Tag Archives: Andrew Keen

The internet is messy, fun and imperfect, just like us

Last October 23rd David Weinberger gave the 2008 Bertha Bassam Lecture at the University of Toronto. I happened to be in Toronto but only found out about the lecture on the 24th. Fortunately Taylor pointed out that the lecture is online.

I’ve never met David Weinberger (his blog is here) but I hope to one day. I maintain his book – Small Pieces Loosely Joined – remains one of, if not the best book written about the internet and society. Everything is Miscellaneous is a fantastic read as well.

The Bertha Bassam lecture is classic Weinberger: smart, accessible, argumentative and fun. But what I love most about Weinberger is how he constantly reminds us that the internet is us…  and that, as a result, it is profoundly human: messy, fun, argumentative, and above all imperfect. Indeed, the point is so beautifully made in this lecture I felt a little emotional listening to it.

Contrast that to the experience of listening to someone like Andrew Keen, a Weinberger critic who this lecture again throws into stark relief. After reflecting on Weinberger, Keen dislikes the internet and web 2.0 mostly because I think he dislikes people. It may sound harsh but if you ever hear him speak – or even read his writing – it is smart, argumentative and interesting, but it oozes with an anger and condescension that is definitely contemptuous and sometimes even borders on hatred. If the debate is reduced to whether or not we should, however imperfectly, try to connect to and learn from one another or whether we should just hold others in contempt, I think Weinberger is going to win every time. At least, I know where I stand.

Indeed, this blog is a triumph of Weinberger’s internet humanism. It is a small effort to write, to share, and to celebrate the complexity and opportunity of the world with those I know and those I don’t, but who share a similar sense of possibility. Will millions read this blog. No. But I enjoy the connections, old and new, I make with the much more modest number of people who do.

I hope you’ll watch this lecture or, if you haven’t the time, download the audio to your ipod and listen to it during your commute home. (lacking the slides won’t have a big impact)

Twittering to help the homeless – and why it is bad!

Here is a great story out of Vancouver of a group of strangers using twitter to come together and help the homeless.

Another example of how social media can build new friends and community and help make the world a better place – sadly we all know it won’t have any impact of the powerful narrative of youth as uncaring, self-centred narcsistic and apathetic.

And then there are those who think these tools are really just the hands of the devil. I didn’t know anyone still read Andrew Keen but the other day a reader pointed to his (1000th) column on how the internet will end society as we know it. Check out this excerpt:

The 1930s fascists were expert at using all the most technologically sophisticated communications technologies—the cinema, radio, newspapers, advertising—to spew their destructive, hate-filled message. What they excelled at was removing the the traditional middlemen like religion, media, and politics, and using these modern technologies of mass communications to speak with reassuring familiarity to the disorientated masses.

Imagine if today’s radically unregulated Internet, with its absence of fact checkers and editorial gatekeepers, had existed back then. Imagine that universal broadband had been available to enable the unemployed to read the latest conspiracy theories about the Great Crash on the blogosphere. Imagine the FDR-baiting, Hitler-loving Father Charles Coughlin, equipped with his “personalized” YouTube channel, able, at a click of a button, to distribute his racist message to the suffering masses. Or imagine a marketing genius like the Nazi chief propagandist Josef Goebbels managing a viral social network of anti-Semites which could coordinate local meet-ups to assault Jews and Communists.

You can almost feel the anger and rage ooze off the screen – try reading the whole thing. I can see why Keen is scared – he probably has visions of people like him running around the internet. That said, he’s ultimately right on one level, anyone can use these tools. But the solution is what? To ban them all? Regulate them into ineffectiveness? Ultimately you can’t have the opportunity of self-organizing enlightenment without the possibility of self-organizing hatred. But maybe then, we don’t want kids wandering making friends and helping homeless people. Yes, now that I reflect on it, being a passive hollywood and park avenue fed consumer was always so much better for society, democracy and freedom. Thank you for saving me from myself Andrew Keen!

The Trust Economy (or, on why Gen Yers don't trust anyone, except Jon Stewart)

I was listening to Dr. Moira Gunn’s podcast interview of Andrew Keen – author of “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture” – and was struck not only by how Keen’s arguments ate themselves, but how he failed to grasp the internet’s emerging trust economy.

Keen is the new internet contrarian. He argues that the anonymous nature of the internet makes it impossible to trust what anyone says. For example: How do you know this blog really is written by David Eaves? And who is David Eaves? Is he even real? And why should you trust him?

According to Keen, the internet’s “cult of anonymity” creates a low-trust environment rife with lies and spin. But the real problem is how this erosion of trust is spilling over and negatively impacting the credibility of “old media” institutions such as newspapers, news television, movie studies, record labels, and publishing houses. With fewer people trusting – and thus consuming – their products, the traditional “trustworthy” institutions are going out of business and leaving the public with fewer reliable news sources.

Let’s put aside the fact that the decline of deference to authority set in long before the rise of the internet and tackle Keen’s argument head on. Is there a decline of trust?

I’d argue the opposite is true. The more anonymous the internet becomes, and the more it becomes filled with lies and spin, the more its users seek to develop ways to assess credibility and honesty. While there may be lots of people saying lots of silly things anonymously, the truth is, not a lot of people are paying attention, and when they do, they aren’t ascribing it very much value. If anything the internet is spawning a new “trust economy,” one whose currency takes time to cultivate, spreads slowly, is deeply personal, and is easily lost. And who has this discerning taste for media? Generation Y (and X), possibly the most media literate generation(s) to date.

The simple fact is: Gen Yers don’t trust anyone, be it bloggers, newscasters, reporters, movie stars, etc… This is why “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is so popular. Contrary to popular opinion, The Daily Show doesn’t target politics or politicians – they’re simply caught in the crossfire – the real target of Stewart et al. is the media. Stewart (and his legions of Gen Y fans) love highlighting how the media – especially Keen’s venerable sources of trustworthy news – lie, spin, cheat and err all the time (and fail to report on the lying, spinning, cheating and errors of those they cover). In short, The Daily Show is about media literacy, and that’s why Gen Yers eat it up.

In contrast, what is being lost is the “blind trust” of a previous era. What Keen laments isn’t a decline in trust, but the loss of a time when people outsourced trust to an established elite who filtered the news and, assessed what was important, and decided what was true. And contrary to Keen’s assertions, those who struggle with this shift are not young people. It is rather the generation unaccustomed to the internet and who lack the media literacy is being made transparent – sometimes for the first time. I recently encountered an excellent example of this while speaking to a baby boomer (a well educated PhD to boot) who was persuaded Conrad Black was innocent because his news source from the trial was Mark Steyn (someone, almost literally, on Black’s payroll). He blindly trusted the Maclean’s brand to deliver him informed and balanced news coverage, a trust that a simple wikipedia search might have revealed as misplaced.

Is there a decline in trust? Perhaps of a type. But it is “blind trust” that is in decline. A new generation of media literates is emerging who, as Dr. Gunn termed it “know that it’s Julia Robert’s face, and someone else’s body, on the Pretty Women posters.” And this skepticism is leading them on their own quest for trust mechanisms. Ironically, it is this very fact that makes Keen’s concerns about old-media unfounded. This search for trust may kill off some established, but untrustworthy “old media” players, but it will richly reward established brands that figure out how to create a more personal relationship with their readers.