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[iDC] THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO (Andrew Keen)

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CULT OF THE AMATEUR: How the Internet is killing our culture

Hi everyone — My name is Andrew Keen and I’m the author of the forthcoming (June 5) CULT OF THE AMATEUR: How the Internet is killing our culture. For more about my ideas, see my Internet writing at: CultOfTheAmateur, ZDNet, and Britannica. A blogging critique of blogging, eh. What is the world coming to? Anyway, I’ve been invited by kind Trebor to join your newsgroup and discuss / defend / critique my ideas. Trebor will post my anti Web 2.0 manifesto (aka: Adorno-for-idiots). So that should provide some lite afternoon reading for y’all. All the very best from sunny south-central Berkeley, Andrew.
Trebor wrote:

Welcome to Andrew Keen. His “deliciously subversive new book,” “The Cult of the Amateur” “exposes the grave consequences of todayÂ’s new participatory Web 2.0 and reveals how it threatens our values…” There is a parallel to Jaron Lanier’s “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism.” (Thanks to Bernardo Parrella for the link.)

THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO (Adorno-for-idiots) by Andrew Keen

1. The cult of the amateur is digital utopianismÂ’s most seductive delusion. This cult promises that the latest media technology — in the form of blogs, wikis and podcasts — will enable everyone to become widely read writers, journalists, movie directors and music artists. It suggests, mistakenly, that everyone has something interesting to say.

2. The digital utopian much heralded “democratization” of media will have a destructive impact upon culture, particularly upon criticism. “Good taste” is, as Adorno never tired of telling us, undemocratic. Taste must reside with an elite (“truth makers”) of historically progressive cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless.

3. To imagine the dystopian future, we need to reread Adorno, as well as Kafka and Borges (the Web 2.0 dystopia can be mapped to that triangular space between Frankfurt, Prague and Buenos Aires). Unchecked technology threatens to undermine reality and turn media into a rival version of life, a 21st century version of “The Castle” or “The Library of Babel”. This might make a fantastic movie or short piece of fiction. But real life, like art, shouldn’t be fantasy; it shouldn’t be fiction.

4. A particularly unfashionable thought: big media is not bad media. The big media engine of the Hollywood studios, the major record labels and publishing houses has discovered and branded great 20th century popular artists of such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bono and W.G. Sebald (the “Vertigo” three). It is most unlikely that citizen media will have the marketing skills to discover and brand creative artists of equivalent prodigy.

5. Let’s think differently about George Orwell. Apple’s iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial is true: 1984 will not be like Nineteen Eighty-Four the message went. Yes, the “truth” about the digital future will be the absence of the Orwellian Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth. Orwell’s dystopia is the dictatorship of the State; the Web 2.0 dystopia is the dictatorship of the author. In the digital future, everyone will think they are Orwell (the movie might be called: Being George Orwell).

6. Digital utopian economists Chris Anderson have invented a theoretically flattened market that they have christened the “Long Tail”. It is a Hayekian cottage market of small media producers industriously trading with one another. But AndersonÂ’s “Long Tail” is really a long tale. The real economic future is something akin to Google — a vertiginous media world in which content and advertising become so indistinguishable that they become one and the same (more grist to that Frankfurt-Prague-BuenosAires triangle).

7. As always, todayÂ’s pornography reveals tomorrowÂ’s media. The future of general media content, the place culture is going, is Voyeurweb.com: the convergence of self-authored shamelessness, narcissism and vulgarity — a self-argument in favor of censorship. As Adorno liked to remind us, we have a responsibility to protect people from their worst impulses. If people arenÂ’t able to censor their worst instincts, then they need to be censored by others wiser and more disciplined than themselves.

8. There is something of the philosophical assumptions of early Marx and Rousseau in the digital utopian movement, particularly in its holy trinity of online community, individual creativity and common intellectual property ownership. Most of all, itÂ’s in the marriage of abstract theory and absolute faith in the virtue of human nature that lends the digital utopians their intellectual debt to intellectual Casanovas like young Marx and Rousseau.

9. How to resist digital utopianism? OrwellÂ’s focus on language is the most effective antidote. The digital utopians needs to be fought word-for-word, phrase-by-phrase, delusion-by-delusion. As an opening gambit, letÂ’s focus on the meaning of four key words in the digital utopian lexicon: a) author b) audience c) community d) elitism.

10. The cultural consequence of uncontrolled digital development will be social vertigo. Culture will be spinning and whirling and in continual flux. Everything will be in motion; everything will be opinion. This social vertigo of ubiquitous opinion was recognized by Plato. ThatÂ’s why he was of the opinion that opinionated artists should be banned from his Republic.

Michel Bauwens wrote:

Here is some of my own commentary:

1. The cult of the amateur is digital utopianism’s most seductive delusion. This cult promises that the latest media technology — in the form of blogs, wikis and podcasts — will enable everyone to become widely read writers, journalists, movie directors and music artists. It suggests, mistakenly, that everyone has something interesting to say.

I would go further than Guido and this, and indeed affirm that and I mean indeed everybody, has something interesting to say, but it depends crucially on what topic, and on the context of exchange.

Peer to peer processes are based on the principle of equipotentiality, see the entry here for a full treatment: http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Equipotentiality

Jorge Ferrer expresses beautifully what it is about:

Everybody can be considered …

“equals in the sense of their being both superior and inferior to themselves in varying skills and areas of endeavor (intellectually, emotionally, artistically, mechanically, interpersonally, and so forth), but with none of those skills being absolutely higher or better than others. It is important to experience human equality from this perspective to avoid trivializing our encounter with others as being merely equal.” (http://www.estel.es/EmbodiedParticipationInTheMystery,%201espace.doc)

Good participatory systems allow this to happen through self-selection first, then through communal validation.

