Friday, February 13, 2015

Andrew Keen Worries about the Internet

Former internet entrepreneur Andrew Keen now spends his time fretting about what the Internet is doing to us:
The net, he argues, was meant to be “power to the people, a platform for equality”: an open, decentralised, democratising technology that liberates as it empowers as it informs.

Instead, it has handed extraordinary power and wealth to a tiny handful of people, while simultaneously, for the rest of us, compounding and often aggravating existing inequalities – cultural, social and economic – whenever and wherever it has found them. Individually, it may work wonders for us. Collectively, it’s doing us no good at all. “It was supposed to be win-win,” Keen declares. “The network’s users were supposed to be its beneficiaries. But in a lot of ways, we are its victims.”
Keen worries that the Internet is a powerful force for inequality, destroying thousands of middle class jobs -- according to Keen's calculations Amazon alone has destroyed 27,000 jobs in the US. He is particularly skeptical about the value of user generated content:
Keen confesses to being “perhaps a bit of a content snob, although only in the sense that I value skilled labour and appreciate good content”. He is, he says, particularly concerned by the impact of the internet’s “culture of free” on the creative and media industries. “If there’s no exchange of cash for your article, your photograph, your movie, your book, your song, how else are you supposed to make money?” he asks. “It’s not an original point, sure. But it’s been almost 50 years since the first computer-to-computer communication now; 25 years since the birth of the web. We’ve constantly been told: wait, don’t worry, it’s a young medium, something will emerge … But nothing has. For creatives, this has been a disaster.” The number of photographers’ jobs in the US has fallen by 43%, he notes; the number of newspaper editorial jobs by 27%.
I would be more sympathetic to this point of view if I thought the old media world had any more respect for quality than the internet does. But so far as I can tell newspapers and magazines publish only two kinds of pieces: work by their usual hacks, even when they have nothing new to say -- columnists joke among themselves about having only three basic columns, and for some of them that is an exaggeration -- and work by celebrities. (Like, the Post running a column on climate change by Sarah Palin.) Book publishers do pretty much the same thing, churning out dozens of novels by Joanna Lindsey and James Patterson and the odd blockbuster from Rush Limbaugh. I mourn this not at all.

Of course my views are colored by sour grapes, since no publication ever wanted to publish my essays. Nor did I have any luck publishing my mystery the old-fashioned way; I won't claim it is a great book, but I think it is better than a lot of the schlock that has gotten published. My attempts to interest a publisher or agent in my new novel have gone no better -- so far as I can tell, nobody has even bothered to read it -- so I will likely upload this one to Amazon, too.

So while I don't doubt that the Internet has been bad for a lot of people, it has been great for me, and plan to go on celebrating the voice it gives me.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

It's sad how people keep raising the same pathetic arguments over and over, blind to the past.

You say professional photography is dying because the internet allows amateur photographers cheap exposure? Funny - painters said much the same thing when the camera was invented. Who was going to pay for a quality painting when any practically idiot off the street could just make a cheap photograph instead? Art was dead! (Just like when woodblock printing was invented!)

You say professional writers and their publishers are suffering because the walls of their ivory tower are being overrun by the uncultured masses on the internet churning out cheap pap? Gee, they said the same thing when the printing press was invented! Scribes were being put out of business! The old guard of "quality" authors were going to be lost in the flood of talentless amateurs as practically any idiot off the street could get a book printed! The written word was dead! (Just like printing would be when the typewritter came about!)

You say professional musicians are suffering because of the internet? Huh! They said the same thing about radio and records! Who is going to attend a live concert put on by real musicians when they can just tune their radio into some awful jazz band's hullabulloo, or buy a record and listen at home? Music is dead! (Just like when musicboxes were invented!)

Whenever a major new technological development comes along, the old gets replaced by the new. But every single time, the people who are most heavily invested in the old cry that the sky is falling, because they're intent on resisting the inevitable instead of adapting to changing conditions.

Amazon is "destroying jobs" by making them redundant? Too bad! Obsolete jobs aren't worth lamenting! Or are we to bemoan the loss of every obsolete profession?

Won't anyone think of the steamboat pilots?! Or the stablehands and farriers and coachmen? What of the noble blacksmith, whitesmith, redsmith, goldsmith, and silversmith? Are we to never again enjoy the entertainments of bear-leaders and jesters? Shall we sweep the broomsquires into the dustbin? Must we doff the doffers? Will the lamp trimmers be snuffed out? Ought we pour the soda jerks down the drain? Send the chimneysweeps up in smoke? Bend the fendersmiths out of shape? Hold military funerals for the fifers, drummer-boys, cavalry, and the rest? Cart away the wheelwrights? Ship out the shipwrights?

The internet isn't going anywhere, and it's going to drag people like Mr. Keen into the future no matter what, even if they go kicking and screaming.