Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture

Because Rusty knows I have a total bug up my ass about this endless stream of polemics stating that bloggers are destroying the integrity of book reviewers, food critics, democracy, and The American Way, of course he sent me this link. It's all about the kerfuffle surrounding a recently published book, written by a very upset-seeming gentleman named Andrew Keen, entitled The Cult of the Amateur. In case you're wondering what that title means, there's a snappy little subtitle: How today's Internet is killing our culture.

There's some blah-blah-blah about the book here. Some folks think that Keen raises some good points, but that these points are sabotaged by his tendency to say stupid things such as "I don't think bloggers read." But the upshot of his argument is that, apparently, the internet needs to be "saved". From itself, or from us, or maybe both... I'm not quite sure. Also apparently, bloggers are stealing jobs away from professional writers. This is funny to me, because I am both a blogger and a professional writer and editor. It would seem that I'm hijacking my own career. I always knew I couldn't trust me. You can tell by the eyes. Shifty.

But let's just say that bloggers really are clawing food out of the mouths of starving pros in this nutty DIY free-for-all that is the much-hyped "Web 2.0". If so, bloggers are part of a long and storied history of usurpers:
  • Gutenberg (not Steve, the other one) invents the printing press. The average Joe finally gets his own copy of the bible and realizes the local priest has been leaving out the best parts in his sermons. Joe decides to start his own church, which will include the juicy bits.
  • Literacy becomes widespread. The village letter writer realizes that his twenty-year career plan is going to need rethinking.
  • Samuel Morse invents his famous code and device. Goodbye, pony express workers, off to that big glue factory in the sky.
  • Henry Ford invents the car. Around the industrialized world, farriers weep.
  • During the Second World War, men go off to fight, and women go to work in factories and whatnot and then refuse to go back home when the war is over. The nerve!
  • Home Depot and a glut of home renovation TV shows conspire to create a culture of DIY home owners, as people realize they can now do their own renos, which will be equally shoddy but at only a fraction of the cost!
I'm being facetious, of course. Change is dodgy, and most people, understandably, get a bit bunched-up about it because they think the world is going to end or they're going to have to start waking up earlier or something equally dire. (I'm sure there's a great term that specifically describes this type of anxiety... probably in German. Lucky Germans.) A tiny minority of the population overcomes this anxiety by calling change "progress", and my hat goes off to them. I think. It's late and I'm tired, so it's hard to tell.

To tell you the truth, I'm just leading up to my real point: this quote from a positive review of the aforementioned Mr. Keen's book, which, apparently, the publisher saw fit to use in promoting the book online:
“Andrew Keen is a brilliant, witty, classically-educated technoscold—and thank goodness. The world needs an intellectual Goliath to slay Web 2.0's army of Davids.”
—Jonathan Last, online editor, The Weekly Standard
Answer me one question, and I promise I won't bug you any more: Can someone please tell me at what exact point in history GOLIATH became the hero?


Anonymous said...

"The world needs an intellectual Goliath to slay Web 2.0's army of Davids."

I'm on the fence about the Internet destroying culture. I've read the whole Internet twice. There are definitely some culture-destroying moments.

However, I'd argue that what definitely is killing today's culture is a lack of cultural literacy. Like, knowing who both David and Goliath are.


Anonymous said...

This is just to let you know that I've tagged you for the "Blogging Tips" meme. Please don't feel obliged, but I think its quite useful really...

Anonymous said...

Oh man, that is actually the most hilarious thing I've read today. Asshat, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I like how the quote is from the online editor.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"I like how the quote is from the online editor."


To be honest, there was a time when I felt (and still do to some extent) that just because someone can publish, doesn't mean he should. Right now, anything that gets people reading -- bloggers, book-related sites like Library Thing or Book Mooch -- is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I believe the German word you're looking for is "angst."

See under handwringing, moist palms and Chicken Little Syndrome.

As a "professional journalist" I don't see the problem with losing stuffed shirt paper sniffers.

Of course, my particular flavor of journalism is partially to blame for the downfall of the printed word.

I'm a television photojournalist.

Although all of us photogs are shaking in our boots because of YouTube. Except that precious few seem to know how to edit. Or shoot for that matter.

But that doesn't mean there should be a Goliath to slay all the Davids posting videos of bad karaoke or what have you.

What a dillhole.

Wendy said...

Good Lord - if it wasn't so hilarious it would be frightening. Does he really say bloggers don't read?!?!?! Aren't we lit-bloggers scaring the poo out of the "real" reviewers (or was that last month's attack on bloggers and now they've moved onto something else?). Excuse me - I need to go slay some more culture....

Karen said...

Oh for god's sake, I heard Keen on NPR and almost had a car accident because my eyes rolled so far back in my head. Love your David & Goliath point, meanwhile!

Anonymous said...

I deeply enjoyed reading your blog today. Very astute but also humorous. And, it must be said, I think the internet is the only medium through which it could truly work.

Thank you!

Unknown said...

Maybe he was being sarcastic.

Anonymous said...

