I read a very interesting book review today at the Academic Commons.
“Andrew Keen insists he is neither anti-technology nor anti-progress. Yet this veteran of the dot com era begins his recent book, The Cult of the Amateur…sounding much like a high-culture snob pooh-poohing the vulgar masses for having appropriated the Web as their own and, in the process, wreaking potential destruction on our economy, culture and values. “
Interestingly, the author of the review (Cheryl Casey) resisted the temptation to chuck the book, and dug deeper. In fact, I found much of what she describes from this ranty screed of a book to be extremely interesting.
For example, think of the whole female science blogger thing going on, and then read this:
“Web 2.0 vests the noble amateur with the power to define at whim what is legitimate knowledge. Keen observes that such knowledge generation amounts to digital narcissism: we broadcast ourselves on social networking sites, link to others who confirm our own views, and click on the same links that everybody else does because they are at the top of the search list.”
In other words, we choose to be with people like ourselves, and actively avoid things that don’t fit our world view. I don’t hang out at Fundamentalist chat rooms–I go to a skeptical forum. I’ve stopped reading one science blogger because I found his comments sexist.
“community and common conversation are threatened by our tendencies to seek information that mirrors our own biases and strong, but uninformed, opinions. Much of the time, laments Keen, we don’t even know from whom we are getting this information, which erodes the trust that is the foundation of community: ‘If our national conversation is carried out by anonymous self-obsessed people unwilling to reveal their real identities, then…community degenerates into anarchy’ (p. 80). “
Hey! As an anonymous, self-obsessed person, I resemble that remark!
As some involved in skepticism, I can also side with Keen when he laments the way in which actual expertise is easily displaced by anyone with a high Google rank.
“…the author asserts that when the work of talented professionals and intellectuals is undermined, we are left with an ear-splitting cacophony where any professional is just another voice among millions.”
The lies about Rachel Carson and DDT are a classic example–a few individuals with a political agenda have effectively blanketed the internet with their propaganda, while actual scientists are hardly present at all.
So, what does this mean for us, the internet users? Are we doomed to become a culture dominated by random information with no sources?
Unfortunately, neither Keen or his reviewer have a clear answer.
And don’t look at me for one!