Thursday, July 5, 2007

Surviving 'The Cult of the Amateur'

Just seen a great review of Andrew Keen's 'The Cult of the Amateur' on the Open Gardens blog which reminded me that I was going to write up some sort of response to it myself. I've just finished reading it and apart from having to resist the urge to hurl the book out of the window shouting 'you have an interesting point but a) don't ham it up and b) stop being needlessly rude and derogatory' this review sums up the issues I have with it perfectly. There is a real assumption that amateur = inferior. That payment for service = better service than free. That expert alone = authority. At no point does he address the need for better education on critical thinking, information evaluation or weighing up which tools might suit which job. He has taken a singular stance of the defensive 'expert' and defends his position by attack rather than balanced evaluation and explanation. If this is the best an expert can do... bring on the amateurs. It goes for the shock-horror jugular, but loses its audience by childish name calling and sensationalist nonsense. Sensible discussion of the pros and cons of the state of the Web... yes. Arrogance and intellectual snobbery... no thanks. Mind you, I still do think it's worth a read as it does serve as a bit of an antidote to the Web 2.0 hype which is swishing around at the moment, even if it's a shame it's so badly written.

Anyhoo... here's the review if you think you might be interested in Andrew Keen's alternative look at Web 2.0 - it'll give you a taste of what lies ahead!

Andrew Keen – The cult of the amateur - Book review by Tony Fish
Andrew Keen – The cult of the amateur – how today’s internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy.

This is a great read as it is the counter balance to the O’Reilly message and excitement over social networking and user generated content, and if for that reason alone – read it.

I suffer with the assumptions, the logic and overall lack of deep coherent strategic thinking. Given the recognition of change – to address the change from one direction (traditional media) without the suggestion that other (tech, telecom, web and mobile) could be the benefactor of the change is naive. It is an ivory tower defence of his own industry and suggests that this should survive above all others.

There is a premise that an amateur is an amateur and will always be an amateur in every context. The book does not recognise a specialist or expert. An expert in one field should not cross the divide and try to move into media. I am not sure when an amateur becomes an expert, where does the ability come from to make a judgement of taste vs talent? Why is a director or editor so good - because he amateur consumers read it and like it – voting with cash. But they are only good or an expert why there is money to be made – this argument is never put forward.

Whilst there is an abundance of criticism of the ‘free business model’ and user generated content from an ‘amateur’ there is no suggestion of a better model. The question you are left with is so what. This is a defence of the existing job and own career and not positioned to punch through to the next level.

There is an underlying belief that all amateur content is rubbish and that the professionals are the only ones who can produce results - there is no difference between news and opinion. Keen never brings out a case where the amateur has caused, to the mainstream medias’ embarrassment, revelations that what they promoted as fact was a lie. WhiteWashGate

Keen ignores the fact that cost saved in one business area is either passed on as profit and increasing wealth to shareholders or diverted into some other budget. Whilst a travesty that adverting lost out on one model, Google gained on the other – there is a need for a balance, especially when my pension fund is at stake.

On page 69, Keen is right to point out that amateur claims are dangerous, but the belief that two governors, four congressmen, three former white house officials and two special counsels are more trust worthy or without bias. If they were (trustworthy) the news industry would be dead! The question is about motivation, not trust!

Perhaps the reason that most of the UGC is rubbish is that we have all read too much mainstream media, watched too much TV ? Where is the responsibility for the education level. Further the book assumes that the news reporters are of a higher moral standing than everyone else. Why then sensational headlines? What sells?

Another assumption is because it works (media) keep it. I am so glade we stuck at the steam train!

I am not sure that surveillance is the issue, capture, sharing and analysis are. People have always watched other people, it is just there is now a mechanism for perfect recall. Everyone Knows.

1 comment:

  1. Hiya Sarah

    It's been a while since I left a comment on one of your blogs, but this reminds me of the point I made in H808 on my blog that stimulated all the debate all that time ago.

    I think we came to the conclusion that a mixture of approaches was necessary for the development of an emerging profession and also a framework of "paid-up experts" to keep the form of the subject in shape.

    The amateur is definitely a necessary part of society and without the regulation of professional constraints they can be free to develop and innovate, a trait most central to emerging fields like ours.



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