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The Cult of the Amateur

the cult of the amateur, the cult of the amateur by andrew keen
The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture ISBN 0385520808 is a 2007 book written by entrepreneur and Internet critic Andrew Keen Published by Currency, Keen's first book is a critique of the enthusiasm surrounding user generated content, peer production, and other Web 20-related phenomena

The book was based in part on a controversial essay Keen wrote for The Weekly Standard, criticizing Web 20 for being similar to Marxism, for destroying professionalism and for making it impossible to find high quality material amidst all of the user-generated web content


  • 1 Contents
  • 2 Reviews and reception
  • 3 Jarvis-Keen debate
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


Keen argues against the idea of a read-write culture in media, stating that "most of the content being shared— no matter how many times it has been linked, cross-linked, annotated, and copied— was composed or written by someone from the sweat of their creative brow and the disciplined use of their talent" As such, he contrasts companies such as Time Warner and Disney that "create and produce movies, music, magazines, and television" with companies such as Google He calls the latter "a parasite" since "it creates no content of its own" and "n terms of value creation, there is nothing there apart from its links"

He elaborates on the point by saying, "Of course, every free listing on Craigslist means one less paid listing in a local newspaper Every visit to Wikipedia's free information hive means one less customer for a professionally researched and edited encyclopedia such as Britannica" Thus, he concludes that "what is free is actually costing us a fortune" He also refers to changes such as downsizing of newspaper business and the closing of record labels as forms of economic loss caused by internet-based social changes

Mr Keen argues that the democratized Web’s penchant for mash-ups, remixes and cut-and-paste jobs threaten not just copyright laws but also the very ideas of authorship and intellectual property He observes that as advertising dollars migrate from newspapers, magazines and television news to the Web, organizations with the expertise and resources to finance investigative and foreign reporting face more and more business challenges And he suggests that as CD sales fall in the face of digital piracy and single-song downloads and the music business becomes increasingly embattled, new artists will discover that Internet fame does not translate into the sort of sales or worldwide recognition enjoyed by earlier generations of musicians

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Mr Keen writes “The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 20 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave”

Keen quotes social philosopher Jürgen Habermas about the internet and related technologies: "The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralized access to unedited stories In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus" Keen states that most of modern social culture has existed with specific gatekeepers analyzing and regulating information as it reaches the masses He views this expert-based filtering process as beneficial, improving the quality of popular discourse, and argues that it is being circumvented

He also criticizes the ability of the Internet to promote social harms such as gambling and pornography He writes, "It’s hardly surprising that the increasingly tasteless nature of such self-advertisements have resulted in social networking sites becoming infested with anonymous sexual predators and pedophiles" He sees "cultural standards and moral values" as "at stake" due to new media innovations

More broadly, Keen remarks that "history has proven that the crowd is not often very wise" and argues against the notion that mass participation in ideas improve their quality He highlights that popular opinion has supported "slavery, infanticide, George W Bush’s war in Iraq, Britney Spears” among other things He warns against a future of "when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule"

Reviews and reception

Author Andrew Keen

The book received mixed reviews Some traditional sources gave the book positive or neutral reviews while the book received generally negative reactions from bloggers The New York Times ran an article by Michiko Kakutani calling the book "a shrewdly argued jeremiad" and also saying that the book "is eloquent on the fallout that free, user-generated materials is having on traditional media" She wrote that the author "wanders off his subject in the later chapters of the book" but broadly "writes with acuity and passion" Daily Mail reviewer A N Wilson said that the "book will come as a real shock to many It certainly did to me I had never realised until reading Keen's book that any amateur can write an entry in Wikipedia Keen leaves me very uneasy indeed"

Lawrence Lessig, who was criticized in both the original essay and in the book, wrote an extremely negative review of the book in which he listed what he stated were a multitude of errors in the book including mischaracterizations of Lessig's views and work Lessig also set up a wiki where users could collaborate in listing problems with the book

