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    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    Has anybody seen this? This guy sounds like he's been born again...Poor Ebert, nobody taking his reviews seriously anymore...Read the sample on the top left corner. Very informative...

    The Culture of the Amateur: How blogs, wikis, social networking and the digital world are assaulting our economy, our culture and our values
    • CommentAuthorCraig Shaw
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008 edited
    Read it, somewhat enjoyed it, somewhat agree with it.

    I think you can overdo the culture and values aspect - to me those things are evolving all the time - and the internet is an economic boon, but the overall premise suggested by the 'cult of the amateur' to me is sound. That probably sounds daft coming from someone posting on a message board! On the other hand, if intellectual rigour is fading and the bullshit is drowning out the quality, the internet is not the cause of this, it's merely a tool.
  1.  (1734.3)
    None of it beats my new favourite way of describing the internet:
  2.  (1734.4)
    The bloggers want to hang him high and drag him through the streets, which makes him of interest to me.

    I think there's a good and basic question he's asking about the state of professionalism in an age when anyone with an internet connection can claim some professional status, often anonymously.

    It reminds me of working on a newspaper in college. The guys who wrote one column and were suddenly "Columnists". Everyone loves a title, but when anyone can claim it, what does the title mean?

    One thing that always confounds me about blogs, is how reliant many of them are on "old media" to get their content. Look at all the links to NYTimes, the BBC or cable news that these "new media" sites post. That's no more journalism that someone clipping an article for you to read is. Journalists chase the story, get the quotes, get the facts, tell the tale. Posting a link isn't the same thing.
  3.  (1734.5)
    I'll buy and read this.

    • CommentAuthorDracko
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008 edited
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    I'm not sure people understand what culture even is any more.

    Though it does sound like a good read.
  4.  (1734.7)
    I personally think he's wrong. The culture of the amateur is a culture of networking. One doesn't get their information from three corporate sponsored outlets anymore. They can get it from tens to hundreds of sources now. It doesn't appear he's taking this into account, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me on this point of view if I'm missing something.

    I will look for this book at the library when it comes out....
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    It's the same in any industry where technology is taking the power out of the hands of the bankrolled professionals (you know, those who can afford to make a giant investment into capital) and putting it into the hands of those who can buy a computer, and maybe some software.

    Record labels, film studios, advertising firms, design studios... they're all in very real danger of being usurped by freelancers. But the one thing that will separate the good from the bad is the same thing it always has been: quality and finished product. Just because people can DO something doesn't mean they can do it WELL. As Shaw said above, it's not the internet's fault, it's just a tool.
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    I puzzled over how to answer this one. I'll give it my best shot.

    I'm Z. I'm an amateur storyteller. I have a blog, and I tell stories there.

    The idea that an over abundance of blogs, including my own, is somehow making people dumber, that just annoys me. For one thing, the audiences for a lot of these projects (including my own) is relatively small. For another, it's not as if folks would suddenly break out a book and start reading or find a sheaf of papers and start writing the next great American novel if one day everyone stopped blogging. They'd open up an on-line game, another IM message, or another social profile Comment and occupy their time that way. What I offer is an alternative form of entertainment for the bored and easily amused. I'm guessing that's the ulterior motive of a lot of bloggers. "You <em>could </em>play another round of solitaire, or you could read my account of an airplane flight from hell, I think it would amuse you."

    There are other arguments* I've heard too, that may or may not be explored in this book.

    <blockquote>* You'd get out more if you weren't updating Twitter and MySpace all the time.</blockquote> No, actually, I wouldn't. I go out about every sixty days at this point. Once every few months I'll have a coffee with someone or eat dinner out with some company, and then I go right back to my routine and lurk there. It isn't because I'm updating my 'social networking' pages. Ask anyone who follows them, I barely keep them current.

    <blockquote>* There's no value in posting fictional work to a blog, you should be trying to get it published professionally.</blockquote> That would imply I have ambition, that I'm a writer, and/or that I'm a professional. I have no ambition, I'm a storyteller not a writer, and I enjoy engaging in my hobby at an amateur level. The fact that I post my hobby on the internet isn't hurting anyone, and a book whining about it strikes me as-- well-- a long-winded whiny LiveJournal post.

    <blockquote>The bloggers want to hang him high and drag him through the streets[..]</blockquote> While the book presents what sounds like a compelling, if somewhat paranoid argument, I can't see myself agreeing with it. This is the sort of book I'd flip through without purchasing it, in the interests of 'seeing the other side' of the debate. Do I care what happens to the authour or whether or not his book is successful? No. It won't have any impact on me whatsoever; he's welcome to publish and say whatever he likes. That is, after all, the magic of the interwub.

    <blockquote>[..]the internet is not the cause of this, it's merely a tool</blockquote> I agree.

    - Z
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    Yeah, I still don't get it.
  5.  (1734.11)
    The Internet provides authors/musicians/aritists/etc. with access to an audience they might not have had without it.

