.net: Could you explain the theory described in your book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy, in a few sentences?
Andrew Keen: The Cult of the Amateur is a critique of the ideal of citizen media. It argues that, behind the seductive language of a “democratised” media lies a threat to objective information and high-quality entertainment. The traditional gatekeepers of mainstream media are being replaced by a chaos of anonymous internet activists who are pursuing often corrosive cultural, political and economic agendas of their own.
I wrote the book to challenge the stifling intellectual orthodoxy of digital Utopianism in Silicon Valley. The Cult of the Amateur is a subversion of the original subversion. I’m exposing Web 2.0 and revealing that, behind the radical rhetoric lies the economic, cultural and political interests of a new class of media oligarchs.
.net: The book has created quite a stir and has angered many people, especially bloggers. What do you think about the reaction you’ve caused?
AK: I’m not really interested in the reaction of bloggers who’ve criticised my book without having read it properly (if at all). I’m thrilled, however, with the reaction to my book by professional librarians, teachers, broadcasters, editors, journalists, talent scouts, agents, marketing and advertising executives. These brave souls are on the front lines of the new culture wars, and they’ve carefully read the book. They understand the cultural illiteracy that the blogosphere is engendering. They get the corruption and unreliability of all the user-generated content on the web.
.net: How do you feel about being “the nemesis of the new worldwide web” (The Observer)?
AK: When I was growing up in North London, it was always my ambition to become the sworn enemy of something really big and powerful. So I’m really thrilled to have become the nemesis of the new worldwide web. In my next book (called Star Wars 2.0), I aim to become the nemesis of the entire galaxy.
.net: Why don’t you like user-generated content and social networks? Isn’t it great that the power is in the hands of the people now?
AK: Who says that power is in the hands of the people? I don’t see any evidence of this. The A-list bloggers – mostly rich, white men in Silicon Valley – are no more representative of the “people” than any other traditional cultural or economic elite. The only “people” economically benefiting from user-generated-content are the multimillionaires at Google, YouTube, MySpace and Flickr.
User-generated content is a huge scam. It’s a way for the owners of sites such as YouTube and MySpace to get content for free, drive massive audiences and then sell advertising around it. If content has any value, then its creators should sell it. Anyone who gives away their content for free is either talentless or nave. If the market won’t pay for your content, then work on improving it, but don’t give it away for free. Don’t help pay for the Bentleys and Maseratis now speeding up and down Route 101 in Silicon Valley. Power is no more in the hands of the people today than it was in May 1968 or October 1917.
.net: Where will the Web 2.0 hype end?
AK: Something awful will happen. Just as all the hype about Web 1.0 was finally laid to rest by the shocking reality check of 9/11, so all the euphoria about Web 2.0 will be shattered by something dramatically unexpected – another terrorist outrage, a mass internet suicide, a Google scandal or an all-consuming Middle Eastern war that leads to a global economic meltdown. One day, in the not too distant future, we’ll look back at our infatuation with the inanity of Second Life, MySpace and YouTube with a mix of shame and nostalgia.
.net: What can we do to save the net and deal with the consequences of the digital age?
AK: The internet is just a mirror. When we look at it, we’re staring at ourselves. If we want to save it, we need to be self-critical and honest about what we’re doing online. That means stop posting anonymously. It means challenging our most narcissistic impulses to turn the web into a fragmented self-broadcasting platform. It means recognising and fighting our addiction to online pornography, gambling and tasteless chat. It means taking responsibility for passing on a more civilised medium to our kids.
.net: Where do you see the future of the net?
AK: I hope it’s Guardian Unlimited – a healthy mix of high-quality, independent content, energetic user-generated opinion successfully financed by a viable business model. The future, however, is YouTube – one long commercial break in which all the supposedly independent content is actually advertising. Will it be Guardian Unlimited or YouTube? It’s our choice. In media, as in life, we get what we deserve. I hope we can earn the Guardian Unlimited. But if we end up with the crass inanity of YouTube, we will have gotten what we deserve (Calvinism 2.0).