“Blogs don’t kill culture; bloggers kill culture” – Andrew keen
An article by Andrew Keen in this month’s Associations Now caught my attention sufficiently to derail my writing for the week. Rather than sticking to my usual two-post-a-week minimum, I’ve been devoting what little spare time I have to thinking about Keen’s points and investigating alternative views. Not a bad thing, I’m sure.
For those unfamiliar with him, Keen has made something of a name for himself recently as the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, the title of which succinctly sums up Keen’s point of view. The view is unabashedly elitist and Keen proudly says as much—with reference to an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s The Daily Show —in the Associations Now article. Associations are apparently part of Keen’s elitist camp, and it is from this position that they should embrace Web 2.0.
Keen’s rhetorical strategy is purposely provocative. Provocative is remarkable. And as Seth Godin has argued, remarkable sells. At the very least it lands you on the cover of magazines. But the strategy is also, in my opinion, regrettably polarizing at a time in which we might be evolving toward a more cohesive and critically mature understanding of the opportunities and challenges that Web 2.0 technologies present.
As Keen sees it, those who would defend our time-honored, thoroughly-credentialed institutions of expertise find themselves under siege from a militant, radical libertarian, know-nothing, rabidly anti-authoritarian, neo-Marxist, techno-utopian, ill-informed, over-opinionated, and yes, flatulent mob (all terms that Keen uses at one point or another in the article). At the head of this group of rabble rousers is Jimmy Wales. Wikipedia, Wales’ brainchild, is apparently a place where five-year olds trump Nobel scientists and Wales is the Pied Piper leading the world to such chaos.
In considering Keen’s view, I was reminded of another recent Associations Now article, When Worldviews Collide, in which Jay Heinrich draws upon Aristotle to point out that disagreements based on “values talk” (aka demonstrative rhetoric) are rarely resolvable as such. People hold to their values too strongly and are unlikely to change their position. As much as I agree with Heinrich (and Aristotle), I can’t help but point to sources in this debate that align more with my values. Here, for instance, is Jimmy Wales speaking at a recent TED conference (an undeniably elitist institution at which I won’t be surprised to see Keen show up soon).
In other words, there is great deal more at stake here than the validity of a particular platform like Wikipedia, or the more recent social media darling, Facebook. “Culture” is certainly a part of what is at stake, but a debate framed in terms of cultural homicide would not seem to offer much of a path forward. At a minimum, it makes me, a blogger and an amateur in the world of cultural and media criticism, a cultural criminal even as I type these words. And I am joined by millions of others who don’t take kindly to the label.
Short of imposing a police state on the Internet and revamping our elitist institutions as totalitarian regimes, there is little hope of beating back the Web 2.0 tide or its implications. The criminals and defectors will keep coming. To borrow another page from Heinrich and Aristotle, how can we enter into a deliberative conversation that speaks to advantages for criminals, defectors, and elitists alike? To concede, as Keen does, that “Web 2.0 is actually a wonderful platform for associations” is a positive move in this direction. When framed in Keen’s terms, however, it is simultaneously a back-handed slap at those who made the platform possible.
Associations can and should embrace Web 2.0 in all its many facets. Indeed, there are few organizations today that would not benefit from implementing aspects of Web 2.0. But to achieve real progress we will all need to look beyond the polarizing rhetoric that Keen offers. Because associations have the potential to represent not simply homogeneous member groups, but diverse networks of individuals, they are in a unique position to help facilitate a less polarized and richer Web 2.0 conversation. I hope their leaders will embrace that opportunity.
That’s my opinion. But then, I am only an amateur.
Related Items and Update from the Blogosphere
Check out Jason Della Rocca’s scathing assessment of Keen and his book in a March 2008 posting titled Cult of Crap
Or from BoingBoing Lessig Publicly Humiliates Andrew Keen (March 12, 2008)