Stop running with scissors.

20 02 2009

You all know what I’m talking about. There you are, busily Googling away in search of answers to some vitally important topic, say “diversity in journalism,” and instead of your search leading you directly to all of the reliable sources your little heart could possibly desire, you are now faced with 3,000,000 random blogs written by Joe Shmoe and his cousin Betty.

This is the phenomenon that author Andrew Keen warns against in his book, “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.”

Keen is a traditionalist. In his book he writes that, “Rather than using it [the Web] to seek news, information, or culture, we used it to actually BE the news, the information, the culture.”

This is especially visible within the myriad of social networking venues that are now available to us, such as Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia or any of the millions of blogs that are floating around. This brings about the question of whether or not all contributions are worth while.

Keen takes a more traditional approach and asserts that the proliferation of non-experts only serve to muddy the waters. He is concerned with the replacement of traditional gatekeeping in media with user-driven content — a throw back to the concern expressed by Aldous Huxley who predicted that information would become so abundant that it would drowned out the truth.

This is in stark contrast to David Weinberger’s model of Web 2.0 users, who always compromise on their opinions and “play well with others.” By this he means that by a general process of give and take, people are able to increase in knowledge and come to a neutral understanding of the truth.

While Weinberger’s position makes for an interesting discussion, I think it could only succeed in a world where everyone had heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses. People don’t “play well with others” — that’s just human nature. Accept it and move on. Even in the wonderful world of Wikipedia, which to Weinberger represents the pinnacle of democracy, knowledge and a neutral discovery of the truth, who’s to say that some hack won’t just decided to re-write history just because they can? (“You say that Frank Sinatra discovered America in 1984?”)

Keen on the other hand sees the majority of bloggers and social networkers as their out of control counter parts who were always getting in trouble for eating paste and running with scissors.

While this may be true to some extent, Keen takes this view to the extreme and I can’t help but think that it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many of these “amateurs” to which Keen has such an obvious aversion, have made valuable contributions to society.

I think the solution to this balancing act is somewhere between the two. People need their voice, but without structure, chaos reigns.

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