Where would we be without contrarians and critics? I realize I may be in the minority, but I’d say we’d be a lot worse off. Iron sharpens iron. Listening to and learning from people who view our creations and say, don’t just think, “That’s garbage/mediocrity/hog wash/derivative, etc.”
Moreover, yin without yang just ain’t right. Something’s missing. Similarly, most recipes for cakes or cookies require some salt as well as sugar. So bring on the Andrew Keen’s and Evgeny Morozov’s. Society needs the critics as well as the cheerleaders.
I just read John Stuart Mill’s “Of The Liberty of Thought and Discussion” this summer, so I’m mindful of the value of dissent. We need those thinkers who tell us that we need to rein in our exuberance for new technology and who remind us as Morozov does that life is messy and not only are there no easy solutions to life’s problems, there will never be sufficient solutions of any sort. While we are right to look for solutions, we need to also develop a capacity, i.e. inner resources, that enable us to accept that there won’t always be “an app for that,” that life will always be messy, tough, irritating, and confusing at times.
Thoreau cautioned people that we have a tendency to become “tools of our tools” and Gunther Grass wisely noted that people no sooner create an invention then they become slave to it. Really? Well, if we remember that clocks were designed to help monks pray more. I do view watches and cell phones as part nuisance and part help. There’s definitely a freedom in not needing these items.
Does this mean technology’s all bad?
Of course, not. There’s a danger in “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” thinking. It just means that if you aren’t aware of the negative effects, you’re likely to become a slave rather than a master.
And so, bring on Mr. Keen who contends that most content on “the Internet” is narcissistic or garbage. Since I can’t possibly live long enough to even view all the information on “the Internet,” I’ll play along and agree. I have easily run across enough posts about personal minutia, vacuous cat videos or Facebook games to agree. Much of this is fads. The early days of emails brought lots of chain letters, phishing scams and oversized mass mailed messages full of photos that clogged one’s account. Most users have become savvier and much of the waste has been trimmed and people have found better ways to share.
Sometimes I don’t need a YouTube video to be high quality, I just need it to be accurate. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by viewing a YouTube video on how to replace a hard drive on my Mac. I didn’t need to buy a video or hire an expert. The production values for such a how-to piece needn’t be high, so an amateur who’ll earn some ad revenue from my viewing is the best solution for my problem.
There have been some Internet stars worth noting. I like Jessica Hagy’s Indexed, which started as a witty woman’s blog. She then got a book published. Her little observations are perfect for “the Internet’ and I don’t think could have found an audience or publisher otherwise. Several blogs have led to books including Stuff White People Like. Here the blog was witty, but I heard the authors didn’t do much to make the book a separate entity for a different medium. So rather than being a satisfying, funny read, the book seemed incomplete. It’s easier to satisfy the blog reader than the book reader.
My guess is that Keen wouldn’t be surprised. Blogs, even those that get book deals, usually aren’t a writer’s best work. I agree that art or good writing is the result of lots of hard work and training, whether formal, informal (including autodidactic). Yet I still see “the Internet’ as valuable and realize we have to sort the wheat from the chaff.
I predict that most people will improve the blog writing and video production skills, that this will be taught as we teach people to write an essay or business letter. I think in a generation or less, the quality level will increase. There will still be more sub-par material because “the Internet” has no gatekeepers, but that’s the status quo and people deal with that fairly well. The quotation ascribed to Mencken that “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people” will continue to be apt. I think the best way to address this is by forming communities of learners, readers, and viewers who have the skill to access the best of the web. If you come to really enjoy good content, you ignore the bad.
I also think the professionals will take their place on these platforms. I loved Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Both established actors made short programs for viewing on “the Internet.” Web Therapy has become a half hour cable show, and I miss the shorter webisodes, which I could watch for free. I don’t get Showtime so I’ve missed this inventive series.
I think we’ll see more good actors getting the funds to debut on YouTube. Some will hold off on putting up their work till they are ready for “primetime.” So Keen isn’t using the same crystal ball I am, but I do agree that there’s a lot of dreck, some harmful, some not, on “the Internet.” He does make some good points, though he tries to be provocative to get under people’s skin. It seems he’s itching for a fight in a way that McLuhan never stooped to.
I do cringe whenever The Today Show spends time highlighting viral videos of babies and pets. To me, they aren’t newsworthy or even noteworthy.
YouTube Gems, i.e. Proof it’s not all trash.
- Brain Scoop
- Empleo, a short Spanish video
- Doha Debates
- The Art Institute
- Critical Thinking Part 2: The Man Who Was Made of Straw (Should Keen view this?)
- Amateur The Great Gatsby analysis
- Dancing (below) Valuable or not? It’s a sort of folk art, designed primarily by Matt Harding and his friends.
PressPausePlay. (2011, September 14). Andrew Keen. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UA1aTaa3Pg