Recently went to a talk at the ICA by Andrew Keen who has written a controversial book called ‘Cult of the Amateur’. Essentially Keen’s argument centres around Web 2.0 (user driven sites such as facebook, blogging, twitter etc) adn the so called democratisation of the internet. He argues that this new media poses a threat to our cultural values and understanding, web 2.0 is responsible for the downfall of our newspapers and means that nayone can contribute to the mass of information which we all have acces to. THis may at first seem like a good thing, but is it really? Keen says not, Journalists and others are paid and valued because of their vast experience and knowledge of a specific subject whereas anyone can blog or contribute to Wiki. The hapless user is therefore unable to tell whether any of the information that they are soaking up is ‘true’ or worth ingesting. Does all of this endless stream of web based chatter actually add up to any sort of worthwhile conversation? Again Keen things, on the whole, not. Anyone can now send out their undigested thoughts into the ether and anyone else can pick it up and churn it back out as a fact. Worse still, those poeple who originally made a living by trading their opinions or reporting the news are now increasingly unable to do so. People expect this information for free. No one is in charge of monitoring the information that we have access to and mostly we are unaware who is behind the stuff that we read or download. It is this anonymity that he is partuclarly suspicious of, when we pick up the Telegraph we expect it to be right of centre, when we pick up the Guradian we expect it to be leftish. When we read a blog or find an unspecified news source who is writing it and what is their agenda? The argument that drives this debate on is partly an old one: who should decide what is worthwile and what isn’t? Is this new wave of blogging and social networking the end of the old elite dictating what we believe and think? Or is it the breakdown of a valuable and trusted structure which is being replaced with an endless stream of chatter and trivial opinion?
I think that this is an interesting and valuable debate to be having but it is perhaps, in the end, a pointless one. This is happening, I am writing all of this on a blog after all, and most likely no one will read it, but all of this stuff is not going to go away. The debate we should be having is how to adapt to it. How will newspapaers survive and if they do what do we want them to look like? Does it matter that a large section of our news and information is written by amateurs? Will that old division between amatuer and professional still exist and ultimately does it matter?