[iDC] Keen as amateur media theorist

Howe, Jeff Jeff_Howe at wired.com
Fri Aug 24 21:39:52 UTC 2007


> Of course Keen's argument isn't credible; it was never important that it be
> credible. Keen and his critics have been performing a mutually beneficial
> public theatre. This has been from the beginning been about gaining media
> exposure, not debating the value of 'amateur journalism'.

Not true. I¹m a longtime contributing editor at Wired Magazine, a blogger
(crowdsourcing.com) and have something of my own stake in these arguments as
I¹m writing a book on the ways in which peer production and other forms of
group problem solving are changing the nature of production. Like many of
the people on (and off!) this list, I found Keen¹s arguments to be
dangerously misleading. When the book was still in galleys my editor at
Wired and I decided we should force Keen to defend some of his more
indefensible positions (not everything in the book is indefensible). While
we declined to run that particular mano-a-mano interview in the pages of
Wired (his attack on Wired¹s Chris Anderson threatened to make us look
vindictive), I did run it on my blog
(http://crowdsourcing.typepad.com/cs/2007/06/andrew_keens_cu.html). I
subsequently debated him at the Strand Bookstore in New York (broadcast on
CSPAN) as well as on a very short, very unsatisfactory segment on Fox News.

None of this was, in your memorable but inaccurate phrase, ³mutually
beneficial public theater.² There was a lot of internal hand wringing among
the technorati over whether engaging Keen publicly constituted playing into
his hands, the common assumption being that Keen was merely cynically
capitalizing on a cultural moment, figuring the time was right for an
anti-Web 2.0 backlash. Most of the usual suspects just struck him from their
dance card. 

I felt that his motivations were irrelevant. Keen peddles an insidious brand
of snake oil, and the operative precedent as far as I was concerned was
Intelligent Design. The defenders of science, reason and 150 years of
evolutionary theory declined to debate the neo-creationists on the grounds
that to even create a discourse with them would be to give too much credence
to their ideas. We know how well that worked out. The fact is, if you fail
to show up for the debate, the other side wins. No one in the audience will
know your absence signals your belief that your opponent is beneath
contempt. We don¹t get to pick our ideological opponents.

I can¹t say whether Keen¹s other critics were just looking for a bit of
exposure. I doubt it. (For what it¹s worth, the value of a spot on Fox News
wouldn¹t pay for a car wash. It¹s noteworthy that for all the attention
Keen¹s received, his book has still sold fewer than 5,000 copies, according
to Bookscan.) I do know, at any rate, that it wasn¹t my motivation. Be
careful who you tar with that big, broad brush Stephen.


Jeff Howe 

On 8/24/07 4:50 PM, "Stephen Downes" <stephen at downes.ca> wrote:

