Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur is 226 pages of vitriol against user-generated media. He posits that while we once relied on professional critics, journalists, producers, musicians, actors, writers, etc. to create and sustain the worthwhile texts, trends, and values of our culture, we now so enamored with the idea of a digital democracy that we settle for much less.

“MySpace and Facebook are creating a youth culture of digital narcissism; open-source knowledge-sharing sites like Wikipedia are undermining the authority of teachers in the classroom; the YouTube generation are more interested in self-expression than in learning about the outside world; the cacophony of anonymous blogs and user-generated content are deafening today’s youth to the voices of informed experts and professional journalists; today’s kids are so busy self-broadcasting on social networks that they no longer consume the creative work of professional musicians, novelists, or filmmakers.”

While I don’t agree with everything Keen says, he does raise some good questions. Why would anyone bother making something beautiful and original when people will instead probably watch videos of kittens playing, get their news from someone’s facebook page, or download your music without paying for it? We need to reward talent by voting with our time and dollars. Would Einstein, Mozart, or Van Gogh have been able to flourish in contemporary society, where “ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule”? Keen’s book contains a lot horror stories, some of which seem silly, but his book is an easy and interesting read. I feel it is a necessary counter-balance to those who proclaim technology and its democratizing capabilities as the saviour and zenith of humankind.

Keen, A. (2007). The cult of the amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture. New York: Doubleday/Currency.