leading authority on the Lincoln assassination?

  • http://ComicsPundit.com Shawn Levasseur

    Scott Carpenter, above, provided a great example of amateurism with Bobby Jones. He never went pro, yet was one of the most revered golfers of his era. Amateurs can aspire to “professional quality” and reach it.

    Admittably, most amateurs aren’t of such quality. So what? To cite Sturgeon’s Law, “90% of everything is crap” (I’d add the caveat “your milage may vary). But the 10% that’s good can’t be isolated from the 90%. The good cannot exist without the bad. Because it is from that pool of wannabes from which the pros emerge.

    It can also be said that the passion that the amateurs bring to an endeavor also make them some of the top consumers of the professional content. More likely that the professionals inspire the amateurs into trying to emulate them. In any event the pro/am relationship is not a parasitic one, but a symbiotic one.

    I dare say the most dynamic creative fields are the ones where the path from amateur to pro has the least barriers, and the most active amateurs.

    But as with Bobby Jones, amateurs can be as good and better than many pros. Also getting a paycheck for an effort is not always barometer of quality. There are no small number of hacks out there.

    Amateurs do not threaten the culture, they enrich it. It’s possible that they can affect the market for professionals, but that’s not the question here.

    Even if amateurs do threaten the culture. What’re one going to do about it? Forcibly shut down blogs? Shut down high-school concerts? Tell those little leaguers to give up the game if they have no hope of getting to the big-leagues?

    Realistically, the amateurs are here, and we’re stuck with them (and always have been). Deal with it.

  • sam

    Better an amateur producer than a professional consumer.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    Golf, as suggested by Shawn above, might be an interesting area to test for the difference between amateurs and professionals because golf skills of all players is quantified and easily compared.

    However, I am not sure the one ad-hoc example of some great amateur from the 1930s, is comprehensive enough to propose any conclusions.

    I would speculate that the vast majority of great golfers in the world are professional or are not professional golfers because they are professionals in other fields, as I think Bobby Jones in the 1930s was a lawyer.

    I would also speculate that many amateur players best games� of their lives have a score that would place them well in a pro tournament � not to mention a lot of wishful thinking.

    If this were not a blog and I cared, I would research this and see if anyone tested this before, but I will ask (impose my off-the-cuff speculation) all of you instead.

  • http://www.nospeedbumps.com Dan Morgan

    Thomas Jefferson was an amateur architect and he designed Monticello. Not too shabby.

  • http://www.nospeedbumps.com Dan Morgan

    Thomas Jefferson was an amateur architect and he designed Monticello. Not too shabby.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Dan: Yes, but it would very silly to suggest that professionalism doesn’t matter in architecture because of that. Note also Thomas Jefferson was a highly elite and educated member of the very reaches of the upper class, not exactly the sort of person whose resentment are being stirred by demagogues.

  • aqalmyst

    lessig and keen both seem to miss going to the heart of the real reasons that society is becoming more degenerate, such as postmodernism (pluralism/relativism), narcissism, nihilism, political corruption resulting in very bad public education for several generations, and so forth.

    lessig’s superficial examination of Habermas was disappointing.

    anyways ……

    carl ortwin sauer, geographer, wrote in a high “scriptural” literary style about holism and ecology in the 1950s/60s, and was criticised by the modernist “mainstream” of the time for being overly spiritual. sauer was simply a genius who was able to take advantage of the unique educational and professional opportunities made available by a capitalist, meritocratic society during the transition from modernism to postmodernism. perhaps he would have done well in an elitist society, but such a society would presumably not have rewarded sauer’s populist tendencies.

    wallace stegner wrote of the “Gilpin mentality” (hucksterism) in “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian”, which was a classic description of the tensions in a “democratic” society between old, refined “european style” social elites, enlightened populists and greedy capitalists. stegner describes the enduring archetypes/paradigms present at the birth of modern (industrial) american society. they remain in the debate about web 2.0. shameless self-promoting pseudovisionaries have plagued the IT industry from the start just as they did the western land boom in the 1800s and numerous other episodes of american history.

    the people making comments here are obviously very sophisticated observers of culture, and many of them probably learned many of their insights from web technologies. ironically, the blog comments are arguably more enlightening than the writings of either lessig or keen! :)

    it might be interesting, from a sociological perspective, to compare the web to the whole earth catalog.

    the whole earth catalog was a wildly successful populist, and counterculture, instrument that used the best of the intellectual tools of modernism to promote (early) postmodernism. the traditional publishing industry, academia, etc. was no doubt horrified about the lack of “standards” that the whole earth catalog represented.

    bye!
    aqalmyst

  • Jim Carlile

    I don’t remember anyone being upset about the Whole Earth Catalogs when they came out– there were several. I only remember some people complaining when it won the National Book Award! I mean, it was just a catalog…

    And rather than being ‘postmodern,’ it reminded me of the 1898 Sears Catalog. Chatty, fun, and with a lot of pictures.