    The overabundance of work available because of the Internet doesn't make us dumber, it makes us more selective. Sure, there's crap out there, but there always was. There was just fewer options. We still have to sort through things, pick what we like, and ignore the rest. We just have a shitload more of it to go through.

    Thr problem I have with Keen's idea is that professional=quality. No. Being published or having a record deal doesn't mean you're good, it only means someone thinks you might be sellable. And, likewise, being an amature doesn't mean you're bad, it just means you haven't been noticed by anyone at a publishing house ro record label.

    The idea that we need gatekeepers to decide what we can and can't read/hear/see is bullshit. Those people are no more qualified to decide what's good or bad, or quality or crap, than I am. Give me everything there is, and let me decide what I want to keep. That's what the Internet does - it makes us all gatekeepers of our own personal cultures.
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008 edited
    My band just recorded a 5-song demo the other week for $200. (I'll be sure to let the Band thread know when it's mastered) The idea of pushing it on a record label today sounds ridiculous when we can just sell it on-line by ourselves. Obviously we won't get Radiohead/NiN traffic, but that's not the point. We mainly recorded so that we could finally have something up on our MySpace to share with my family, friends and anybody just passing through -- also because we love playing live and most clubs don't give you the time of day unless you have a functional page.

    The music industry would be so much better if nobody wanted to be a rock star....and we're nearly there.
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    * Dracko
    I'm not sure people understand what culture even is any more.

    To me it sounds like bacteria grown in a dish. Fairly accurate.

    * OctEgon
    My band just recorded a 5-song demo the other week for $200. (I'll be sure to let the Band thread know when it's mastered) The idea of pushing it on a record label today sounds ridiculous when we can just sell it on-line by ourselves.

    Brilliant, dude! I did the same thing recently, and it's been a huge success. We actually released our record for free since it cost us near nothing to do. We consider it a loss leader to build up some awareness before our real full-length album is released.

    I try not to think of labels are PURE evil. If you're producing your own music (quite easy to do these days given the cheaper and more widely available means of production), your expenses are already drastically down compared to having someone else finance it. You're much more frugal with your own money. A record label would charge an arm and a leg for recording and production and A&R interference, all money you'd have to recoup before profiting. If you have a finished product before involving them, you can retain the publishing and mechanicals, and just license it to a label. This means ultimately less money to recoup and benefiting from greater marketing muscle, but also much higher overhead (paying the suits), and a less nimble promotional effort.

    It's all a balance, and the end you and I are towing is on the CONTROL side. The other side is the nefarious 360 deal. David Byrne writes about this well on his blog.
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    I am surprised that more people don't find his reasoning and examples sloppy. His main interest is that the established industries will lose money! That the "experts" are not heard anymore. Are we to care that Hollywood and Sony may be losing money because of the more ready accessibility of film-making and recording equipment? Is Ebert someone whose opinion we have to respect? Do we have to resort to reading the Gramophone and Wire for "official" reviewing?

    I concede that wikipedia is an iffy resource (even if I appreciate the intention) but it's not the only place where information is regulated and altered. What about school textbooks? What about national propaganda? What about the universities? What about television and Hollywood? Isn't he worried that some people look at Schindler's List or Gladiator as valid historical texts? The Bible as science?

    It all sounds like a defense of mainstream culture, and not really effective at that. His examples sound very populist and the targets are easy.
  6.  (1734.15)
    I think a distinct separation needs to be made between what the internet's impact is on art and culture (highly positive) and what the internet''s impact is on journalism and academic/professional rigor in research (less...positive).
  7.  (1734.16)
    I think I will be a bit more exact.

    What seems to be happening here is the blurring of a few results of the underlying issue of the Internet's impact. I do not know what the book addresses in terms of distinction, so can't comment on that, but I can comment on my own view.

    In the creation of art and culture, the Internet is nothing short of amazing. It allows access to an audience and tools that did not exist a generation ago. Countless voices are heard and create. This defines good.
    In the building of communities the Internet is equally important and powerful. I have the net to thank for any number of friends, even one of my closest.
    The best Art/Culture/Hobby blogs tend to rise to the top. Where a lack of professionalism training exists in criticism it is a fundamental lack of knowledge (such as comics criticism) and not the Internet's fault. However, it is true the net can make installing that knowledge difficult.
    In respect to fact based journalism and investigative research the Internet is a disaster; cut and paste, rumor and speculation replace fact. And then "old media" sources quote those facts. And the Internet quotes them back.
    Interesting political blogs rise to the top, which is not the same as saying well argued ones do.
    In respect to IP rights, well you all know my take, its problematic obviously.
    In terms of research, well, the internet is a tool to keep scientists of all types connected. It also disseminate results like no other tool. This was the second goal of its creation, past our infrastructure surviving nuclear war, after all.
    Wiki is an amazing hobby resource, however it is where rigor goes to die.
  8.  (1734.17)
    I can feel a little empathy for his point of view, but in the long run it seems meaningless. Any time you lower the barriers of entry to.. well, anything, you're going to see a lot more of it and naturally enough, a lot of that will be crap. But the crappiness is far outweighed by the amount of really good stuff you wouldn't have seen before.

