Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Enthusiastic Amateur


There's a book out called "The Cult of the Amateur" by Andrew Keen. I found out about it when I was looking up that book "Wikinomics." Basically, Keen's book is about how shitty the internet is, and how things like YouTube, Myspace, and what I'm doing right now (blogs) are killing our culture. I haven't read the book yet, but it smells suspiciously like "The Closing Of The American Mind," that great 80's book about how our culture is dying because of people no longer reading the classics, among other reasons. It gets very tiresome seeing old pundits who can't get with it bitching about how things are changing. I honestly feel that the internet is probably one of the greatest things we have going now, since everyone all around the world is more connected now than they've ever been at any other point in time, and the media monopoly that we've had to deal with for most of our lives is finally starting to crumble away.

I can't even begin to count how many things I've discovered online. Maybe because I've used the internet for so damn long, I have a hard time seeing how it's destroying anything. The one thing I wanted to address, though, is the idea that culture in and of itself is falling apart, and that talented people will no longer find an audience because of being drowned about by folks on the internet.

First of all, just because something is published does not mean that it's good. There always has been and always will be people with no talent who somehow get book/music/film deals. That's just the way things are, and blogs, iTunes, and YouTube aren't going to change that. Second, the problem for the author, it seems, is that too many hands are getting into the pot, and entertainment is now, possibly for the first time, entirely democratic. He bemoans the "wisdom of the crowd," and while I do the same from time to time, I think that the sheer amount of choice we have makes up for the extra amount of sifting we have to do to find something of value. The DIY of the punk scene has finally made it into a medium that will embrace it and give the artist the kind of audience they may never have had. A friend of mine who's in a band told me that his band got booked for a few shows due solely to a couple of demos that they have posted on their Myspace page. Let's see...talented people getting the word out about their work to a large number of people that they might never have gotten to otherwise...how is this a bad thing, again?

Also worth noting is that people no longer have to depend on the media giants for their entertainment. This is the best thing of all about the internet. One thing I hated about the radio while growing up is that I always had to sit through a bunch of god-awful bullshit before I heard a song that I liked. Now I can browse the internet and discover new music through MP3 blogs, and get recommendations from people who have the same taste in music that I do. Hell, I only heard about bands such as Franz Ferdinand (a demo recording, no less) and The Gossip through free MP3's that the bands posted on websites, and this was before these bands attained their popularity.

If something is good, people will find out about it. There will always be "quality," and it will find an audience. Yes, a lot of what's online is crap, but there is a lot more that's worth checking out. I plan on reading Keen's book, but I doubt very much that I'll agree with any of it. An interesting take on this book is at the following website:

http://www.lessig.org/blog/2007/05/keens_the_cult_of_the_amateur.html

Read it, come to your own conclusions, and then post your opinions. And if you agree completely with the book, then DON’T post your opinions, since, you know, you’ll be contributing to the problem.

1 comment:

ajay said...

I'm not sure why Keen won't acknowledge that the amateur is the major source of creativity in this country. The amateur (or 'entrepreneur' in the business world) is responsible for preventing stagnancy and consistently increases our overall quality of life. (A broad generalization, maybe. But so often, the success of someone else's labors is dependent on creating happiness within the consumer or audience.)

And as I feel my patriotism rising up inside my chest, I have to pose this question: What is more American than the amateur; the person who studies what came before him and incorporates it into his own efforts; the one who constantly seeks to improve, for his benefit and the benefit of others, and then fails, but starts the process over and again?

There will always be critics of progress when it involves a shift of power and influence from those who have long held it to those who now deserve it.

If you're not constantly trying to create something better, don't label those who are as thieves or parasites.

I probably won't be reading Keen's book, but it's not because I disagree with his views (although I do). It's because the constant amateurism (and there should be no stigma associated with that word) in this country has provided me with so many better uses of my time.