I'm Your Fa-a-a-a-ther, Luke...
No, I didn't get to enjoy any of those offerings because I got distracted by a headline for a book review (its headline is different online, mind you...isn't that interesting???):
The Roar of the Herd is Deafening on the WebNow discussing books that one hasn't read is like discussing exhibitions one hasn't seen, but from what I can tell from Michiko Kakutani's review of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture it's apparently OK to pontificate about things one clearly approached with a bias firmly in place, so....
OK, so that was perhaps a bit harsh...let me back up. Here's what's got me so distracted:
Digital utopians have heralded the dawn of an era in which Web 2.0 — distinguished by a new generation of participatory sites like MySpace.com and YouTube.com, which emphasize user-generated content, social networking and interactive sharing — ushers in the democratization of the world: more information, more perspectives, more opinions, more everything, and most of it without filters or fees. Yet as the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen points out in his provocative new book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” Web 2.0 has a dark side as well.Lu-u-u-u-u-ke....
Now you know I'm a bit protective when it comes to the blogging community, so you'll want to read the following with that bias clear in your mind, but Mr. Keen's analysis, from what is quoted in the review, is anything but.
Mr. Keen argues that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”This is what happens, I'd argue, when someone attempts to scapegoat a pastime for the downfall of those segments of an aging media that are resisting change, when arrogance meets solipsism meets piss-poor observation meets hyperventilated hyperbole.
After a wholly undemocratic rant against what he calls the "crowd" (yes, it is easier to lump folks together than to consider them as individuals, this efficiency has served bigots and false prophets well for centuries)---blaming crowd mentality for everything from slavery to the war in Iraq (height of all ironies for anyone advocating the mainstream media, IMO)---he then proceeds to overstate the importance and/or credibility of a host of online offerings. Anyone who spends anytime online at all knows full well you take the information on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, but that doesn't stop Mr. Keen from noting:
[T]he online encyclopedia Wikipedia (which relies upon volunteer editors and contributors) gets way more traffic than the Web site run by Encyclopedia Britannica (which relies upon experts and scholars), even though the interactive format employed by Wikipedia opens it to postings that are inaccurate, unverified, even downright fraudulent.Well, duh...the difference, and what Mr. Keen fails to mention (or so the review would lead me to believe...[again, reason one shouldn't review reviews, darn it]), is that Encyclopedia Britannica charges you for its best information (offering only teaser info until you pay and plastering its site with ads), whereas Wikipedia gives you all its info for free and doesn't bombard you with offers like (yes, this is really on the Britannica site, that paragon of integrity) a book on fashion and the Oscars. But that's besides the point. Wikipedia is only one source for info (kind of like your online Uncle Rex...most of what he knows is accurate, but he's wrong sometimes, so you take that into account when you ask him a question), but it's fast, free and ad-less.
But it's when Mr. Keen disses the blogs that I wanna, well...let me try a different approach. Here's what he reportedly thinks:
[A]s Mr. Keen points out, the idea of objectivity is becoming increasingly passé in the relativistic realm of the Web, where bloggers cherry-pick information and promote speculation and spin as fact. Whereas historians and journalists traditionally strived to deliver the best available truth possible, many bloggers revel in their own subjectivity, and many Web 2.0 users simply use the Net, in Mr. Keen’s words, to confirm their “own partisan views and link to others with the same ideologies.”Let's take Mr. Keen's own example to test this theory, shall we? Let's take the war in Iraq. Who among the traditional historians and journalists were delivering the mobs he blames for that debacle the best available truth possible in the lead-up to the invasion? Judith Miller? The Editorial Board at The Washington Post? No?
Who, on the other hand, was highlighting the articles The New York Times was burying on page 19 about experts at the CIA who were questioning the validity of the Administration's claims about Hussein's alleged WMD? Who was screaming "People...pay attention to this...we're not having the full and open debate about this invasion we owe our troops!" Was it the traditional journalists???
No, goddammit! It was the blogs! And virtually the blogs alone. Traditional media had either been bought off or were too chicken-shit to call the Administration on its overstated case for war. In fact, with Judith Miller at the head of the pack, it was the traditional media that cherry-picked information and promoted speculation and spin as fact, if they did even that, and didn't merely print the White House's talking points.
What Mr. Keen seems to have forgotten in his research is to remember that old adage: "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." Web 2.0 has sprung up because the traditional media were not meeting the public's needs.
Besides, despite his accusations that bloggers are undermining the media, very few bloggers I know consider their site anything more than what a blog is, by definition: a personal web log...an online discussions of their personal opinions about things, not a replacement for the news. In a nutshell, it's entertainment.
Mr. Keen reveals his true objections via a thinly disguised warning of doom:
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.Its a perceived loss of authority and profit that motivates screeds like Mr. Keen's...read on:
“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Mr. Keen writes. “The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave.”OK, so stay with me. Here I am, reading this review in the print version of The New York Times, which I pay full price for every day (because, as I've noted, I want to support the frail little man who sells them on my corner) and yet somehow, because I also have a blog, I'm partially responsible for undermining the print industry? I have directed more people to a wide range of articles in the very paper Mr. Keen's books is being discussed in than he ever has, I'll guarantee it. I've directed them to pages where The Times has ads and tons of links to its other offerings, unlike Mr. Keen's book.
This whole stance, this anti-Web 2.0, under the guise of fretting for our offline culture, is so transparent and idiotic. As I noted in a comment the other day, a good number of folks in the art world (you know that industry with the blistering hot market and record prices) figured out recently something the traditional media might want to pay attention to. You stand more to gain by collaborating with others to increase the size of the pie than you do by wasting your resources desperately trying to protect your little slice of it. Web 2.0 can be good for the traditional media who spend more time learning how to harness its power and less trying to fight its tide. Seeing a YouTube excerpt from a TV show has led me to rent the entire series on CD or watch it during prime time, for example. Finding a link to an article in a blog post has led me to eventually subscribe to a magazine I didn't know about before then.
I'm not saying traditional media aren't facing challenges. The world is changing. Technology is making old methods obsolete. So, you evolve or perish. That's nothing new. But finger pointing and mocking new media isn't going to change anything. It's not like Google or YouTube are going to read Keen's book and say, "You know...I think he's right...I think what we're doing is undermining main stream media (and Lord knows that's synonymous with important culture). I think we should close up this business and open a traditional newsstand instead."
As I noted above, even if Web 2.0 does eventually destroy the very sources of the content we crave, our need for that content will lead to new inventions for its delivery. Protecting our fathers' media (how? through legislation? guilt? what?), when it's unable to evolve on its own, is a ludicrous solution to this. Not all fathers (like not all their media) represent the path that will steer us clear of the dark side. Sometimes you have to trust that the new generation, when it finally figures out how to wield its light saber, will do the right thing.