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We Get the Web We Deserve July 22, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Essays, Social Media.

Talents prosper in connections with others in the new digital disorder. But then, connections have been with us forever – from the Guanxi of Chinese society, to the deep external European connections that were integral to the breakthroughs of Picasso and Gutenberg.

Web 2.0 just made connecting so much easier, bypassing institutions that have decided what is talent and what is not. This is what gets the goat of Andrew Keen in Cult of the Amateur. To be sure, he’s raising controversy with an eye to top the non-fiction bestsellers list.

His polemic goes something like this – people on the Web, thou shalt not criticize the gatekeepers of institutions such as the Beeb, the NY Times, Le Monde, etc. because they are professionals. But after the Beeb phone-in fakes, can we trust the gatekeepers? See my post, Can You Still Trust Your National TV?

In Keen’s universe, people who use the Web – wikis, blogs, forums, mailing lists – for activism and to develop communities are no different from the chimps who fling poo on primetime for profit. The Wall Street Journal online has published a debate between author of Everything is Miscellaneous, Dave Weinberger and Keen.

Their central point of disagreement is about the importance of authority. Bear in mind that both have books to sell. Keen is a non-authority arguing for the importance of authority on the web. Weinberger is an authority on the emergence of a non-authoritative new world order. Two books, two views – no agreement, but certainly a lot of sparks when both square off. The dustup is well worth reading.

Keen argues that a user-driven web is undermining our institutions, values and culture. Not unlike the mass media that gave us TV drivel, Keen asserts a “dot com” sound-bite about the Web that is neither about its ideas nor the people among those ideas. To him, the Internet is full of junk and by killing off the conventional media we are losing all our good information sources.

Weinberger thwarts with bite and intellectual grace – sure, there are lots of bad stuff on the Web as in the real world. But there are lots of good stuff too. More importantly, new mechanisms are being developed to let us find good stuff faster and sieve bad stuff easier. And guess what, the Web may make good stuff easier to find than currently possible in the analog world. Hear hear, pass the pizza Dave!

My own sense is that as a professional I am good at what I do and sometimes a poor excuse for a human being. As a professional many of us live in one of the “iron cages” that Max Weber describes, held in place by a business model, a business plan, an org chart, a supervisory mechanism, a regulatory mechanism, a public relations dept, a corporate style guide, a dress code, an annual performance review, a mid-year check point, a salary and bonus incentive system, a code of civility, and on and on.

As an amateur, well, then all bets are off. I am far more interested in what a Pundit thinks as an amateur, off the record, talking with a few close friends over a beer than I am in the talking points the Pundit iterates on Company Time or in the Corporate Media at the behest of their Supervisor and their Funders. Another name for professional is hireling. That was Jonathan Swift’s word. Another name for amateur is “citizen.” The web is a citizen-driven public space. To make it a medium for rich, branded, professional, corporate controlled, content would be a true tragedy of the commons.

PHIL CUBETA, the Gift Hub blog


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