The Crumbling 'Cult of the Amateur'

<p>Andrew Keen has been on the Pr circuit again. Yes, he of the Cult of the Amateur fame.</p>
<p>I tuned into the BBC World Service radio to pass time during a boring break, and there he was, casting aspersions on the Blogosphere in his upper-class lilt.</p>
<p>He started mundanely enough, expressing what seemed like well-founded concerns about the political programs that may underwrite some 'participatory models' of internet media. He appeared to be cautioning against any usurpation of public space in the pursuit of parochial political interests, and I found myself agreeing with his analysis to a significant extent. At any rate his language suggested that he had toned down his radicalism considerably.</p>
<p>First was an admission that his considerations did not apply to 'totalitarian' states like China and Iran where press freedom has been severely curtailed by successive regimes, and the slightest hint of independent thinking in the mainstream press routinely leads to overt repression. In other words, where the 'professional' (as he likes to term sources he approves of) media has been shackled, amateurism in the media space may not just be excusable, it is appropriate.</p>
<p>I am sure Keen realizes that this concession blasts a 20-foot hole in the superstructure of his argument. Once you make an exception for certain societies (call them 'totalitarian' if you must), it is suddenly realized that others too have peculiar characteristics that may warrant them privileged treatment.</p>
<p>Take, for instance, poor countries; or, in the context of this discussion, information-poor ones. In certain West African countries I know quite well, the best writers tend to blog rather than write for the mainstream press. The Experts he idolizes so much do not write op-eds or engage in intellectual debate via the media; they attend international conferences. Surely, in those circumstances it makes no sense to use the professional/amateur labels with such fervor.</p>
<p>What I have done above is to use an instance to illustrate a wider issue that Keen in his indignant haste overlooks. The mainstream media is not a monolith of generally uniform quality. Nor is it sufficiently specialized even in the most sophisticated outlets. I can confidently assert that in every field of human endeavour the most able specialist is likely to be a non-journalist rather than a journalist.</p>
<p>For the very editorial reasons Mr. Keen glamorizes, some experts tend to avoid the media (anyone remembers the WMD specialist who committed suicide after, as it later became evident, the press twisted his testimony to suit their own editorial agenda?) A personal blog is a great way for a chapeau to unfurl the full complexity of their thoughts without the frustrating filters of editorial 'gatekeeping'.</p>
<p>I guess, however, that at this point we arrive at Keen's other great concession: that so long as the folks playing amateur journalists are experts in some other fields and are engaged in subject matter within those fields that's fine. Cor blimey! Another 20-foot hole.</p>
<p>Andrew Keen probably doesn't realize that this unravels his key points. If the internet has facilitated anything at all, it is the proliferation of 'fields'. You know the British quiz show, Mastermind, right? People go dauntingly cerebral in some narrow enclave of human thought in order to win prizes on TV.</p>
<p>The internet magnifies that human love for ultra-specialization. Everybody is a specialist in some area of existence; if nothing at all, in their subjective experience of social reality. Libertarians who swear by Hayek likes to call it 'the conditions bound to time and place'.</p>
<p>If Mr. Keen could descend a few miles down from his aloof perch, he might just discover that the internet is a catalyst for specialization, not the death of it.</p>
<p>But why try to make an intellectual argument in an amateur forum such as this? Mr. Keen and his followers won't touch this post with a barge pole.</p>