  • aqalmyst

    Jim, thanks for the feedback.

    whole earth catalog (wec) was a mix of post-beat and hippy counterculture and “professional” writing. stewart brand, the founder of wec, was a libertarian experimenting with communalism, while keeping a business running!

    the whole point of wec was to educate people on how to engage in social change (by giving them cultural “tools” that had, generally speaking, been more available to the elites than to working people).

    the sears catalog put the power of mass, industrial production in the hands of farmers, workers and small town america. for several generations “the system” (of mass consumption) worked to liberate working people from economic limitations.

    similarly, wec put the power of information in the hands of the people, regardless of social class, etc.

    wec’s literary “style” was wildly innovative in form, but had an underlying classic writing style similar to what stegner’s former students at the stanford creative writing program were producing (for example: wendell berry was featured in the wec), but its content was early postmodernism (not polluted by the later horrors of deconstruction/etc).

    wec “cataloged” various alternative spiritual, technological and political movements, as well as classic eastern philosophies. wec was attempting to “sell” the idea of pluralism, and did it very successfully by appealing to the interest in counterculture and populist/alternative movements, being “innovative”, but using elements of classic literary review to give it an underlying sense of order and familiarity that was “interrogated” by the later inquisitorial postmodernists in their craze to impose conformance during the “culture wars” (1980s/90s).

    follow-up to my earlier comment about the “Gilpin mentality”. According to wallace stegner, Gilpin was one of the worst hucksters in the western land boom. Gilpin was a false visionary who convinced easterners to buy “worthless” arid western land by stating that simly drilling well holes into the desert would cause abundant rainfall!

    Gilpin was a perfect example of the crass opportunism that john wesley powell had to fight against when attempting to formulate responsible populist land and science policies within the federal government after the american civil war (1880s).

    john wesley powell and the whole earth catalog are examples of the 10% of “stuff” that is “not crap”.

    how much of Web 2.0 will prove to be “not crap”? we will be very lucky of it is 10%.

  • http://networkeffect.org Derek Tutschulte

    Brian Lehrer interviewed this joker on WNYC yesterday.

    I had to read your article to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    I was hoping for a typical entertaining Web 2.0 conspiracy theory to mock, but the largest potential flaw to this discussion is that the people who show up are self-selected by their interest and many others will self-censor their remarks to avoid being insulted, as Keen was, or even worse losing customers or voters. This is the old, if you don�t have anything good to say�. Or don�t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. (newspapers now, blogs).

    If Craig Newmark (and we only think it�s really Craig because he said similar things in the MSM) or 10 other newsworthy people thought that the vast majority of Web 2.0 sucked, it would obviously be in their best interest to not say anything or to say whatever good think they could say about Web 2.0 rather than insult their customers and voters.

    Even if most of Web 2.0 sucks or is crap, if the information can filtered there is some value it in. Filtering by authors usually does not work because of diminishing returns; Lessig�s everyday posts can�t compete with his best-published work. A human expert can filter information, which ironically may be one of the best, but elitist use of the democratic information on the web. Lessig might filters the comments here to improve his own work. Voting or popularity contests suffer from the problem that only the interested show up and vote and sock puppets show up. And voters are usually good at telling what�s entertaining, cats playing piano or cute high-school athletes, but not at telling what is factual.

  • http://www.sabrinamessenger.com Sabrina

    I’m in the process of reading Keen’s book…and he’s already annoyed from from the first chapter. First off, I don’t appreciate the term “amateur” used in such a disparaging manner, and I really hate that he refers to so-called “amateurs” as “monkeys.” This is the same trash that 19th century scholars did to try to discredit women and people of color who displayed any sort of intelligence or creativity. Keen is just angry that his techocracy is being threatened…and that the “rat pack” of elitist white male corporate types cannot control the masses. Well, it’s their own fault! If they had not systematically froze out women and other minorities, we wouldn’t be forced to use other avenues to fulfil our talents and release our energies. What does he expect us “indies” to do…continue to live lives of quiet desperation and be spoon fed their lies and propoganda? NO THANKS! Those days are gone…and as far as I’m concerned, the internet is now the great equalizer, the last bastion of democracy. Keen and his ilk will NOT succeed in silencing us anytime soon…no matter how “embarassingly amateurish” we might be. I wonder who died and made Keen the God of cyberspace and taste arbitration anyway?

  • Doug Jones

    Seth Finkelstein wrote about “obnoxious libertarians”:

    They can rant on and on in that vein: “Once upon a time, the big bad government could tell people what to do, but now there’s a revolution, where people have the FREEDOM to associate with those who they please [like not with other races], and you can’t tell them what to do, you moralist. I know this upsets you with your control-freak mentality, but too bad, you can’t run people’s lives anymore like you could in the old days, let freedom ring [in the lunch counters, and in the bus seating, and in hiring]“.

