In cyberspace, nobody can hear you scream. That’s because everybody’s too busy blogging brickbats at Sarah Palin, corrupting Bill Gates’ profile on Wikipedia, poking their buddies on Facebook, and recording a juggling video on YouTube. Simultaneously.
At least, this is what Andrew Keen would have you believe. In The Cult of the Amateur, Keen launches a full-frontal assault on the wave of user-generated content that, in his view, has turned the information superhighway into a tenth circle of Hell called Web 2.0. Taking pot-shots at everything from blogs to podcasts, social networking to online gambling, Keen is out to get Web 2.0 - and this time it’s personal: "The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves."
In Keen’s view, nothing less than our cultural heritage is threatened by the forces unleashed by applications such as Blogger, Wikipedia, and MySpace. On the Internet, international law has been supplanted by mob rule. Rampant hordes of wannabes cut and paste their way across cyberspace, slashing the experts, ridiculing the professionals and doing unspeakable things to the wise. On Planet Web 2.0, a BA means FA and seemingly mild-mannered citizens are happy to smash your Windows and kill your Second Life.
Keen’s primary concern is the rising tide of fiction posing as fact. Untrained, unskilled writers pepper the blogosphere with inchoate arguments, and unsubstantiated rumours. These dispensers of drivel, he says, are obscuring the work of professional writers, artists and publishers, further blurring the line between information and gossip.
Wikipedia is singled out for particular vitriol. He charges the online encyclopedia with “almost single-handedly killing the traditional information business”. For Keen, Wikipedia is an electronic ebola, infecting the planet with half-truths, rumour and fraud.
His treatment of “citizen journalists” is equally damning. These mouse-bound correspondents “…simply don’t have the resources to bring us reliable news. They lack not only expertise and training, but connections and access to information.”
But while he condemns the new kids on the blog, he holds traditional media in almost sacred reverence. The demise of his favourite music store in the face of online competition is described in hushed tones as if testifying to the fall of the Roman Empire. “They called it a bankruptcy auction, but, in truth, it was the last picture show.”
Similarly, Keen sees falling advertising revenue and sinking circulations for newspapers as the beginning of the end for the press. For Keen, free ad sites, such as Craigslist, are not merely competing for advertising revenue, but undermining one of the pillars of democracy. He’s equally doomstruck about the fate of music and movies that are falling prey to internet pirates and amateur Spielbergs.