Friday, August 31, 2007

Are we becoming cement heads?


What is my daughter going to do for entertainment in 20 years? Will she watch teens wrestling each other in their backyard, exchange cat images with dumb captions or participate in a Jackass stunt just to share with the world? That's the world being envisioned by Andrew Keen in his book 'The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture.'

Mr. Keen argues that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”

And he continues:

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Mr. Keen writes. “The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave.”

Sure, very elitist and snobbish. And he has a point. But, then again, he doesn't:

Newspapers, record labels, movie studios, TV networks, etc. have lived in this cocoon that allowed them to release products that were mostly crappy and just intended to make a buck (Can you say Wild Hogs?) All these entertainment money-making machines displayed a Country Club mentality that allowed almost nobody to break into. Sure, there is David Lynch, Bjork and Kurt Vonnegut. But for each one of them is another Rush Hour Sequel and a Britney single. Or rather 10,000 of them.

We should let the markets decide what people will use for their entertainment. And, as we know, these things come in waves: The flood of reality shows were countered with well-written shows like 'Lost'. And the flood of amateur videos will be countered with more professional content.

However, I'm worrying about newspapers. People don't like to read them anymore. When I used to fly early morning, everybody in the plane was reading the paper. Now, I'm often the only one.
Historically, people chose their paper to validate their point of view. But, even if you're a card-carrying Republican, you will find articles in the NY Times that will expand your horizon. Same is true for Democrats in the Wall Street Journal. In the era of blogs and citizen journalism, these opposing views are being drowned out by voives that cement one's point of view.
It takes a lot of work, effort and sweat to be a good journalist. Sure, some of them have gotten lazy in the last few years and the CBS/Rather affair showed that the Wiki Intelligence of the blogosphere can be utilized to validate stories/claims. But just because you have a Typepad account doesn't mean you're a journalist.

My concern is that all of us might just become cement heads, not movable, just looking in one direction, no opportunity to expand your horizon. That's not what liberty and freedom is all about.

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