    Finkelstein ignores that Jim Crow was largely upheld by laws, not individual prejudices- bus line operators in the old south could be, and were, fined if they did NOT enforce discrimination. Jim Crow laws hurt their bottom line. Claiming that libertarians are in favor of discrimination because they favor deregulation is exactly counterfactual… a large part of the civil rights movement struck down Jim Crow laws, rather than forcing integration.

    There’s an old saying- “Prejudice is free, but discrimination will cost you,” -businessmen who refuse service to some people for non-economic reasons will usually suffer economic penalties as a result. Consider if some restaurant owner explicitly refused service to any specific race today, even if there were no laws banning the practice. The ensuing outcry and boycott would force him out of business… showing once again that decentralised action, without “expert” control, can be effective. Kinda like the web vs the old-line establishment, don’t ya know…

  • Anonymous

    “While Lessig may not like the crowd that he is sometimes grouped with, if one writes a book with FREE in the title and gives it away free, one might not be surprised if a few people (maybe Keen, maybe not) get the idea the Lessig encourages piracy”

    Only an uninformed person — one who’s never read Lessig’s books — would get that idea. Surely Keen is not the sort of person to comment on books he’s never read? Keen’s comments above are due not to ignorance, but to the deliberate misrepresentation of Lessig’s views. Throw in a bit of doublethink and what you have is a guy attacking arguments Lessig never made while simultaneously thinking his criticism is fair.

    “Keen calls Google a ‘parasite’ because it builds on the content of others, but the entire point is that Google creates no content (besides links), and none of Google’s revenue goes to content creation”

    I don’t recall Google ever claiming to be in the business of content creation, so why should we judge it in terms of how much content it creates? Google provides a service to its users, to the companies that advertise with them, and to the websites that benefit from showing up in Google’s search results.

  • paulo

    If there were any more rabid frothing about Keen’s comments here, I’d run for a roll of Bounty. Too many doth protesteth way too much.

    Keen is commenting on a state of our current culture — and of our collective and individual mind — that consists in the deification of technology and information, any information, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology and information. Is this denied? Many of the above rants seem suspect.

    Like others, Keen’s book demands we examine technology in the face of shrill glee and exuberant acceptance. And he’s talking about technology new AND old; to look at why each is or was developed and to reflect on what has changed because of it. Too often new technologies and their swarm are not critiqued because we believe any techological progress is good, necessary, and inevitable – and adds to our ‘efficiency’. But what do we lose in the process? (Buhler….? Buhler….?….)

    Information overload is such that unless one is an expert, there can hardly be a proper critique of ideas – and there are fewer experts in the din. With the information overload then comes a need for more control of information which leads to more and more bureaucracy. Google’s growth has been so rapid and evangelized that no one imagines it now to be one of the world’s largest bureaucracies. Good?

    Medical diagnosis has now become trusting machines over observation and doctors routinely disregard mental or emotional states as factors in health. Surely computers are furthering the reduction of humans to machines with yes or no responses. Even education allows irrelevant technologies to change learning, such as IQ tests which do little to grade real intelligence but rather pick out those whose thought patterns follow a technological line of reasoning. And who doesn’t now rely on polls and statistics for displacing the real issues or answers to real questions, especially in politics.

    I’m not convinced the “ascent of individual humanity” can bring about the cohesion and quality that has been lost. Efficiency, while a value to some, is in some ways ruining much of what it means to be human – and spontaneous.

  • http://www.whiteg.com Eben Carlson

    Keen’s a tool. I don’t need to read his book.

    What have institutions added to our culture in the last hundred and fifty years?

    Nothing.

    If they had been running Rodin’s shop they would have thrown out the “mistake” that revolutionized his work. When a plaster model fell over, breaking the arm off, Rodin liked it. And changed art forever.

    What has Keen done?

    Besides edit and criticize?

    Amateurs create signal, institutions mediate it—but can never improve it, only standardize it.

    Every time an artist steps into new territory, he or she is, by definition, an amateur. We could quadruple the number of institutions and credentialed practitioners and never gain a single thing culturally, economically, educationally or personally.

    This is nothing more than some weird kind of complete self-hatred.

    No Sun Ra, no Sex Pistols, No Rolling Stones, no Knut Hamsum, no Pushkin, no Ginsberg—no nobody.

    The answer is to stop fixing content prices and allow the market to differentiate itself just like every other market does. We have all the jeans we could ever hope to care about. Why not allow premium content to do the same with movies, books, magazines, music and TV?

    It will eventually happen once digital distribution finishes destroying the very institutions Keen is trying to impress.

    It’s not a moral question but a economic one.

    http://www.whiteg.com

  • http://freerangelibrarian.com K.G. Schneider

    The weirdest part about “Google is a parasite” (which Keen repeats on his Britannica blog entry) is that by this definition, *libraries* are parasites. We don’t create, we organize and facilitate access. Talk about perniciously faulty logic.

