[iDC] THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO (Andrew Keen)

Guido Sohne guido at sohne.net
Wed Apr 25 01:11:02 EDT 2007

On 4/25/07, Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net> wrote:
> 1. The cult of the amateur is digital utopianism's most seductive delusion. This cult promises that the latest media technology -- in the form of blogs, wikis and podcasts --  will
> enable everyone to become widely read writers, journalists, movie directors and music artists. It suggests, mistakenly, that everyone has something interesting to say.

It is not so much that everyone has something interesting to say than
everyone can have something to say, interesting or not. The death of
the gatekeeper is a good thing for the free flow of information.
Massive redundancy and built in astronomically high failure rates do
not matter. There can be 99,999 authors writing trash and there could
be one writing the 'good stuff' and subjectively, that same pool of
100,000 would result in more than the one 'good author' if only
because 'good' is subjective. I see not much difference between this
and a multiplicity of cable TV channels except for that the volume of
output has suddenly been increased ...

> 2. The digital utopian much heralded "democratization" of media will have a destructive impact upon culture, particularly upon criticism. "Good taste" is, as Adorno never tired
> of telling us, undemocratic. Taste must reside with an elite ("truth makers") of historically progressive cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a
> work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless.

The future will never be tasteless. The guardians of culture are today
atrophied limbs upon a leprous body. Everything is tuned to the retro,
to the worship of the past, a movement of official cults based on
worship of dead heroes. That is what passes for much of culture today.
I feel certain in claiming that these gatekeepers we have, those who
claim to be connoisseurs of culture, that they are far below in
status, to what they actually claim to be cognoscenti of. It is
significant that most major artists died poor, because the gatekeepers
of culture are always blind to their own times.

Perhaps Adorno will be forgotten quietly in 500 years, whereas some
unknown today, may be idolized in that same time frame. Historically,
the elite have almost always been wrong, but only right in that they
have and wield power. I feel quite safe betting against Adorno in
favor of the magic mass melting pot that brings forth random junk and
occasional gold.

> 3. To imagine the dystopian future, we need to reread Adorno, as well as Kafka and Borges (the Web 2.0 dystopia can be mapped to that triangular space between Frankfurt,
> Prague and Buenos Aires). Unchecked technology threatens to undermine reality and turn media into a rival version of life, a 21st century version of "The Castle" or "The Library
> of Babel". This might make a fantastic movie or short piece of fiction. But real life, like art, shouldn't be fantasy; it shouldn't be fiction.

If the future is dystopian, then the present is one of the circles of
hell. The triangle mapped above is completely exclusive of my current
location, Africa, which is largely believed to not exist and to be
filled with mythical unicorns, gremlins and tooth fairies, all
explained by the gatekeepers in easily accessible terms of disease,
famine, war and incompetence. The story dies at the source because the
gatekeeper is himself an ignoramus, an idiot savant.

> 4. A particularly unfashionable thought: big media is not bad media. The big media engine of the Hollywood studios, the major record labels and publishing houses has
> discovered and branded great 20th century popular artists of such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bono and W.G. Sebald (the "Vertigo" three). It is most unlikely that citizen media will
> have the marketing skills to discover and brand creative artists of equivalent prodigy.

Force feeding a population with regular patterns can result in
brainwashing. The issue is whether the brainwashing is educational and
a value added or whether it is an incitement to make a purchase. I
think it is clear where things have gone at this point, where the
purchase of exaggerated goods has become the norm, where the lie
becomes the truth (imagine the presentation of a MacDonalds burger, so
luscious and well formed on screen, truth or lie?)

Between population programming and self selected communications,
between the centrally broadcast signals and the peer to peer swarm of
self selected, self discovered values and content, I believe that the
central ministry of truth is the lesser. However, should you place me
at the centre, I would surely believe and preach the virtues of truth

> 5. Let's think differently about George Orwell. Apple's iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial is true: 1984 will not be like Nineteen Eighty-Four the message went. Yes, the "truth"
> about the digital future will be the absence of the Orwellian Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth. Orwell's dystopia is the dictatorship of the State; the Web 2.0 dystopia is the
> dictatorship of the author. In the digital future, everyone will think they are Orwell (the movie might be called: Being George Orwell).

