A renewed savaging of the blogosphere seems to be in full swing judging by some recent posts in the mainstream press. One, by a writer I have a lot of time for, specifically caught my eye.
In a post originally titled ‘Is Web 2.0 a threat to civilisation?’ (since changed to ‘The web is dead; long live the web’, or, via Australian IT, ‘Anarchy of distance’), Brian Appleyard of the Sunday Times explores the idea that great damage is being done to the people of the world by, erm, rounded corners?
Actually no, Appelyard cites a theory being put forward by Silicon Valley-based ZDNet author Andrew Keen, who has written a book called ‘The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture’.
Keen’s central argument seems to revolve around the question of whether blogs are actually contributing anything of value to civilisation. I’d ask that same question about contrarian elitists such as Keen.
According to Appleyard’s article, Keen’s book "argues that the web is an antienlightenment phenomenon, a destroyer of wisdom and culture and an infantile, Rousseau-esque fantasy".
Wow. How wrong do you have to be to get a publishing deal these days?
Appleyard's article is well worth a read, just for the shock value. It is exactly this kind of article that proves the value of blogging. It quotes Keen: "It’s the cult of the child," he says. "The more you know, the less you know. It’s all about digital narcissism, shameless self-promotion. I find it offensive."
An ‘antienlightenment phenonemon’? Surely the internet is a revelation and on-demand educational tool for many of the world’s six billion people? There’s more noise to cut through, for sure, but the internet has allowed a distribution of information on a massive scale in less than 15 years, and that has to be for the greater good.
Google will aim to provide you the answer to any question in less than one second. It is up to your brain, reader, to be the judge of the answers. Journalists like Keen presumably acknowledge the wisdom of referencing various sources before taking a view on a subject.
Appleyard uses terms like ‘dumb libertarianism’, referring to the situation where anonymous users can post comments on blogs. Anonymity isn’t good apparently: "The simple ability to conceal one’s identity is the deep flaw in the arguments of all Web 2.0’s libertarian boosters."
I totally disagree. Forget the impact on culture for a moment, as we’re moving back into another stupid and wholly ideological argument about regulation. We now have people like Keen insisting that anonymous blog comments should be made illegal! It would be as good as impossible to regulate the web as we know it today. Try regulating people in the real world first, in case you think it remotely possible. It is tricky, and it is often misguided.
The hypocrisy is unnerving. Writers have used pseudonyms for many years for all sorts of reasons. If Eric Arthur Blair can become George Orwell in the offline world, for whatever reason, then why can’t somebody who comments on a blog choose a pen name? Ok, so Blair became Orwell and didn’t exactly hide behind his pen name, but should there have been a law against it if he wanted to? That would have been a serious cultural loss.
Keen writes on ZDNet: "This rotten culture of anonymity has spawned a contemporary Internet of social deviants, loonies, perverts and get-a-lifers (not to mention weird Second Lifers)." Again, he's somewhat off the mark here. The freaks of the world were here long before the internet emerged, and anonymity has nothing to do with it. Society spawned these people, not Tim Berners-Lee, or the lack of a mandatory online ID for the world’s internet users. Orwell will be spinning at the thought of that…
Do blogs have to contribute to civilisation, as we know it today? Not really. It would be nice if they did, but this is like asking whether anything you do in your spare time happens to contribute to our culture. It is ridiculous to think that the world's online diarists should be judged in this way. A historian in 500 years time will be well-placed to answer this sort of question.
What’s wrong with people documenting their own transient existences with posts called ‘Fed The Cat’ and suchlike? If it makes them happy, then that specific side-benefit might be more than enough of a contribution to society to expect from a blogger.
Boy, Keen must really loathe Twitter.