    In a circular, everything-is-linkalicious way, I see Keen’s argument hearkening to Sheila Kohler’s anxiety (shared a few weeks back on the NBCC blog–what is it with these Luddites and their blog posts?) that *rank amateurs* might read her book and comment on it. She later recanted, sort of, but it does make you wonder, who are these writers writing *for*–a small circle of their BFFs?

    N.b. You almost tricked me into deciding to read this book… but I’m into the “sustained reading of complex texts,” to quote Michael Gorman, and that would preclude anything written by Keen.

  • Paul M.

    If Keen’s book inspires more ciritical thinking about the cloud coocoo land of the internet then it has done its job. If Lessig and his followers will strictly examine the true and potential problems of their web-topia then they will have done theirs. But these postings read like a schoolyard fiight. One side chanting “Wisdom of the Crowd!” The other chanting back “Tyranny of the Majority!”. The web is partly “Amateur Uiber Alles and partly “Advertising Uber Alles”. Both feeding off of each other at the expense of the future.
    While Keens book isn’t as well written as it could be I hope it brings to press others on the same subject that are. But why would the Lessig Lemmings read anything they disagree with ?
    Go past Keens unfortunate emphasis on the amateur and see the “army” they represent.
    It is the crowd that should be looked at, the millions who gather and the millions who wait for them.
    The web is as much about the group as it is the individual. Certainly Jesus, Buddah, The Beatles, etc all loved the crowd as did Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, etc.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    The NY Times published a book review on June 29, which is also online at:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/books/29book.html?ex=1184126400&en=f1d3bf82a60ac4a5&ei=5070

    I obviously can’t have seen all online, Web 2.0, reviews, but I have not seen one even close to the Time’s review.

    Not that one can’t harvest bits of information from the comments, among the waste of most websites.

    I would have thought that the Web 2.0, when called inferior, would have made an extra effort to write a great book review instead of resorting to the usual name calling. That other popular media blog by a professor even compared Keen to a prostitute (writing book for money) and Stalinist (for arguing for hierarchical control).

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    I would speculate that Lessig’s wiki on Keen has failed to take off for the following reasons:

    1. Keen covered many established topic, such as Criticism of Wikipedia, which already has it’s own section on Wikipedia. Wikis usually have economics of scale and require critical mass. Just as no one wants to use a second-best search engine when there is Google, people will use Wikipedia.

    2. There was little, I hate to use the Wikipedia term, neutral point of view in Lessig’s initial wiki.

    3. It was difficult to find the wiki even in the original post.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    Usability expert Jaob Nielson yesterday had an article similar to this book’s thesis, except it was written from the writer’s angle – don’t write junk as opposed to this book’s more don’t read junk:

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/articles-not-blogs.html

    Write Articles, Not Blog Postings
    Summary:
    To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.

    Also Nielson appears to have called Google a “leech,” for using the content of others, before Keen called Google a “parasite.”

  • http://www/gutenberg.org Michael S. Hart

    About All Those Comments On “The Cult Of The Amateur”

    by Michael S. Hart
    Internet User ~100
    Definitely Amateur
    Inventor of eBooks
    Project Gutenberg,
    & World eBook Fair

    Only Professionals Should Be Trusted

    That’s the main message of “The Cult Of The Amateur.”

    Of course, as soon as one even looks at the structure
    of this thought it becomes obviously a circular point
    in an argument whose logic is from the circular file.

    The author wants us only to pay attention only to him
    and his cohorts. . .if he were in a different field a
    similar argument would be coming from him concerning,
    and recommending trusting, only members of that field
    to which his success belongs.

    Since he is a failed Internet entrepreneur he has the
    emotionally childish obligation to denigrate Internet
    activities at large, and those that compete with this

    new and more successful field of his in particular.

    While he discounts everything not written via certain
    professional standards of publishing, a fact checking
    department, a professional editing staff, etc., words
    appear in this book that obviously should have been a
    casualty to such professionalism. You can look for a
    few minutes yourself, or you can take the word of the
    pre-eminent Harvard, Stanford, and Supreme Court face
    of Larry Lessig, at

    http://www.lessig.org/blog/2007/05/keens_the_cult_of_
    the_amateur.html

    Of course, if you have read my previous comments that
    have appeared concerning Mr. Lessig, Esq., you may be
    able to understand just how well Lessig’s comments do
    as a perfect fit in this case.

    However, Lessig does a great job of parodying this to
    the point of showing how The Cult of the Amateur is a
    great parody of itself, poking holes in both the fact
    and process errors that could have been spotted to be
    corrected by the professionals at Doubleday.

    If this were a blackjack game, Lessig doubles down at
    this point increase his winnings.

