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The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today's user-generated media are killing our culture and economy Paperback – 9 Oct 2008

2.9 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing; 2 edition (9 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857885201
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857885200
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 323,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Andrew Keen has had the temerity to point out that our search for instant wisdom through, say, Google and Wikipedia provides not necessarily what is most true or reliable-merely what is most popular. I read it in one sitting then went outside to fish for our supper, firmly believing that the poor fish that swallows my squirming worm on a barbed hook is infinitely smarter than the idiot on the other end holding the rod. (Ralph Steadman The Observer - "That's the best thing we've read all year")

A staggering new book by Andrew Keen. He is an English-born digital media entrepreneur and Silicon Valley insider who really knows his stuff and he writes with the passion of a man who can at last see the dangers he has helped unleash. His book will come as a real shock to many. It certainly did to me. (A. N. Wilson Daily Mail)

Keen deserves to be taken seriously... I admire his bravery in arguing against the vociferous IT crowd. (Luke Johnson Management Today - Books of the Year)

The Cult of the Amateur needed to be written and it needs to be read. (Management Today)

This is a powerful, provocative and beautifully written stop-and-breathe book in the midst of the greatest paradigm shift in information and communications history. (Chris Schroeder, CEO, Health Central Network and former CEO, WashingtonPost/Newsweek online)

Andrew Keen is a brilliant, witty, classically-educated technoscold-and thank goodness. The world needs an intellectual Goliath to slay Web 2.0's army of Davids. (Jonathan Last, online editor, The Weekly Standard)

Important... will spur some very constructive debate. This is a book that can produce positive changes to the current inertia of web 2.0. (Martin Green, VP of Community, CNET)

For anyone who thinks that technology alone will make for a better democracy, Andrew Keen will make them think twice. (Andrew Rasiej, founder, Personal Democracy Forum)

Very engaging, and quite controversial and provocative. He doesn't hold back any punches. (Dan Farber, editor-in-chief, ZDNet)

Thank you so much for your virtual BIBLE. It is the only thing I have come across that is uncompromising and clear. The computer is a wonderful piece of machinery, but it is in danger of becoming a barometer of our moral stance, a law maker for our shared values and a bulwark against the sheer essence of beauty that has gone before. It must never be the annihilator of human effort, the touchstone of ingenuity or the simple pleasure of making something that may have been made for a thousand years. (Ralph Steadman)

A shrewdly argued jeremiad against the digerati effort to dethrone cultural and political gatekeepers and replace experts with 'the wisdom of the crowd'. Keen writes with acuity and passion. (The New York Times)

My initial reaction to the book was: 'Geez, I have a lot of things to think about now.' For people immersed in the social communities of Web 2.0, this is bound to be a thought-provoking and sobering book. While I don't agree with everything Keen says, there is page after page of really interesting insight and research. I look forward to the much-needed debate about the problems that Keen articulates-which can't be lightly dismissed. (Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of Citizendium)

Book Description

Keen argues that much of the content filling up YouTube, Twitter and blogs is just an endless digital forest of mediocrity which, unconstrained by professional standards or editorial filters, can alter public debate and manipulate public opinion.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Andrew Keen has the right credentials to address the question of the cultural impact of the web and it is a subject of interest to me, so I was intrigued by the title and the reviews. However, I was really quite disappointed by the book. I now have some suspicions, rightly anticipated by Keen himself, about the reviewers who said it is "beautifully written" and the work of "an intellectual Goliath".

The style of the book is polemical, which in my view detracts from, rather than strengthens, his message. Andrew Keen's hypothesis is that the internet, or rather the mass contribution of its content by "amateurs", is a threat to "our culture and our values" or something that might destroy "the institutions of the past". At the centre of this hypothesis is the argument that the millions of amateur contributors of free, unregulated, biased, poor quality and downright untrue web content are undermining, obscuring or preventing the contributions of professionals (amongst which Keen presumably counts himself) which are high quality, truthful and . . er . . costly.

Yet I find his arguments are weak and contradictory, and the metaphors and anecdotes he uses often cut both ways. There are so many examples it is hard to pick one as an illustration. Keen quotes from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four to provide a flavour of what might become of us through our mass ignorance and rejection of expert guidance - "Two plus two makes five" might eventually be considered true - but he misses the point that only in a totalitarian state could such an untruth be accepted as true. The "democracy" of the web is precisely the sort of mechanism that would prevent this being possible.
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Format: Paperback
One of the nicer ironies about this book is that much of the hype surrounding it seems to have been generated by the Web 2.0 crowd bashing it. I just bought it to see what everyone was so upset about.

Pointing out all the problems with this book seems to have become a popular sport on the internet, but that's about the only joy you're going to get out of it. Much of Keen's analysis is itself decidedly amateurish - he's no economist and not much of a cultural critic. Dropping in a few learned-sounding references to Neil Postman and various members of the Huxley family didn't, for me at least, really make up for that. It just reinforced the impression that this man was really just a bit of an intellectual snob who hadn't bothered to do his homework.

More to the point, the bulk of his problem with "amateurs" seems to be based on an unerring ability to compare apples and oranges. No, it's unlikely that today's top clip on You Tube is going to compare that well to Citizen Kane, but so what? By rather obviously cherry-picking the best of the mainstream media and making equally selective decisions the other way about the stuff on the web, Keen makes his arguments seem pretty arbitrary. I could compare Legally Blond 2 to a usenet science group and draw opposite, and equally random, conclusions. Neither really tells us much about what's going on.

This is a shame, because, as many of the other reviewers say, it isn't like there aren't some very valid concerns surrounding whether we'll work out how to pay for the culture we actually want in the "Web 2.0" age, not to mention privacy concerns, digital exhibitionism, etc. etc. Sadly, this book isn't going to tell you much about it.
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Since Andrew Keen is so instinctively dismissive about amateur contributors to the internet - people like me - it's hardly surprising that I should instinctively dismiss his book, so let me declare an interest right away: I like Web 2.0. I've been a contributor to it - through Amazon customer reviews, Wikipedia, discussion forums, MySpace, Napster and so on - for nearly a decade now, and I've followed the emergence of the political movement supporting it, exemplified by writers such as Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler, with some fascination. and no, I've never made a dime out of it (though I have been sent a few books to review, not including this one).

Andrew Keen is that classic sort of British reactionary: the sort that would bemoan the loss of the word "gay" to the English language, and regret the damage caused by industrial vacuum cleaners on the chimney sweeping industry. His book is an impassioned, but simple-minded, harkening to those simpler times which concludes that our networked economy has pointlessly exalted the amateur, ruined the livelihood of experts, destroyed incentives for creating intellectual property, delivered to every man-jack amongst us the ability - never before possessed - to create and distribute our own intellectual property and monkeyed around mischievously with the title to property wrought from the very sweat of its author's brow.

Keen thinks this is a bad thing; but that is to assume that the prior state of affairs was unimpeachably good.
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