Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur (2)

"Let's not go down in history as that infamous generation who, intoxicated by the ideal of democratisation, killed professional mainstream media. Let's not be remembered for replacing movies, music, and books with YOU!" (Andrew Keen)

This is one of those books like The Celestine Prophecy that saves its loopiest logic for the last few chapters, starting with chapter 6, 'Moral Disorder'.

It's the old be very scared critique of Internet technologies:

"From hypersexed teenagers, to identity thieves, to compulsive gamblers and addicts of all stripes, the moral fabric of our society is being unraveled by Web 2.0. It seduces us into acting on our most deviant instincts and allows us to succumb to our most destructive vices. And it is corroding and corrupting the values we share as a nation."

Amen. Keen obviously finished the final draft too soon to include radiation poisoning from wireless routers.

He quotes Baroness Susan Greenfield as stating that children of the Web 2.0 generation "will be more prone to real-world violence, less able to compromise or negotiate, apt to be poor learners and lacking in empathy."

The authors of The Rebel Sell compare the views of Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud on the problems of human social organisation. Freud apparently believed that all efforts at civilisation would end up being undermined by our baser instincts. Hobbes however, thought the problem was a question of trust relationships. If the right ones are established everyone would start behaving themselves. Potter and Heath seem to think that this comparison alone swings it for Hobbes, yet both sets of ideas form part of that much bigger political/philosophical debate often referred to as the perfectibility of man. (One of the best summaries I have read was in Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue.)

Keen on the other hand positions himself as the kind of pessimistic commentator who instinctively regards all technological uptake as a Faustian bargain, and he clearly thinks we are all going to hell much sooner than we might have imagined. Some of us cookie-tagged sleaze-addicts may already be there. Second Life, he observes, is "a channel for all kinds of social and ethical vices" and anyone that spends any amount of time in there is likely to cease to be a functioning member of society.

Interestingly, he is a self-styled apostate, a Silicon Valley digital media entrepreneur that almost made it big with Web 1.0. Like his bête noir Kevin Kelly, Keen references The Total Library by Jorge Luis Borges. Both make use of the Library of Babel as a metaphor for the modern Web, yet I suspect Borges originally intended it to symbolise the cosmos; which surely makes Keen's commentary on it that much more apt:

"It is a place where there is no concrete reality, no right and wrong, no governing moral code. It is a place where truth is selective and constantly subject to change."

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