Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur

Those enamored by the arguments of Chris Anderson in his The Long Tail might want to take a glance at Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture (New York: Doubleday/Currency, 2007). Andrew Keen attacks the idea of the rise of the amateur in the Internet era, seeing the failure of experts and the failure of newspapers, magazines, and every organization and professional with some stake in the maintenance of societal and cultural values. Keen argues, with our fixation on amateurs forming our news and all other information, that we are getting “superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment” (p. 16). Keen opposes the elevation of the amateur, fearing that the “voice of a high school kid has equal value to that of an Ivy League scholar or a trained professional” (p. 42). To make his point, Keen considers the difference between the professional journalist and all those amateurs building news site on the Web: “When an article runs under the banner of a respected newspaper, we know that it has been weighed by a team of seasoned editors with years of training, assigned to a qualified reporter, researched, fact-checked, edited, proofread, and backed by a trusted news organization vouching for its truthfulness and accuracy. Take those filters away, and we, the general public, are faced with the impossible task of sifting through and evaluating an endless sea of the muddled musings of amateurs” (p. 55). Keen tries to shift the attention from playing with new technologies to preserving the systems of expertise that we have built over the generations, worried that it will be difficult to rebuild it. Keen believes we need to “use technology in a way that encourages innovation, open communication, and progress, while simultaneously preserving professional standards of truth, decency, and creativity” (p. 205). I certainly don’t agree with all of his arguments, especially as I am writing a book about the rise of a new kind of amateur archivist, but it does represent another voice reacting to Anderson.

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