    I won’t even begin to go into the list of corrections
    Lessig suggests, other than to point out it is a long
    list, complete with page references, pointing out the
    errors from an astoundingly simple difference between
    “appropriation” and “misappropriation” along with the
    expected mistakes in misquoting or misparaphrasing an
    assortment of Lessig’s legalism that obviously should
    been run by someone who actually understands terms of
    Lessig’s profession.

    In addition Lessig takes their mathematics to task on
    multiple occasions concerning some 20 billion dollars
    in piracy claims for an industry total of [you got it
    right] less than $20 billion, not to mention percents
    misused and unlabeled as to how big a percentage will
    fall into which category.

    Lessig winds up this section, and we are only a third
    of the way through by now, with a correction of those
    differences between denotative and connotative words,
    and quotes The Oxford English Dictionary, amateurs in
    all respects, yet professionals in all respects, when
    using the proper denotative context, and we are left,
    as it were, with a realization that “amateur” in this
    context is simple schoolyard name calling.

    By the way, the remaining two thirds are already some
    comments by Lessig’s readers, perhaps he will add the
    comments I have made here.

    It will be interested to see how Lessig’s invitations
    to others to help create a wiki listing of the errors
    comes out, but it’s really not needed as Lessig’s bat
    has already taken “Cult of the Amateur,” out of range
    of even the best fielders Doubleday can provide after
    the barn door has finally been closed, but the horses
    have already escaped.

    What’s the famous quote about not even fastest of all
    horses can bring back words once spoken?

    Of course, Doubleday, with the wisdom of publishing’s
    finest traditions, will decide that the profitability
    of creating a new buzz phrase and a potential of this
    becoming a million seller was well worth the dents in
    their professional reputation, and will say it was an
    entirely conscious decision to leave unedited comment
    after comment that should have been excised if not an
    editor’s nightmare of how to straighted in out.

    What this is, in reality, is the start of a gang war,
    but started by those who are supposed to decry such a
    gang war mentality, and Doubleday is showing attitude
    in a gang war sense here, and it makes you wonder for
    a while whether the outcome of this gang war, should,
    somehow, this should actually become a big enough war
    to engage the population, will be as they expected.

    The results, Doubleday and the publishing industry at
    large are hoping, will be that people stop reading on
    the Internet and go back to reading publisher’s rants
    and raves, without question, simply because publisher
    public relations people SAY to trust publishers.

    Conclusion

    So, we are now back to the same circular arguments as
    we saw at the start of this conversation. . . .

    You should trust the publishers because they are just
    that. . .the publishers.

    You should not trust anyone else.

    No one should trust anyone who is not a publisher.

    No one should be trusted by you.

    You should be trusted by no one.

    This is the same argument as is made by noise machine
    proponents the world round for all history.

    If. . .we muddy the waters enough. . .no one will see
    the truth. . .no matter how many people point out the
    emperor has no clothes.

    PS. I wrote all this originally in LYNX, which cannot
    do the recaptcha, I resent being forced to GUI-Land.
    I also resent that after “preview” is used recapcha,
    in all its spendor and glory, is reused. While I do as
    much, or more, for eBooks as the average person,
    I resent being FORCED to. . .not to mention that if an
    ENTER key is hit after the recaptcah, another one is
    forced upon me, each and every time. . .it never has
    simply said, “Thank you, please proceed.”

  • http://www.tmdenton.com Timothy Denton

    I wrote this on the subject of Andrew Keen.
    http://tim.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/7/17/3099623.html

    Andrew Keen: High Tory Mugwump

    Greetings Mr Keen:

    Clearly, you are highly intelligent. Consequently I am unable to believe that you believe everything you are saying. This is not, in my opinion, intended to impugn your integrity. It is merely to confirm what you said earlier in your speech that you might not take your arguments as seriously as some of your opponents have done.

    The idea of a medium without gatekeepers, of which you so disapprove, is not a question of choice but a matter of costs of production. That is to say, you may lament the passing of a certain technology, but you cannot change the technological-economic facts which have changed the relative costs of gated media, and ungated media.

    It is like lamenting the pasage of mounted cavalry, or the value of a knighthood in a former age. It is as if you could maintain the chivalric virtues by outlawing the use of gunpowder weapons. I believe this experiment has been run: viz. Japan from about 1600 to the time of the Meiji revolution.

    Your call for greater media literacy is always timely and relevant. I am reminded of the expression that in the 18th century, 20% of the population was literate. Today 98% of the population can read and write, but the same 20% is literate.

    The issue is education. It is always edcation. But recall the Bell Curve. As a friend said to me, “Tim, 100 [IQ score] is the average, not the bottom.”

    Fragmentation of taste? Using the Internet to confirm our views? Watching pornography? Digital narcissism? learning to be silent? the value of listening?[to our betters]. The need for trained professionals to educate us? The evils of using the Internet to express ourselves?