A problem can arise with the second process of distributed quality control. Massification of judgment can lead to a bottoming effect, but not necessarily. It can be configured in such a way that either affinity groups or experts can play a privileged role in the validation process. The only difference is that the control is a posteriori instead of a priori. The advantage of a broader participation is that there is a greater quantity to select quality from. Finally, it is based on the idea that “together we know everything”, and that even experts have limited and biased viewpoints.

The key point is that the “danger” that Keen points to is a matter of good design principles and processes, not of the participatory process itself.

There are many p2p projects where experts, and pro-ams successfully work together.

My comments here also reply to point 2, where Keen simply repeats the arguments that have always been brought against democratization, but each time, democratization has brought more cultural creativity and diversity.

>>3. To imagine the dystopian future, we need to reread Adorno, as well as Kafka and Borges (the Web 2.0 dystopia can be mapped to that triangular space between Frankfurt, Prague and Buenos Aires). Unchecked technology threatens to undermine reality and turn media into a rival version of life, a 21st century version of “The Castle” or “The Library of Babel”. This might make a fantastic movie or short piece of fiction. But real life, like art, shouldn’t be fantasy; it shouldn’t be fiction.

Isn’t this the same old tired argument assuming that the real and the virtual are ‘separate’ realms, where in fact there is just one embodied life, using various tools. This is not to say that there can be various ‘abuses’ and ‘exagerrations’ (people reading all the time, phoning all the time, surfing all the time), but they are not different from physical addictions (gambling, alcohol).

>>4. A particularly unfashionable thought: big media is not bad media. The big media engine of the Hollywood studios, the major record labels and publishing houses has discovered and branded great 20th century popular artists of such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bono and W.G. Sebald (the “Vertigo” three). It is most unlikely that citizen media will have the marketing skills to discover and brand creative artists of equivalent prodigy.

Of course, but lets turn his argument around. Not all small media are bad media. Distributed media can aggregate so to achieve scale, and can produce qualitative works as well. I’m thinking of the music in Bali, where every musician has to follow a collective score, and can only change the score through coordination with all other participants. This is just one polarity, the other being the jazzband model of free individual creativity in communal mode. Different production modalities will produce different types of creative possibilities, which have to be judged on their own merit. Big media has clear dumbing down effects, micro media, through wrong design, can have as well.

>>6. Digital utopian economists Chris Anderson have invented a theoretically flattened market that they have christened the “Long Tail”. It is a Hayekian cottage market of small media producers industriously trading with one another. But Anderson’s “Long Tail” is really a long tale. The real economic future is something akin to Google — a vertiginous media world in which content and advertising become so indistinguishable that they become one and the same (more grist to that Frankfurt-Prague-BuenosAires triangle).

The centralisation of sharing can , and will, have some of such effects, but this is not the only future for micro production. True distribution can avoid some of these centralisation effects. The key is to defend the continued capacity to change hubs, since hubs will always exist through voluntary choices (power law). But it is possible to design for autonomy and diversity, to offset the protocollary power of invisible architectures.

Conclusion: againt Andrew Keen we must insist that participation (the peer to peer process) and elitism (the selection for quality process), can and will inevitable co-exist. The difference is that elites will be more diversified and flexible. The role of the elite is to sustain a more and greater creativity, not to put themselves as gatekeepers.

To quote John Heron, about leadership:

“The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous emergence in the initiation and continuous flowering of autonomy-in-co-operation in all spheres of human endeavor.”

Michel Bauwens

Simon Biggs wrote:

This is part of a bigger question, as Adorno suggests.

Where does good taste reside and how does a particular taste become prevalent?

Fashion might be an interesting example here. To quite an extent it is true that high fashion taste is set by an elite – mainly the fashion houses of Paris, Milan, London, NYC and Tokyo. However, they take their ideas from all over the place. It is accepted as standard practice in the fashion industry, as well as other design professions, to regard other people’s creative work as fair game. Having taught (many years ago) on a reputable UK fashion program I was surprised (at the time) to see lecturers setting students projects where they were told to take the work of an artist (any artist they like, or perhaps a specific artist, or a style) and to use it as the basis for designing a collection.

Coming out of a contemporary arts background I was amazed at this. One would never suggest this to a fine art student as a means to initiate work, as the value of novelty and self expression are the touchstones of both fine art practice and pedagogy. The initiative has to come from the artist (or at least that is the premise).

The point of this story is to suggest that taste can have murky orgins. Those so called “trend setters” or “opinion formers” get their trends and opinions from somewhere…

Taking the example of fashion a little further, whilst it is the case that high fashion is primarily determined by a few fashion houses it is also the case that street fashion is quite different. Having lived in London for some decades I have observed how trends emerge and are picked up. Sometimes they come out of the media (via pop groups, TV, etc) but more often than not they start with small groups of individuals somewhere just trying something out, for the heck of it, finding it cool as a means of badging themselves, and then others joining in.

This would suggest that Adorno didn’t quite get it. He may have been right speaking of Germany in the 1930’s but the London of the late 20th Century, and many other such places, would seem to suggest a different model of how taste is created and picked up.

In this respect there is nothing new in the digitopian calls for a democratic web. Street culture already is like this. Of course you could say that such culture is tasteless…and you could very well be right.

However, it is a matter of taste.

Regards

Simon

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Apr 25, 13:31
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