Larry Sanger, the founder of the expert-centered wiki Citizendium, gave the book a mixed review Sanger said that "The book is provocative, but its argument is unfortunately weakened by the fact that Keen is so over-the-top and presents more of a caricature of a position than carefully reasoned discourse" He said that it was hypocritical for Keen to express support for Citizendium, for incorporating expert opinion, when the inherent point of the project is to supply free content, which Keen so opposes in principle Sanger stated that the book "combines several different criticisms of Web 20, incoherently, under the rubric of `the cult of the amateur'" but the book "is a much-needed Web 20 reality check" Tim O'Reilly commented in response to the book, "I find, Andrew Keen's, his whole pitch, I think he was just pure and simple looking for an angle, to create some controversy and sell a book, I don't think there's any substance whatever to his rants" Furthermore, he has said in response to the book, "I think the Internet is often held to another standard You don't say, 'Why aren't the newspapers writing about Bismarck, he is more important than Pamela Anderson' But people will say that about Wikipedia It's just bias"

Anthony Trewavas, professor at the Institute of Molecular Plant Science at the University of Edinburgh, discussed the book in an article in Trends in Biotechnology Trewavas wrote that Keen's "concern is the blurring of the distinction between the qualified and informed professional and the uninformed and unqualified amateur", expressing concerns that this social change can hold back agricultural development Trewavas stated as well, "in agriculture, pesticides, food and farming, expert scientific knowledge and experience is seemingly regarded as having no more weight than that of the opinionated, unqualified and inexperienced environmentalist" The book has also been discussed in academic publications negatively, expressing how Keen has considered the worst aspects of a complex social movement while ignoring the demonstrable benefits that have been brought through initiatives such as OpenStreetMap, an expression of Volunteered Geographic Information

Jarvis-Keen debate

Jeff Jarvis, who had previously called the original essay in The Weekly Standard "snobscom," was challenged to a debate over Web 20 issues Jarvis held a discussion on his blog about whether he should debate Keen and then decided to accept the offer

See also

  • Books portal
  • Technology portal
  • Economic effects of Wikipedia
  • Media criticism
  • Reliability of Wikipedia
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death
  • An Army of Davids
  • Is Google Making Us Stupid
  • The Global Trap
  • The Wisdom of Crowds


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kakutani, Michiko 2007-06-29 "The Cult of the Amateur" The New York Times Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  2. ^ Keen, Andrew 2006-02-15 "Web 20: The second generation of the Internet has arrived It's worse than you think" The Weekly Standard Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  3. ^ a b "Amateur Internet" Toronto: Reutersl 2007-02-07 Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  4. ^ a b c d e Lessig, Larry 2007-05-31 "Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur": BRILLIANT!" Archived from the original on November 1, 2007 Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  5. ^ a b c Jarvis, Jeff 2007-05-10 "Your advice: Should I debate" BuzzMachine Archived from the original on May 11, 2010 Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  6. ^ Auchard, Eric 2007-06-05 "Amateur charge infuriates blogosphere" Toronto Archived from the original on August 4, 2009 Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  7. ^ A N Wilson 2007-06-08 "The internet is destroying the world as we know it" Daily Mail London 
  8. ^ "TheKeenReader" Lessigorg Larry Lessig Archived from the original on 2008-05-24 Retrieved 2008-08-20 
  9. ^ "Citizendium Blog" Archived from the original on August 25, 2007 Retrieved 7 October 2014 
  10. ^ Ritzer, G and Jurgenson, N, 2010 Production, Consumption, Prosumption The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’ Journal of consumer culture, 101, pp13-36
  11. ^ a b VPRO 2007-07-17 "The Truth According To Wikipedia" Wikipedia VPRO Retrieved 2008-08-20  The title derives from words spoken by Tim O'Reilly at 38:00 in this video
  12. ^ Trewavas, Anthony September 2008 "The cult of the amateur in agriculture threatens food security" PDF Trends in Biotechnology Elsevier 26 9: 475–478 doi:101016/jtibtech200806002 Retrieved 2011-04-28 
  13. ^ Parker, CJ, May, AJ and Mitchell, V 2014, “User-centred design of neogeography: the impact of volunteered geographic information on users’ perceptions of online map ‘mashups’”, Ergonomics, Vol 57 No 7, pp 987–97
  14. ^ Brown, M, Sharples, S, Harding, J, Parker, CJ, Bearman, N, Maguire, M, Forrest, D, et al 2013, “Usability of Geographic Information: Current challenges and future directions”, Applied Ergonomics, Applied Ergonomics: Special Issue GI Data Usability, Vol 44 No 6, pp 855–865
  15. ^ Jarvis, Jeff 2006-02-18 "Snobscom" BuzzMachine Retrieved 2008-08-20 

External links

  • Excerpt from Keen's blog

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