    My, my, such High Tory views. So frankly elitist. But as I am one myself [elitist, not high tory] we are merely debating how the elite can best make its views known. In your case, the issue is how the elite can speak to the masses. In my view the issue is how the elite can reel in the journalists and the organs of opinion that wer predicated in limited spectrum and high capital costs.

    Back to the question of traditional paid media versus the amateurs. It seems that the open competition for attention is now being conducted by larger numbers of people. My interpretation of your views is that the new media distract attention from our social and intellectual betters.

    For my part, I have frequently been persuaded that, in Canada and the United States, that the people whom I read in the op-ed pages do not have superior wisdom, insight, or experience. I am simply saying that, apart from all the wonders of the Internet that allow me to write my thesis from a rural cabin, your argument for a gate-kept media is now in full competition with another model, and both shall prosper.

    “Truth is just as hard to find on this democratized platform” …as in the mainstream media?

    Not bad for something without gatekeepers. Eh?

    Anyway, I am not a Tory, and your argument is the best recent expression of the Tory view of man and his possibilities. I predict that America will reject your views because they have no receptors for this form of argument. They fought a revolution to get rid of it and they are not bringing it back.

    It’s an interesting point of view. I think it is predicated on a view of technology that ignores the costs of production, and the nature of technological change. But if it keeps you on the lecture circuit, good on you, mate.

    Sincerely.

    Timothy Denton

  • Maik Schmidt

    Found the following article on /. two minutes ago:

    http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/136738242/article.pl

    Cheers,

    Maik

  • http://www.collaborativeye.com Dave Kresta

    I like Lessig’s analysis. There is room for amateurs, and “experts”, and everything in between. What is needed is a way to make transparent who is producing the content, and some standard way to determine credentials. From this, content consumers can determine credibility. I don’t believe it is the role of publishers and other intermediaries to determine what is true and credible for us. See http://www.collaborativeye.com/collaboration_journal/slouching-towards-mediocrity.html for more of my analysis.

  • http://no cribb

    I am 100% with Andrew Keen on this issue. Ever since people began watching reality TV and believed they too could be the star. Ever since we started dropping ecstasy tablets and getting off on ourselves on the dance floor as opposed to a band on a stage with quality musicians. Ever since we started believing that Jackass 2 was worthy of belonging in the canon of great cinema as opposed to Godard, Bergman and Scorsese.
    society has forgotten how to defer to real talent, learned talent, sweated over professional talent.
    I know this because the kids that I teach do not actually understand anymore what actually requires talent. They think in this post modern guff of a world that a text message is as worthy of analysis as Shakespeare. Spare me! Bring on elitism I say. Bring it on because the world is so full of bland garbage and there is no awe in the presence of greatness anymore. And blog sites….well just lots of people talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin’. In love with the banality of their own opinion. I generalize of course but Andrew Keen has struck a chord with this little black duck. Elitist? Moir? Absolutely!

  • advertising killed the radio star

    A few mildly unrelated observations:

    People who take their own opinions more seriously than anybody else’s were always around, they just seem louder now because words are so cheap on the web (and trust me, this pisses me off, too). A hundred years ago those people just didn’t read anything, much less sit down to write. The rest of us who were getting two editions of the news per day and waiting for the new Stravinsky ballet in this century stay away from the Surreal Life and read both the New York Times and DailyKos. Those of us who have had the benefit of quality education can separate the wheat from the chaff even in blog posts (imagine a tangential rant about the state of public education here). Which brings me to my next (somewhat unrelated) point:

    Speaking of wheat and chaff, we all get the difference between posts and comments in blogs, right? Even as I post this, I generally never read comments. I read blog posts from interesting people who make me think. People leaving comments almost never fall into that category. It seems that nobody in the mainstream media thinks it’s convenient to delineate between them, even though we have a ready analogy in the form of Letters to the Editor, which nobody would treat as the product or opinion of the newspaper printing them. And many blog sites flag certain letters as editor’s choice, the same way newspapers choose to print (I would hope) the most thoughtful reactions to their pieces.

    Third and final point: How the hell does television make it out of this debate unscathed? If anything is killing our culture, TV has been doing it for decades. The ratio of substance to trash has a much worse track record there than all of the internet. The only thing saving fictional TV is DVD, which puts directed viewing back in our lives. And nothing is saving non-fictional TV. The news is a bunch of speculation by people who are prettier than they are smart, and that’s when it’s at its least dangerous. At its most dangerous, it’s using sound-bite editing techniques to distort the truth and manipulate opinion in a way to benefit consumerism. We get a lot of exploitation and almost no information. At least on the internet it’s possible to get actual news anytime you want without any “continuing coverage” of Anna Nicole’s baby-daddy. But apparently this is all okay because people on TV get paid for what they do by advertisers (see Keen’s interview on The Colbert Report; for extra fun, also see a discussion by Al Gore [who began his career as a journalist] of the detrimental affect of advertising on public discourse in The Assault on Reason).