Not quite true. With our personal computers and mobile phones, we
constantly have a companion. A wanted but unsuspected agent of Truth.
We choose our own poisons in this rendition of 1984, we don't hide
from the telescreens, we face them joyously and carry them whereever
we go. We feel lost without them, and we place great trust in them.
Ignorance is bliss except for Big Brother who silently absorbs it all,
perhaps for the purposes of masturbation.

> 6. Digital utopian economists Chris Anderson have invented a theoretically flattened market that they have christened the "Long Tail". It is a Hayekian cottage market of small
> media producers industriously trading with one another. But Anderson's "Long Tail" is really a long tale. The real economic future is something akin to Google -- a vertiginous
> media world in which content and advertising become so indistinguishable that they become one and the same (more grist to that Frankfurt-Prague-BuenosAires triangle).

Then where from the critique of the 'new media' as tasteless? With the
'old media' it appeared that advertising was mandatory, inescapable,
ubiquitous - whereas with the 'new media' it is rather more optional,
and not quite universal. An author can choose to reject the parasite
that the advert is, to reject its feeding on his content and on his
readers. This is a far cry from the mandatory interjections (the more
the better, carefully balanced so as to take one as close as possible
to nausea without actually gagging) that are the norm of the current
big/mass media.

> 7. As always, today's pornography reveals tomorrow's media. The future of general media content, the place culture is going, is Voyeurweb.com: the convergence of
> self-authored shamelessness, narcissism and vulgarity -- a self-argument in favor of censorship. As Adorno liked to remind us, we have a responsibility to protect people from
> their worst impulses. If people aren't able to censor their worst instincts, then they need to be censored by others wiser and more disciplined than themselves.

This is true. It is only that the gatekeeper always becomes the person
with the bad instinct, who believes in their own infallibility or at
least is certain of his own 'good taste'. While people are protected
from their own worst instincts, who protects the gatekeepers from his
own worst instincts, and who protects the people who protect the

> 8. There is something of the philosophical assumptions of early Marx and Rousseau in the digital utopian movement, particularly in its holy trinity of online community,
> individual creativity and common intellectual property ownership. Most of all, it's in the marriage of abstract theory and absolute faith in the virtue of human nature that lends
> the digital utopians their intellectual debt to intellectual Casanovas like young Marx and Rousseau.

Utopia and dystopia are equally fictional constructs in the face of
reality itself. What is more important is what one is capable of, what
one has access to in reality; once we get past the dreams and fevered
imaginations of the cognoscenti. A Marx and Rousseau would have much
more material to draw on, should they be present in this reality we
have today. As to whether that would have resulted in better or worse
output, that is probably a function on innate intelligence, the innate
sense of taste and rejection of tastelessness - which coincidentally
is what is being disparaged here.

> 9. How to resist digital utopianism? Orwell's focus on language is the most effective antidote. The digital utopians needs to be fought word-for-word, phrase-by-phrase,
> delusion-by-delusion.  As an opening gambit, let's focus on the meaning of four key words in the digital utopian lexicon: a) author b) audience c) community d) elitism.

Apart from the language problem, have you considered the nan-shubs
embedded within our current use of language? How can we clean language
to be used in a brave new world, when the tool is itself dirty and
smeared with the old world? Who truly decodes the symbols as they are
meant to be, the consumer being programmed, or the spin master
propagating his own sense of good taste? And at what point does the
spin master realize that he stands on a spinning surface of a spinning

> 10. The cultural consequence of uncontrolled digital development will be social vertigo. Culture will be spinning and whirling and in continual flux. Everything will be in motion;
> everything will be opinion. This social vertigo of ubiquitous opinion was recognized by Plato. That's why he was of the opinion that opinionated artists should be banned from his
> Republic.

The fear of falling and of the unknown. The rejection of the
groundless. We all fear the future, but it has never, in the tens of
thousands of years of human existence, the future has never killed us,
only that we ourselves who carry the sins and burdens of the past, we
who constantly repeat history and all its mistakes, we are who we must
fear not the future.

-- G.

PS: I feel more than a little out of depth here. I am not an academic
by any stretch of the word or imagination but I had much fun
channeling that feeling while responding to the interesting anti
manifesto. It reminds me of a certain cartoon I watched as a child,
where the hero was reprogrammed for each mission. I hope my self
programming as intellectual dissenting high brow academic has been
entertaining :-)

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