Monday, June 18, 2007

Revenge of the Amateurs

{tap tap} Is this thing on? {ahem}

Pardon my extended leave of absence; this "amateur" has been far too busy being a professional to keep my online scrapbook current.

Speaking of amateurs, James Marcus (who is anything but) eviscerates Andrew Keen's screed, The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World Is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values. The full review is in the Los Angeles Times; on his blog (House of Mirth) Keen gleefully points out the amateurishness of the book's production:
...for a book trumpeting the reliability of traditional media over the slovenly standards of the Web, The Cult of the Amateur contains an extraordinary number of typos. Proper names seem like a particular challenge for Keen: meet "Nick Hornsby," "Jurgen Haberman," and "Edward Gibbons," plus music journalist "Ann Power" and media critic "Michael Wolf" (whose name Keen spells three different ways over the course of two pages). Even the pikers at Wikipedia could probably beat this guy at a spelling bee.

Now, all of us in publishing have been embarrassed by the mistakes that make it into the final book (and even, I shudder to admit, on the jacket), but apparently Keen and his publisher have redefined Typophilia and made it an art form.

Keen, in spite of his substandard English, his contributions to the money-losing Weekly Standard, and his notable failure at business in Silicon Valley, apparently counts himself among the professionals. I'm not sure why these self-proclaimed Daddies feel threatened by kids posting their scrapbooks and diaries, housewives (and househusbands) sharing recipes, activists strategizing for the next election, and whatever else the amateurs do online these days. How dare people form communities that aren't supervised by "professionals"! How awful that works are distributed without being vetted by "experts" hired by Bertelsmann (the German company that owns Doubleday, the exclusive publisher of Keen's typos).

To get a taste of Keen's thesis, you can read the anti-strawman tirade that preceded his book. His article relies on quotes from an unnamed friend, "a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur." Keen looks enviously at the guy's $4 million home (and, presumably, the success that evaded Keen)--and sees a Marxist in disguise. (I'm not kidding.) The rot is everywhere:

Blogs personalize media content so that all we read are our own thoughts.

(Is it churlish to interrupt here and point out that if it weren't for these self-affirming blogs, I would never have encountered Keen's article in the first place? And does Keen really believe that people who disagree with the "thoughts" of neoconservatives like himself subscribe to The Weekly Standard?)

Online stores personalize our preferences, thus feeding back to us our own taste. Google personalizes searches so that all we see are advertisements for products and services we already use.

Instead of Mozart, Van Gogh, or Hitchcock, all we get with the Web 2.0 revolution is more of ourselves.

Worse, this Web 2.0 (the new Internet culture we're all supposedly talking about) "suggests that everyone--even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us--can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves." (A few can even publish articles in The Weekly Standard.)

I know, I know--in Mozart's day, music was made only by geniuses; everyone else knew enough to stay in the breadline. Still, one could say about the Keen's beloved "traditional" media: "Instead of Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, and Margaret Bourke-White, we get William Kristol, Andrew Keen, and Rupert Murdoch."

Marxists--every one of them.