    Ok, that wasn’t so final. One last thing. Does Keen not know about newspapers on the internet? How long has NYTimes.com existed? Like…10 years at least? Probably more? I’m no expert on how the internet has detrimentally affected newpaper sales (Keen would probably tell me to shut-up right now) but I’d be willing to bet TV started the decline a long time ago. And most newspapers have seen the internet as an opportunity to get back into the news game. Unlike the record industry, they’ve adapted, offering traditional content for free and special content for what could still be called subscription fee. And now we have the opportunity to compare coverage, since we have access to newspapers from thousands of nations in hundreds of languages. (This also brings us back to directed viewing fictional television, since the major networks have begun making their new shows available online for free with advertising sponsorship. Voila! Adaptation to a new media.)

    One last amateur note on music piracy…ahh, screw it. It’s been done to death. Nobody but Keen can possibly feel sorry for the recording industry when they have absolutely refused to use the internet to their advantage (widely available digital release, anybody?). They haven’t even adjusted their prices to attract new customers, all they do is engage in lawsuits. This also ignores the problem that record labels are the ones that killed music culture in the last 30 years by turning the mainstream sound into one continuous, uninspiring bass track with some robotic pin-up blathering cliched phrases tunelessly over top of it. They’ve also made live music inaccessible by giving Clear Channel a monopoly over artists and venues.

    In conclusion, I’m tired after all that.

  • http://www.seemly.com Steve Baba

    Everyone who as googled The Cult of the Amateur has been given:

    Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur”: BRILLIANT! (Lessig Blog) in position 2.

    which looks like an endorsement, but is actually Lessig being a bit too clever for his own good.

    I did not publiclly call him on it earlier, since I thought he might have corrected it, by adding NOT or something after BRILLIANT, after I or others pointed it out to him.

    But now it’s just another of Lessig’s unintentional example of the poor, quick and dirty, quality of most Web 2.0. content.

    Most people read newspaper articles in a pyramid style and only skim headlines, some read the first paragraph, and few people read the entire article. Of course an amateur might not know this.

  • Vanna

    Is this book a corollary to Leonard Shlain’s peculiar tome, The Alphabet and The Goddess?

    Shlain asserts that the printed word causes war, and watching television will make us more peaceful.

  • Jess

    I would like to address the idea that Google is a parasite because it does not generate content. I believe this in patently untrue. I work for a small website that has been struggling to survive for the past 10 years. Without our Google advertising revenue, we could not hire freelance authors to write articles about specific subjects, we could not afford an editor for our reader submissions and we probably couldn’t afford the servers to keep it all running.

    I believe that Google is one of the main reasons that there is so much diverse content online. While I see why this would be frightening to those in the traditional publishing world, I am glad that I can type virtually any question into my handy browser and get back a handful of responses. While they might not all be right, that is true from any media source (look at all the retractions and corrections you see in a traditional newspaper)

    Jess

  • Frank Szendzielarz

    Keen encourages us to commit our real identities to the web so that we might be more responsible in our choices of what information we distribute. He believes that by giving up web anonymity we would be more civil and cautious and that ultimately there would be more signal and less noise. I think this cannot ever happen; it is an ideal. On the other hand the opposite extreme, what Keen rails against now is a state of anarchic information flow. What should really happen, and will happen, and has happened outside of the web, is a compromise where value is added to content by branding it. The company identity, the brand will be enough I believe. The fact that Keen is selling his book in significant numbers is testimony to this. There is demand for trusted content. Ultimately there isn’t a difference between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. They are both brands to which we ascribe certain values of trust. One uses one method of filtering content, the other another.

  • http://bertola.eu/ vb

    Thank you for this invaluable work of fact (well, falsity) finding. I’ll be sitting on a panel with Mr. Keen on Thursday, at the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum, and if I get a chance I might use part of your fact-finding on him :)

  • http://stereo-vinyl.com/ Cadenza

    I did not publiclly call him on it earlier, since I thought he might have corrected it, by adding NOT or something after BRILLIANT, after I or others pointed it out to him.

  • http://www.digitalrev.com/en/product_details.php?item_id=2146 D300

    I really like what you’re doing! Clearly, YouTube is revolutionizing the way we interact with candidates, formulate opinions and spread information. All in front of a shockingly large and interested constituency. Your work is vastly important. Thanks!

  • Brad

    I happened to hear this man on Coast to Coast AM and found him to be insufferably dumb. He fears the internet because his old withered brain cannot cope and handle the content found therein. He seems to think that we are all ignorant ugly goblins who can’t think for ourselves and need corporations and mass media to spoon feed us information and tell us what to buy, who to listen to, how to think, and how to exist. We want to think for ourselves, so we have embraced the Cult of Amateurs! This cult of amateurs will be the downfall of mass media! The problem is that he sees this as a bad thing. The downfall of record companies and corrupt journalism! Good. He keeps mentioning that the internet will eliminate newspapers, so be it. They’re obsolete and so is he. We’ve moved on to faster and larger sources of information. If he had lived ten thousand years ago, he would have fought against papyrus scrolls in favor of carving on stone tablets. This guy is a relic.

