On Andrew Keen…

09/05/2007

Andrew Keen makes me furious but I don’t write about him as a rule. Why not? Because you don’t feed the trolls. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so clearly acting like a troll. I mean, you only have to read his post Etes-vous elitiste in which he declares that people have labelled him an anti-Christ and then uses that as a platform to sell his speaking gigs, while the right-hand column of his website lists all his media appearances. He wants to stir up an argument to get attention. We’re not supposed to enable behaviour like this in our children. We have to be firm. He must be placed on the naughty step.

Andrew is the chap who thinks that the whole internet is full of amateurish morons and that nothing rises to the top and that professional media has become corrupted and less good as a result of all this stuff. I could agree with his comments about mainstream media losing the plot if it didn’t seem to be quite the other way around. As far as I can see in the US at least, mainstream news became about entertainment way before the bloggers came along, there’s lots of money in cinema still and Harry Potter sells by the ton. I watched a TV programme about how in the US they sold Life on Earth as basically animal on animal bestial snuff movies. Presumably also the effect of the nascent internet, even if about four people in the world were using it back then. And clearly the blunt utility of Wikipedia counts for nothing, the beautiful pictures in Flickr aren’t worth looking at, Keen’s own blog presumably yet another indication of how low you now have to stoop to make an impact in the world rather than something we should celebrate – another citizen gets to express their opinion and try and persuade the world he’s right.

The thing is about this, all this conversation is a total waste of time. I don’t understand why he gets the traction he does. I mean, what is he actually trying to accomplish? Does he think that the millions of bloggers will get bored and go home if he explains why their voices don’t count? Does he think that Wikipedia will stop being useful to people (even with its inaccuracies) or YouTube will stop being entertaining? No, of course he doesn’t. He can’t honestly think he can accomplish anything. The future comes, for good or ill, whether you like it or not. The best you can do in such a situation is try and work to fix the issues you see. No market for decent commentary and opinion? Look for a business model that could support it! No way that Encyclopedia Britannica can compete with Wikipedia? Well then why not move some of the resourcing of Britannica towards creating a trusted version of Wikipedia? Check articles every so often for factual accuracy, pull them aside and enhance them and make that your business.

The world we have as a result of technologies of the internet is not a world I find particularly troubling, because it’s a world finding its feet and its a world that has also created significant beauty. It’s a world I feel comfortable in, and there is always a market for what people want and often for what people need. I don’t doubt that journalism will survive or resurge but it will have to adapt.

People like Keen are professional complainers, stirring up fights, decrying the state of the world that we find ourselves in without facing the fact that it is where we are and wishing won’t make it not so. If you don’t like the way the world is, then use the tools that exist and push them further and find a way to compensate for the problems that you think the existing technology has created. I’m afraid it’s a clich√© but it’s true. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The world we have is the world we can work with, and anyone wanting to push it back to the fifties will fail.

And that’s what really gets to me. Because it’s pretty clear that he knows this. He’s writing his own bloody blog for a start. He knows he can’t win the battle, but he’s put himself on the side of respectability, trustworthiness, reliability and is decrying all the terrible new things in the world. As I once said of Nick Carr, this is a brilliant strategy to make yourself like a terribly intelligent and responsible, serious person without actually having to go to any of the trouble of thinking. That’s why he’s a troll – because his opinion cannot do any good, cannot change anything for the better, but in its decrying of the nascent environment of millions of people finding their voices for the first time, he can get nothing but attention, media coverage and book-sales. It’s not an appeal to better standards, it’s not an appeal to quality or tradition. It has no aspirations to honour. It’s disingenuous to the core, manipulative of the people, anti-progressive, cynical and hypocritical.