Andrew Keen RSA lecture

I went to a lecture and discussion called ‘The Digital Seduction’ at Royal Society of Arts last night. Speaking was Andrew Keen, author of ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ and Tim Montgomery, editor of (I am SO not linking that), and humorously chaired by Matthew Taylor, RSA Chief Executive.

There’s been a lot of bandwidth especially amongst the professional media hand-wringers about The Cult of the Amateur (it’s interesting that Matthew opened up the introduction with this previous bout from the Guardian site) and obviously as a podcaster and blogger, I disagree with most of what Andrew is saying, that’s not really news. I went along to see what his arguments were and what he had to say for himself.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time adding to the shitstorm, especially as wannabe John-Perry Barlow style techno-priest I suspect he wants such controversy to sell his book – or speaking gigs like this one – in fact when the podcast of the lecture comes online you’ll hear me saying just that during the questions, I’ll just concentrate on my impressions and some of the ideas that struck me in the session.

Andrew came across as very arrogant and rude (in fact he received a stripping down from Tim Montgomery, a classic tory wet, for his response to the MD of Encyclopaedia Britannica as being ‘immature’) but his ideas were that Web 2.0 was destroying culture, that the gatekeepers (editors, experts and the like) are needed and must be respected. Stop me when you can see the obvious protection of interest going on, and politics (the least is that Web 2.0 is a publishing invention from O’Reilly, of course his publishers are Doubleday).

He pointed out that YouTube and the like are ripping off their users for free content, and making money off them, with no quality control or royalties paid (obviously conveniently forgetting the new YouTube deal to record companies) and getting rich off advertising, which the content is either becoming veiled advertising or around the content.

I think he had a point here, in this new era of Infonomics where people pay for ideas, and not formats, unless you are one of the Big 4 you can’t negotiate a deal like that one, and these companies via Creative Commons and licensing are leeching off all this free content. What I don’t agree with his sneering about citizen journalism (‘you don’t get citizen doctors do you?’) as if the mainstream was and is catering for everyone. It plaintantly is not, hence the desire for grassroots media – as I asked in my question to him – it’s a chicken and the egg situation, wasn’t the void in journalism already there, and Web 2.0 and citizen media just filling that void?

Also journalism is one of those areas where training has some benefit but it’s obvious that the old-media is just as full of bias and badly done journalism (see any article on mashups for example) that unlike a doctor or architect, a citizen journalist CAN do a better job, and I think books like this one (and the created PR storm around it as old-media journalists fall on it as their new bible) reflect the pinch and dilemma at the heart of media. When podcasters and vlogger show you up, for the staid old media hack that you are, how do you respond? Contrasting this with Chris Vallance’s response about learning from podcasters at PodCamp and I know who I’d put my money on surviving as the landscape changes in the next 5-10 years.

Also covered in the Wikipedia vs Encyclopaedia Britannica debate (ironic as Wikipedia is based on the 1911 version of EB) was that it’s interesting what is left out of encyclopaedias and what is in Wikipedia – Andrew used this to sneer at Wikipedia’s pop culture entries such as about Pamela Anderson, but to my mind this is the very strength of Wikipedia, it covers the areas that paper media cannot keep up with, or won’t cover. Of course for the less ‘sexy’ classic subjects you might want to refer to paper media, but the total inclusion of Wikipedia is not it’s weakness it’s also it’s strength.

Matthew pointed out the age mix, and stratification of views around this – it was nice to see 20s – 70s debating such a thing, from established media (BBC) to new media (Yahoo) and non-media (me, grassroots media creators, and one avowed Facebook addict) .

The other interesting point was from a teacher and was about teaching media literacy, that these technologies and their public doubts around them lend themselves as examples of questioning sources, biases etc. I think this is more the issue, rather than requesting we artifically enforce a set of gatekeepers, (as an early question pointed out, not necessarily from Eton or Oxbridge, but still part of an privleged elite) isn’t it better to teach children how to question ALL sources, and see the value in all media? Ie. We partly become the gatekeepers, rather than trusting a set of sanctioned gatekeepers with their known and unknown biases and unknown background dealing?

As pointed out at the end, this is partly a false discussion, old media and new media are really the same; both bow down to the advertiser dollar. I think the real issue is about content creation, especially in the CC field, who pays for it if at all, and who makes money off it, and whether money should be mixed up in this at all? Books and lectures like this are a symptom of the changing infonomics, changing structures within media to a model where musicians and artists are part-time, where journalists or experts (even those on book tours) can be a dirty word, where bloggers fact-check the old media, and podcasters wonder where the hell to go next.

I’ll link to the RSA podcast when it’s up.

Relatio Clash


  1. John
    September 6

    but there is an argument which I thhinkdoes need to be ealt with, which is that there are areas where there are bodies of knowledge which are worth learning about, flying aeroplanes for example, and I wouldn’t want people to simply turn up and go;

    there are areas where the knowledge is simply leisure class theory

    and there are bodies where everyone’s opinion is probably of equal value in which case the loudest voice wins

    the problem is telling which is which?

  2. September 6

    Interestingly the likes of Andrew Keen just seem to be pointing out that problem, rather than offering or even looking for a way to differentiate them.

    It’s classic EVERYBODY PANIC!!!111 OH NOES!!!!111 cry wolf behaviour, it adds little to the discussion after the wolf has arrived.

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