the cult of the amateur: how cynicism can overshadow a good book

I’ve been reading Andrew Keen’s first book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, and I have to say it is one of the most negative books I have read to date. The book in its entirety is awash with cynicism and negativity with Web 2.0 squarely in its sights.

By the end of the first chapter I had a very accurate feel for how the remainder of the text was going to play out and I found myself skimming rather than reading by the time I was about 1/2 way through. Which is really a shame since the book is well conceived and well written – but I found it challenging to get past the fact that it seemed to be far too rich in examples and hyperbole about how user generated content will be the downfall of  21st century man.

Keen makes some excellent points in his writing, unfortunately they are easily lost among the pages of redundantly drawn out examples, stories and, for lack of a better word; contempt. One of his best points is about Kevin Kelly and his "desire to kill off the book entirely" by describing a "Liquid Version" of the book where "books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves." The thought of this just makes me laugh; and not in a humorous way – in a way that resonates just how ludicrous and idea like this is. I am not any more qualified to some random sampling of books to create a caffeine induced "Mash-up" than my 4 year old son. That being said, I don’t put a lot of credence in this statement since I have read a bit of Kelly’s blog, and I find him to be methodical and intelligent (at least in writing since I have never met him); but this idea of Liquid Books is ludicrous. All you have to do is look around the web a bit, especially at sites like Digg and Reddit to see what the collective effect of social news has on people.

One of his worst points, Keen starts on about music sharing and the thieves who are stealing from the artists and recording industry. Never mind the fact that by starting the war on 12 year old girls, the RIAA has fortified their opponents positions by being so relentlessly arrogant about their position. Now it would be a miracle for the Recording Industry to be able to recover. How long have people been making copies of cassette tapes? Or burning copies of CDs for their buddies? A lot longer than people have been file sharing digital music. I don’t remember any lawsuits over little Billy making copies of his first AC/DC tape for all his stoner buddies back when I was in school and "Boom Boxes" were all the rage. If they had jumped on the band wagon from the start, the musical landscape would a lot less bleak. The industry as a whole could stand to pay attention to bands like Barenaked Ladies and Nine Inch Nails.

Anyway, The Cult of the Amateur is a decent book and an excellent first effort on Keen’s part. Even though I don’t think it would have lost any impact if it was trimmed down a bit in the few sections where it seemed to be too drawn out, I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in web technologies. There are excellent issues raised once you get used to the tone of the book. It’s a pretty quick read too; so enjoy…

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