04 Jan 2011 Book Review – the cult of the amateur
I recently finished reading The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. The book was recommended to me by one of the folks I met at the NASA tweetup last November as I was remarking about the differences between “old” and “new” media. The book is written by Andrew Keen, someone who has been in and around Silicon Valley from before Web 2.0 started. In other words, he has some perspective to offer. I didn’t think the book was a great one, but I did think it offered some good points about where we are today with “old” and “new” media.
The short of it is this: fact checkers. The traditional media sites are ones that actually employ people to check facts and make sure stories are true. Of course many believe that the traditional media suffers from the appearance that everyone involved has an agenda. But that isn’t new, really, even Edward Murrow had an agenda. And the greatest newsman I can recall, Walter Cronkite, someone I admire and believe was beyond reproach…well…he had an agenda as well (we all do, right?). He just did a better job at not letting that get in the way of facts, or so it seemed to me.
So the “new” media, which is essentially online, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc., suffers from a lack of fact checking. And the result of this? Well, first off we are being presented information that isn’t true, but we think it is because we read it on a website. We are also seeing a rise in plagiarism as many people feel it is fine to copy and paste material that is not theirs. But why would they bother? What is the point? For some they are just looking for page hits so they can either sell ads or promote themselves in order to land some clients.
And how many page hits do you need to make enough money to quit your day job? The book talks about how Guy Kawasaki, the man that spams my Tweetdeck with all sorts of links to stories, the man who generated 2.5 million hits to his blog in 2006…and earned $3,550 for all of those hits. [The next time you or anyone else talk about finding a way to generate more hits to a blog or website you should ask about the end goal. You don’t need 2.5 million hits. What you want is the one hit that pays you 2.5 million dollars. But I digress.]
The author does tell a good story about Tower records and its demise and tries to draw some parallels. At the end of the day we are left with a communal society of amateurs, with no experts, and in order to make progress as a society we really need to have those experts. We need fact checkers. And no, Wikipedia does not count as a fact-based resource. It is staffed by the same amateurs that are running the blogs. (I once had a person tell me that they trust Wikipedia more than a blog post from some guy named Paul Randal, and I couldn’t believe what I heard.)
The growing distrust of traditional media along with the rise of the amateur is why I think The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is so popular. We don’t trust the older media as they have become overrun with people pushing their own agenda ahead of facts. With Jon Stewart we trust that we are getting the facts and he puts them in a way that makes us laugh. I wouldn’t doubt that Jon is probably one of the most trusted men in America today, ahead of anyone else in traditional media or government. We crave for someone to be an expert, to have the facts, and to present them to us. We crave this so much as a society that we are even willing to allow someone to do so in a comical way. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite hosting the Daily Show?
A long time ago my father told me “…don’t believe everything that you read and/or hear and only half of what you see”. I tend to remember that whenever I go online or watch one of the talking heads on TV. Sadly, I don’t think others do the same, but wish they would.
I am not adding the book onto my bookshelf at this time, but feel free to browse around for anything else you might like.