    Back in the middle 80's we saw this in printed work, all because of the laser printer and desktop publishing. Up until then the printed word had been in the hands of typesetters - who were sort of the high priests of typography - and while some of them were very gifted at what they did they were a tiny elite. It was expensive to use them, and they were a barrier to getting work in print (at least in a way that looked professional). Once the typesetters were out of the picture, then yes - we saw loads of bad typography and much more bad writing in print. But we also saw great stuff we'd never have seen before. Same thing with the introduction of the Web, and again with blogs. Not to mention print on demand, which is what puts butter toffee peanuts on my table. More crap, more good stuff. I'll take it.

    I'm getting closer and closer to being an old codger, if I'm not one already, and I just can't think about this sort of thing without remembering how much more difficult it was for artists and writers to get their work in front of people back in the seventies. Every year more and more voices can be heard. I think it's fantastic.

    And if people finally figure out that they have to look at news sceptically - regardless of its source - then that's a pretty big win, too.
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    I haven't read the book yet, but when I'm back in the US, I'll pick it up at the library. That said:

    The overabundance of work available because of the Internet doesn't make us dumber, it makes us more makes us all gatekeepers of our own personal cultures.

    Agreed. We don't all watch the same 3 channels and get our news from the same 2 newspapers anymore; we can pick and choose from a near-infinite variety of media1 and only read what we determine is worth our while. But we are lazy beasts, and we tend to seek information that we like, and ignore the rest.

    The Internet enables people with niche interests to find other people like themselves who aren't geographically close, but it also enables positive feedback loops within the net communities they form: most websites are fairly totalitarian (WC included: Warren and Ariana are benevolent Dictators-For-Life), and dissenting opinions can be simply deleted. WC is a good example of civil and open discussion with reasonable moderation, but then there are pages like this, in which dissenting opinions—however respectful—are routinely deleted.

    It's easy enough to just never see the other side of an issue, and the Internet makes that easier when dissent is quashed and like blogs link to like blogs. That said, I agree with Shaw in that "the internet is not the cause of this, it's merely a tool": if there's a problem, it's with people.

    I'm being terribly general here, but people tend to group together and form their own realities based on the communities that they form. Historically, those communities have been among the geographically proximate, but modern forms of communication have gradually eroded the necessity for proximity. The Internet has made an especially big leap in enabling communities based on common interest and negating location. For better or for worse, "the future is curatorial".

    The Internet yields great opportunity for both proper and improper use. The danger is the same as it has always been: unthinking, uncritical people.

    (Also on Mr. Keen's blog2: Keen on Lessig Check the post, then the comments, where Mr. Keen gets pwnd by the Interwubs. Oops!)

    1Proper infinite, if we're talking about porn.
    2In his own words, "a narcissistic blog read by a handful of insiders", but which he apparently still finds useful enough to maintain...
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008 edited
    it seems to me that he's railing against a lack of standards that put him and his thinking at the apex - it's a very easy and cheap dig, i understand, but this is an incredibly old argument. every time there is new technology or a new method of expression or a group of people get together and develop a new theory or set of rules by which to judge works of art or science the cry goes up that standards are dropping and culture is being lost!

    whose culture is being lost? in a world that has been plagued by mediocrity, it is a constant struggle to find and support venues for expression that what? demand higher standards? produce better work? until we start making smarter people, i don't think we can blame blogging for people whose take on the world is thoughtless and thin and individually wrapped in cellophane.

    as a poet i find that the interaction while i'm working on something, via a blog, is incredibly helpful - mostly because other poets i know don't like talking about their work out loud to other people in the same room at the same time - however, there is still (and has been in this country) a major stigma against self-publishing - internet self-publishing is considered acceptable if, it seems, you are providing text for something already tried in another forum, or it is being made available for comment - as to an editorial board. then again, i don't expect people to read my blogs and find something incredible - i use them as practice.

    i am curious to pick this up at the library, because it will be at the library, if only to see what his actual angle is.

    i had a brilliant thought while reading the blurb he wrote about the cover, but it's gone now. if anyone sees it, feel free to share. EDIT: i found it - after working at a library and at a bookstore, i don't see how books are, in fact, under any sort of rigorous standard set - if anything, the crap that gets published makes me never want to sully my name and whatever work i do in that medium. i'll get over it, but every now and then there is just no reason for most of the writing that i've read to be published - especially as serious politics or science or history or journalism.
    • CommentAuthorJayzor
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2008
    I just have one or two things to add. Based on quotes from reviews and his blog, I disagree with much of Keen's argument, and especially (as others have pointed out) that he equates professional with quality and amateur with trash. But I really just wanted to point out one of Clay Shirky's posts about the Cult of the Amateur. I think it's well-written and well-argued response to many of the points raised in the book, and it's not just a blanket condemnation. I recommend checking it out. Shirky's also written a few other posts about the Cult of the Amateur, but that's the most relevant one. And hey, now that his book is out, I guess that means his opinion officially matters to Keen.