The New York Times Book Review for June 29, 2007 promotes Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur," a diatribe against new knowledge and new understandings in the Age of Information, Knowledge, and Technology over and against the traditional hierarchies and "expertises" espoused by Baby Boomers.
I have not read the book, so this is not a review, but rather a commentary based on the review. Very un-expert, and precisely the kind of exercise Mr. Keen would no doubt condemn. But alas, I was gleefully unaware of the book, or the NYT review, until I ironically came across it, alas on the web, that bastion of amateurish inkings that comprises the core of Keen's concern. I'm presently engaged in a full summer reading program of classic German literature -- a very "expert" enterprise Keen might find "unusual" for an "amateur" such as myself.
The review points out the shocking revelation that the web has its "dark side" too, something amateurs have long known, but the experts have apparently just discovered. Of course, to say the web has its dark side is a bit like bemoaning Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler, insofar as the print world is concerned. I suppose Keen is bristling less about high-brow burlesque and more about digital nakedness.
The NYT review also notes this curiosity: "This book, which grew out of a controversial essay published last year by The Weekly Standard...."
Taking up the mantle of Gustav Le Bon and the psychology of the crowd, the Times notes that:
For one thing, Mr. Keen says, “history has proven that the crowd is not often very wise,” embracing unwise ideas like “slavery, infanticide, ... war in Iraq, ....” The crowd created the tech bubble of the 1990s, just as it created the disastrous Tulipmania that swept the Netherlands in the 17th century.
Wait a minute! Didn't the Weekly Standard, the Kristol camp, and other "conservatives" advocate the war in Iraq?
Wasn't it the "expertise" of Neo-cons like Paul Wolfiwitz, William J. Bennett, William Kristol, and Francis Fukuyama behind the ruse that simply used George W. Bush, and manipulated Bush's emotions about Iraq and his father's presidency, that led the US on the path to calamity in Iraq?
The NYT (a paper print news media dinosaur) and the Weekly Standard, and Mr. Keen stand for a hierarchy tottering on its last legs.
I fail to understand the point: are "experts" not wrong?
What is evident to me is that these busted boomers are clinging to an argument based on authority, hierarchy, and privilege; they despise digital democracy because it threatens their existence, challenges their authority, and breaks down their well-preserved hierarchy.
What they are really against is the sort of liberal-minded, interdisciplinary, hybrid knowledge production which threatens their hegemony, dominance, and control.
There are lessons to be learned in the new digital age, there are classics still worth reading, sources of non-digital media that are still founded on integrity.
But to denounce the new demos based on namecalling ('amateurs") and to rely on received opinion ("experts") will lead us back to the New Babylon.
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