I think Jonathan Last was riffing on the title of this book ( by Glenn Reynolds who argues that technology can help the little guy beat out the Goliaths of big government and business...

I agree with you and all the comments so far: Keen's ideas seem absurd as does the marketing.

John Paolozzi said...

I haven't read Dop's post, but when she read me that quote re "An intellectual Goliath...", at first I thought she was reading some smartass blogger's review, but than once she said it was from The Weekly Standard, I realized that this was some of that self-satirizing rightwing stuff, and it all made sense.

Tammy said...

I've read the whole Internet twice.

I'm still reading it for the first time, and I'm only about two-thirds of the way through. Don't tell me how it ends!

I believe the German word you're looking for is "angst."

See? I knew it!

Maybe he was being sarcastic.

One can only hope.

And thanks for the tag, heidijane, though I'm a little nervous about whether I have any tips to offer. You may regret your decision when you see that my contribution is "Don't take any wooden nickels." (Badum-bum.)

And now I'm off to kill a little culture before bedtime.

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday I was trying to reel off the whole "Gutenberg press" argument for why blogs/internet are not the end of the world and got tongue-tied. Will just refer them to this post instead.

Sure parts of the online world are a waste of space. But, whenever I hear doom and gloom stories about change I think of this quote:

"You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?" from Other People's Money (1991)

If a reviewer (or whatever) is not good enough to compete with the online world, get better or do something else.

Cheers, :-)

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be cool if there was an INTERNET BATTLE over who gets to control it? On one side you have your plebs (because this is the SAME OLD ARGUMENT - the ordinary person doesn't Know Enough Of What I, The Educated Cultured Individual, Deems Relevant - just combined with insults about fat guys with beards and leaps tying it in to some global conspiracy between libertarians and counter-culturalists. This has gone on long enough, close bracket!) I will start this sentence again, we should have a battle between plebs and people intelligent enough to use the internet/review things. I think it should be an ACTUAL battle. NOT JUST A BATTLE OF WORDS.

It's just more from the same old intellectual elite who think people aren't listening to them any more and apparently are trying to get people to listen to them again by insulting them? Eh.

BabelBabe said...

because ALL the authors actually penning paper books are SUCH fine writers. I would be simply devastated if an upstart blogger unseated the likes of John Grisham, Danielle Steele, James Patterson, or RL Stine. The world would be so much more culturally empty. Truly.

I wouldn't be able to go on.

But since I don't read anyway, I guess I exaggerate.

Petunia said...

Thanks for posting such insightful and well-thought-out post like this one. I've named you as a Rockin' Girl Blogger, dispite the shocking condition of your bookshelves. =)

Carol Elaine said...

I will start this sentence again, we should have a battle between plebs and people intelligent enough to use the internet/review things. I think it should be an ACTUAL battle. NOT JUST A BATTLE OF WORDS.

The plebs will win, hands down, because at least 2/3 of them will be yelling, "It's only a flesh wound!" and "What are you gonna do, bleed on me?", then bound back into the fray, thereby confusing The Educated Cultured Individuals Who Are The Only Ones Smart Enough To Review Anything And, Therefore, The Only Ones Smart Enough To Be On The Internet (they like very long titles - makes 'em feel special). The other third will dazzle them with their insistence on using embedded sappy midis and seizure-inducing animations.

Plus, we're scrappy.

Anonymous said...

That David and Goliath quote is priceless. And the best part is that Goliath wasn't just the bad guy in the story---he was actually a Philistine.

It's somewhat ironic that Keen accuses bloggers of not reading, since just about every criticism of lit blogging I've ever read suggests that the critic has never read a lit blog.

Anonymous said...

I guess somewhere back in human history there was a person who could argue that he was put out of work by the invention of the wheel.

Chris said...

If I was drinking milk, it would have come out of my nose. That Goliath quote was hilarious.

There's always someone yelling about 'culture' re, "Think of the children!"

I love the title of the book: "The Cult of the Amateur." I must go stir the Kool-Aid.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this really a non-issue? Nothing to get upset about at all? What is being fought over here is essentially book reviews. Who cares? Book reviews are glorified adverts. If bloggers are doing it, then maybe it will be less corporately motivated. Now, if blogs were competing with the likes of the Periodical of Modern Languages Association (PMLA) or other major critical journals, then that would truly be radical. Fighting over book reviews is nonsense, for either side. Keen's complaints are just labor pains. It's inevitable that blogs will take over: a) they're pervasive and b) they're free (most important of all).

Anonymous said...

I've had to look up more words in the dictionary while reading this website than I ever have after reading a book review in a who's really contributing to a decline of culture and literacy?

Karen Olson said...

I'm a writer and a journalist, and I think the whole "blog review bad, newspaper review good" thing is ridiculous. Newspapers are reviewing fewer books these days because corporations are destroying them, cutting staff and news holes. Bloggers are reviewing books. A newspaper reviewer is subjective. Bloggers are subjective.

All reviews are a good thing, wherever they may be. Writers need to get out of the "professional" reviewer mode and think outside the box. Who better to review a book than a book blogger?