    We can, contrary to popular belief, think for ourselves, filter through the garbage and get to the truth on the internet. We can, contrary to popular belief, choose how best to live our own lives. We can, contrary to popular belief, handle freedom and handle free speech. There is a revolution in progress and you can do nought to stop it. The disgruntled proletariot is marching toward the battlements of their corporate overlords wielding not the pitchforks and torches of the past, but instead we wield mp3s mpegs and freely spoken blogs. We will have our freedom at any cost.

  • Badger

    Clearly, Mr. Keen is not one to be complaining about ignorance. If you can believe it, in a public radio interview just today, he gave voice to his fear of “the crowd ” by pointing out that “the crowd” gave us George W. Bush. But there is no question that Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 election. This is common knowledge. (Less common knowledge is that Al Gore really won the popular vote in Florida, too.) Of course, Mr. Keen then promptly undercut his argument about the need to fear “the crowd” with his claim, which is arguable, that the Internet has had very little effect on our politics!

    I enjoyed reading this critique (I have only read the early part): funny, devastating, and very revealing.

  • http://www.factoryfast.com.au/Home-&-Lifestyle-Vacuum-Cleaner/c45_82/index.html vacuum cleaners

    If Keen has deliberately done this with his book (which is incredibly Ironic, if he hasn’t) – but if he HAS then I have to agree with you that “Keen is our generation’s greatest self-parodist.” However, the truth of the matter is that the Internet actually opens up opportunities for more of truth and more of real information to get out there. People will now be held accountable for the information they produce – in other words, if the information you produce turns out to be false, people will stop visiting your blog. You simply can’t brainwash with the internet – whereas, with traditional media, you could.
    It’s a simple thing – people and organisations will have to EARN respect rather than just get it simply because they’re a publishing house.

  • http://www.names-n-brands.com Andrew

    I agree that the book is full of errors a good fact-checker (or just an informed reader with a lot of time) might have caught. I myself prevailed upon Keen to correct some errors he had written about Wikipedia and Citizendium.

    This is an obvious flaw, but he also advances a lot of arguments the substance of which cannot easily be dismissed. I’ll be interested to see whether what Seth calls “Net evangelists” actually respond to the substance of those arguments. Clay Shirky did, for one.

  • http://www.lawyertime.com jessicachristina

    There’s much in the book that even we amateur-o-philes should think about. How can we build trust into the structures of knowledge the Internet is enabling (Wikipedia, blogs, etc.)? How can make sure the contribution adds to understanding rather than confuses it? These are hard questions. And as is true of Wikipedia at each moment of every day — there is more work to be done.But what is puzzling about this book is that it purports to be a book attacking the sloppiness, error and ignorance of the Internet, yet it itself is shot through with sloppiness, error and ignorance. It tells us that without institutions, and standards, to signal what we can trust (like the institution (Doubleday) that decided to print his book), we won’t know what’s true and what’s false. But the book itself is riddled with falsity — from simple errors of fact, to gross misreadings of arguments, to the most basic errors of economics.

  • http://www.therainmakerinstitute.com catherine

    The real argument of Keen’s book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here’s a book — Keen’s — that has passed through all the rigor of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: No doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top — but also riddled with errors. Keen’s obvious point is to show those with a blind faith in the traditional system that it can be just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Indeed, one might say even worse, since the Internet doesn’t primp itself with the pretense that its words are promised to be true.

  • http://www.greathistory.ru Mark

    I did not publiclly call him on it earlier, since I thought he might have corrected it, by adding NOT or something after BRILLIANT, after I or others pointed it out to him.

  • http://www.leonardi.adv.br/blog Marcel Leonardi

    Regarding the Habermas quote, I don’t know if Andrew Keen did this on purpose or just failed to check the actual source; in any case, this is what Keen quoted:

    “The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralized access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus.” (p55)

    This is what Habermas actually said (full text here: http://www.renner-institut.at/download/texte/habermas2006-03-09.pdf)

    “Der begrüßenswerte Zuwachs an Egalitarismus, den uns das Internet beschert, wird mit der Dezentrierung der Zugänge zu unredigierten Beiträgen bezahlt. In diesem Medium verlieren die Beiträge von Intellektuellen die Kraft, einen Fokus zu bilden.”

    Properly translated, it goes “The welcome growth of egalitarianism that the Internet gives us is paid for with the decentralised access to unedited contributions. In this medium the contributions from intellectuals lose their power to build a focus.”

    Andrew Keen’s quote implies an ambivalence about egalitarianism that the original clearly views as a positive, even if it has certain negative consequences. The word begrüßenswerte was omitted.

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