20 June 2007

Who the hell is Andrew Keen?

VS messaged me about 14 separate times this morning about this guy, wanting to know more about him. I am now proudly standing up and saying, "fuck you diarrhea! I'm seizing the day!"

VS first saw mention of this Andrew Keen on Digg. He would be like any other "OHNOES! NETS ARE IN MY BASE KILLING MY DOODS!" variety of breathless, anti-web commentators, but he cites the fact that he was a dot-com exec to earn him some credibility.

His main arguments against the web are:
  1. Supporting mass-collaboration makes you a communist. (OH NOES!)
  2. Experts in proprietary fields (holders of intellectual property and copyrights) yield no benefits. (OMG!)
  3. It is too good to be true. (WTF?!)
I got those three things, ironically, from Wikipedia. Even though I over simplified his arguments against the Web, we can see why he is kicking up such a stink about the web. I saw this gem in Wikipedia as well:
He started audiocafe.com in 1997 with funding from Intel and SAP, but it closed in 18 months, earning him a place in the Fucked Company Hall of Fame.[3][4]
That's right, he was a failed dot-com exec. He worked on some other projects later, but AudioCafe stands out in my mind from a few years back. However, contrary to the thesis of his book, it was not mass-collaboration but an even bigger corporation that probably destroyed AudioCafe; Amazon.com. AudioCafe sold high-end audio equipment which is usually firmly in the court of Amazon and a few other tight-fisted retail sites. It was pure rat-race capitalism that destroyed his business, not the Digg mafia.

His other argument about the poor, starving experts is that the web is damaging their credibility. Taken from his blog (how twisted and ironic is that?!) I have a more substantial portion of his take on people using the Internet to supplement:
The crazy utopian of the World is Flat, has finally sniffed reality. Tom Friedman, praise the lord, has finally become a skeptic of all this web democracy.

We've all acquired dog's hearing, he told us. Which means that we've become acutely sensitive to information about ourselves. Everything is personal is the global information age. It's democratic narcissism, Google style. Friedman borrowed Linda Stone's notion of "continuous partial attention" to explain our descent into this canine inaninity. The only thing we can concentrate on is what other people are saying about us. What Friedman once saw as a flat world has acquired a billion inaccessible peaks.

The climax of Friedman's talk focused on the flattening of truth and fiction on the Internet. He told the story of Muslim woman in the Middle East who was against Al Gore because he was Jewish. When he tried to correct her, she refused to believe him:

"But I read it on the Internet," she insisted.

Friedman has got the species right, but the body part wrong. It's not dog's hearing that we've acquired -- but a canine soul. I read it on the Internet has become the equivalent of a dog's faith in their master's voice.

Wow. I do see a couple of problems here. The first assumption that Andrew makes is that the internet takes over people's minds and makes them into agenda-gobbling zombies. The second assumption that he makes is that the internet turns people's minds off. I know for a fact that there is an overabundance of people on the Internet who do not fact-check information, do not understand what they are reading or simply don't care. For these folks, I want to say the Internet is not at fault. A tool cannot be blamed for the way it was used, the NRA has overemphasized that point for us on many occasions. In the case for the woman cited above, arguing that Gore was Jewish, Keen makes the false assumption that there was no other cause for her ignorance than the Internet. Could it have been her culture that emphasized distrust of Western media? Could it be that she didn't like Gore anyway and it was easy for her to identify with the one guy that said "lol gores a jew"? Keen cannot be certain.

Also, the integrity of mass-collaboration comes to play. The oft-cited Wikipedia-Britannica study sheds the most light when it comes to mass-collaboration versus peer-reviewed and strictly-edited content. Mass-collaboration works great, is quicker, stays current longer and is much more efficient than peer-reviewed content. The only difference is that nobody (except the telcos) walk away with a big, fat check. So I don't think it's necessary to argue against it. We have a self-sustaining method of disseminating information that only empowers the uneducated instead of punishing them.

Web 2.0 is that good and it is true. The Internet is here. I'm using it, you're using it, and Andrew Keen is using it. (How's that, VS?)


BoingBoing has a follow up about Clay Shirky fighting off the anti-web losers:


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