Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cult of the Amateur: Has Social Media Destroyed our Culture?

Many of you may have noticed that a number of my recent posts have mentioned the name Andrew Keen. The reason for my interest in the so called 'anti-Christ of the social media' is that over the past few weeks I have been Reading Keen's 'Cult of the Amateur'. I realize that Keen's book has been reviewed by thousands of 'noble amateurs' out to defend their beloved social media, so for anyone that has read a thousand and one such posts, I apologize in advance... That said, despite my personal interest in the social media, I would hope that the following represents a fair assessment of a book that unquestionably offers a number of intelligent insights.

2007 book 'Cult of the Amateur' offers a refreshing insight into a subject that is all too often considered from a single angle. As many voices celebrate the benefits of the social media, Keen stands alone in his battle to challenge these widely held assumptions. A self confessed 'elitist', Keen opposes the growing 'Cult of the Amateur'. Whilst the social media is oft cited as democracy facilitating, Keen suggests otherwise, proposing that the glamourisation of the noble amateur is destroying our culture. Although this statement is likely to draw debate, there is invariably a degree of truth in his arguments. As our ability to voice opinion is increasingly facilitated, the level of misinformation on the internet becomes proportionately evident. We need only look to the internet itself to see that this is sentiment matched by many, including Google CEO Eric Schmidt. As misinformation becomes increasingly voluminous, Keen suggests that our access to expert information is increasingly jeopardised. As such, time becomes increasingly precious as our efforts to distinguish expert from amateur information becomes increasingly difficult.

information becomes increasingly accessible online for next to zero cost, employment within information reliant industries is similarly jeopardised. As such, we are likely to see a dramatic fall in the number of employees therein. Keen poses the obvious question; as the number of employees involved in professional information provision drops, who will provide the expert insights upon which we so often rely for our knowledge? As revenue creation within such industries becomes increasingly challenging, the integrity of the resultant information will invariably become compromised. Whilst opinion has surged as a result of communications facilitating platforms, the volume of reliable information has simultaneously dropped. Unfortunately, the aggregation of such information will incur costs, and as capital becomes increasingly scarce, the quality thereof may as a corollary be affected.

it is true that capital is becoming increasingly scarce, this should prove favourable towards competition. Increased competition has historically resulted in circumstances similar to those described above; one industry is slowly superseded by another, with the unfortunate loss of jobs along the way. This is the nature of business, and the process has been cyclically repeating itself for thousands of years. Interestingly, it is precisely the social media that has increasingly drawn our attention to these losses, heightening our awareness thereof. At the end of the day though, competition forces companies to improve, invariably benefitting the customer.

I cannot claim to agree with each of the arguments raised by Keen, it is my belief that more critics are required to counter the ever increasing surge of pro-social media fanatics. Whilst such a statement may come as a shock to many, I offer the suggestion that strong arguments both for and against a given subject are required to allow the rest of us to make an informed decision. Whilst Keen's arguments may be palmed off as extreme, I could name five to ten social media 'gurus' whose opinions are equally extreme in favour of the social media. In sum, there are both pros and cons to each side. In order to adequate engage the social media, both sides most be examined.

I would
undoubtedly recommend 'Cult of the Amateur' to any looking to broaden their knowledge of the social media.

Show the Rogue some Stumble love

1 comment:

  1. I actually have Keen's book on my list of "Next Reads" along with a few others.

    I think the main issue is that too many people see social media as the end to all ills - it's not. It won't change the world overnight or make us better people - that has, and always will be, down to us.

    What social media will do is offer us tools to improve ourselves, our professions and the way we handle business. The rest is up to us.

    As you know, Chris, I'm one of social media's biggest advocates but at the same time I'm not naive enough to think it's going to solve everything. Especially when there are the beginnings of elitism in social media which I've talked about before.

    Let's work out exactly what social media is and can do before proclaiming it the one-stop fix for all the world's ills. Even the true evangelists don't claim it to be anything other than a great toolset.