The backlash against Web 2.0 in all its manifestations — blogging, Wikipedia, “user-generated content,” citizen journalism and so on — seems to be hitting full tilt.
At the front of this parade, debating anyone he can persuade to share a podium, is Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur. Keen’s critique has already raised mountains of ire, from people including Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer, and Terry Heaton (who calls it “a whining, outrageous and defensive fantasy based on sweeping generalizations, falsehoods, paranoia and a form of condescension so pissy that it blinds the author to anything resembling reality”). I’m still planning to read the book soon and I’ll let you know whether I agree.
Next comes Nick Carr, who’s got a new book heading our way titled The Big Switch: Our New Digital Destiny. Carr is a contrarian by nature who often takes a cynical view of Web 2.0 phenomena a la Keen, but from what I can tell his book intends a more high-altitude portrait of the transformation of computing from a desktop-centric world to the Web-based universe.
Then there is Michael Gorman, the American Library Association honcho known for his broadsides against “the Blog People.” Gorman turns up this week in a “Web 2.0 Forum” organized by the Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been wrestling with the challenges it faces — intellectual, financial and institutional — in the wake of Wikipedia’s success. Gorman sees the rise of Web 2.0-style interaction ushering in a new dark ages, a “Sleep of Reason” –which, Goya fans know, “begets monsters.”
Keen and Carr are both participating in this forum as well. It couldn’t be that Britannica is stacking its expert deck, now, could it? Perhaps they should invite Kevin Kelly, whose civil but devastating retorts to Keen in this dialogue deserve wider currency. (Clay Shirky is in there, at any rate, handily dismantling Gorman’s self-contradictions.)
In any case, this is an important debate, worth mulling over — however crude some of the original contributions may be — and it’s not going to end any time soon. Early next year, for instance, we’ll get a new book on a similar theme from my Salon colleague Farhad Manjoo (now blogging as Salon’s Machinist). Farhad’s book examines similar questions of authority, trust and credibility in new media as Keen, but he does so less as a culture critic than through the lens of social science and psychology. (I’ve had the pleasure of reading an early manuscript, and though I don’t agree with everything in it, it’s a wonderful read, full of insight and valuable nuggets of research.)
Regardless of how you feel about all these issues, it’s hard to miss one meta-elephant in the room: The members of this phalanx of Web 2.0 cynics have all chosen to deliver their critiques via the very form that their rhetoric detests. Keen promotes his book from his blog. Carr weaves his ideas on his blog. Gorman explains what’s wrong with the “Blog People,” where? On a blog hosted by Britannica.
What’s the thinking here: First join them, then beat them?
However dangerous to the polity the tools of Web 2.0 may be, it seems that they are perfectly well-suited to providing a platform for assaults upon themselves. Which tells me that they may be considerably more resilient, and socially salutary, than their critics allow.
[tags]web 2.0, andrew keen, cult of the amateur, nicholas carr, michael gorman, encyclopedia britannica[/tags]
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