> Hiya,
> Ever since the first posts appeared on this list, with Keen eager to take on
> all challengers, I have been watching wryly as all the media players lined up
> for the next round of publicity seeking.
> Of course Keen's argument isn't credible; it was never important that it be
> credible. Keen and his critics have been performing a mutually beneficial
> public theatre. This has been from the beginning been about gaining media
> exposure, not debating the value of 'amateur journalism'.
> The primary effect of the whole thing, and probably the purpose, has been to
> promote the cult of the expert. Invariably so. A real amateur would not have
> refuted Keen. He would have ignored him.
> -- Stephen
> David Weinberger wrote:
>> FWIW, I published a piece titled "Andrew Keen's Best Case" at
>> HuffingtonPost a few days ago: http://tinyurl.com/2bbvla
>> It tries to figure out what Keen's actual argument is. SPOILER: It
>> turns out not to be a very credible one.
>> Best,
>> David W.
>> On 8/24/07, Andrew Murphie <andrew.murphie at gmail.com>
>> <mailto:andrew.murphie at gmail.com>  wrote:
>>> Ok - an anti-Keen manifesto .... he'd love it of course!
>>> As Alfred North Whitehead wrote, 'it is always possible to work oneself into
>>> a state of complete contentment with an ultimate irrationality'. So it seems
>>> with Andrew Keen.
>>> Keen seems the true anti-Whiteheadian in "amateur capitalist" style (by
>>> which I mean one who relies on quick fame to make a quick buck before being
>>> exposed as pulling rather empty strings and levers as per the Wizard of Oz).
>>> He deals in caricature rather than the complexity of media experience, and
>>> seems to want to impose the restrictions of caricature on everyone else, if
>>> only to validate his own importance and elitism.
>>> Keen doesn't really seem worth reading because he ignores the basic objects
>>> of his enquiry (having pre-decided what they are). So beyond several
>>> interviews and some breathless media panics about social media pushed by
>>> leading newspapers who quite rightly feel threatened, I haven't read much
>>> Keen.
>>> However, in true Keen-style, I won't let that stop me making a few brief
>>> remarks.
>>> In brief, Keen sounds like the kind of amateur in search of quick glory he
>>> pretends to deplore. All the rhetoric is the usual. The communists (!!),
>>> those who can't help themselves in their ignorance etc, the decline of
>>> culture ... while failing himself to analyse the failings of the elites, in
>>> a time when global warming, just to take one example, is still actively spun
>>> away by many of the media and other elites, in series of PR "big thinks"
>>> that would have done Edward Bernays proud. The echoes are those of ideas
>>> that have, at least since Lippmann and Bernays, mobilised the fear of the
>>> masses/the amateur/and ironically a fear of too much democracy itself, a
>>> democracy escaping from, and often brutally returned to, the control of
>>> "elites" since at least WW1. Such times - and such mobilisations of fear -
>>> were of course the cradle of the modern media industries themselves, and
>>> associated social sciences (from media and communication studies, to
>>> sociology and, perhaps most importantly, psychology - see Curtis' Century of
>>> the Self). Keen is therefore merely repeating the long history of media and
>>> social controls pitched against basic democracy (I don't mean communism
>>> here, I just mean democracy, as in voting even, as in the will of the
>>> people, etc).
>>> What does Keen want? Well he blogs and podcasts himself, so clearly he just
>>> wants to position himself among the bloggers ... he wants to assemble the
>>> basis for quick fame in the name of those who trade on media issues and
>>> fears, and via the conduits of the media industries who are always going to
>>> give this kind of thing a run ... while ignoring the ironic drop in basic
>>> standards of journalism that we now see in many parts of the world (down to
>>> the level of simple editing). And of course, all this is garnished with a
>>> crie de coeur concerning IP (we assume the "property" of the elites).
>>> What does he ignore? The fact that both traditional media and "web 2.0" are
>>> a mix of the amateur and the professional, the good and the bad. That once
>>> again, in this mix, the elites are starting to look like increasingly
>>> redundant Wizards of Oz. That IP is a complex affair of interests. etc
>>> It's not Keen, however, that we should be worried about. Despite the above,
>>> it's best to ignore him. We should rather be worried about a
>>> general,orchestrated "Keenism" one finds in the media these days as they 1.
>>> drop their own standards somewhat appallingly and 2. usually find it very
>>> difficult to deal with the kind of expertise a good blog/democratic media
>>> experience gathers around it. 3. project this outwards into the blogosphere.
>>> Of course, this is not how many journalists these days see it. Many are
>>> completely au fait with the whole social media deal (in fact, now we are
>>> getting a few younger journalists who have "grown up" with Web 2.0).
>>> Ironically, one sometimes suspects it is the general Keenism of some of the
>>> "elites" that stops the full "professional" expression that could (and
>>> despite everything, will) transform professional media. This transformation
>>> is currently happening and is increasingly fascinating.
>>> In the meantime, however, the attack on professionalism in the media is
>>> indeed to be lamented, but not along the lines, or  for the personal gain,
>>> of Andrew Keen.
>>> --
>>> "Take me to the operator, I want to ask some questions" - Barbara
>>> Morgenstern
>>> "Of course it is always possible to work oneself into a state of complete
>>> contentment with an ultimate irrationality" - Alfred North Whitehead
>>> "I thought I had reached port; but I seemed to be cast
>>> back again into the open sea" (Deleuze and Guattari, after Leibniz)
>>> Dr Andrew Murphie - Senior Lecturer
>>> School of Media, Film and Theatre, University of New South Wales, Sydney,
>>> Australia, 2052
>>> web:
>>> http://media.arts.unsw.edu.au/andrewmurphie/mysite/index.html
>>> http://adventuresinjutland.wordpress.com/
>>>  http://researchhub.cofa.unsw.edu.au/ccap/
>>> fax:612 93856812 tlf:612 93855548 email: a.murphie at unsw.edu.au
>>> room 311H, Webster Building
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