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Kids these days
on 21 February 2015
The most interesting thing about this book is, 7 years after it's publication, how both relevant and dated it is, even if it often reads like an old man confused as to why kids-these-days don't enjoy cola floats like he did. Keen may bemoan the closure of his favorite record stores, but as someone now in their early 30s whose memories are of grudgingly paying £25 for non-chart CDs in HMV, I can't say I share his sorrow at their fall from grace. Also, like many people, he forgets that most TV has always been bloody terrible, we just remember the shows that hit the zeitgeist. And on a personal note, while there may never be another Friends. Good.
As I said, the book is rather dated at times, though of course Keen cannot be blamed for getting things wrong. Still it's hard not to smirk at MySpace and Yahoo! (ask you're parents kids) being mentioned alongside Google and YouTube. More seriously, his criticisms of 'amateur' art and the death of narrative television have also not been borne out. Though it took a while, companies like Netflix and Amazon are now very much behind funding expensive TV shows. Equally, a lot of modern YouTubers and blogger are making a healthy living; while they are a tiny fraction of total content creators, is this any different from the success of one or two giant bands in the 'glorious years' that Keen wishes we could return to? I do find that Keens criticism of anything amateur comes across as the worst kind of elitism; one borne not from an appreciation of the product, but who made it. Yes there is a LOT of c**p on the internet but I, and I imagine anyone reading this, could post links to dozens of interesting, entertaining and well-made review-sites, web-comics, comedy acts, bands, short stories, well-referenced political blogs etc. I find it strange to mourn the fact there many never be another Pink Floyd; instead I think it's fantastic there are thousands of talented people able to make their art as one no longer has to be 'discovered' by an A&R man to gain a mass audience.
It's a shame so much of the book is devoted to moaning about the losses made by record companies and Hollywood (while failing to acknowledge that traditional media, in the three year gap between Napster and iTunes did nothing to advance digital distribution), because the other half of his argument, the death of expertise and 'truth' resonates today more so than it did in 2007. We live in a world where many would rather take health advice from celebrities than Doctors, where conspiracy theories pop up within minutes of major catastrophes and news feeds are dominated by fake stories that even basic fact-checking would disprove. In this sense Keens worst fears have come true, by creating a culture of self-expression we have forgotten that most people should probably keep their ideas to themselves*. I do wish more time had been spent on the social political ramifications of this, rather than job losses at prestigious newspapers however. While I understand his economic concerns, even in 2007 surely it was more troubling that searching 'cancer symptoms' was as likely to produce 'cures' based on dancing around a Ley-Line as actual medical advice.
Still it is an interesting read, and does raise some important points about how/whether professionalism and expertise can survive in a world a world where more and more content is being offered for free*.
*Yes, I am aware of the irony that I'm creating content, in opinion form at that, for a soulless monolithic mega-corporation... for free...