"The Cult of the Amateur"

Yay Digging. Sometimes the content really stinks, but other times you come across a gold nugget like this Colbert Report:

First off, it’s worth noting that the Colbert Report gains some source of income from the Internet itself, with advertising revenue coming from this site. Obviously Colbert himself is unaware of this fact, however, since all he can contribute to the debate with Keen is that he sells “T-shirts and paperweights.”

This vid has caused a wee bit of an uproar in the blogosphere, it would seem. “Elitist” is certainly an accurate description of most people’s interpretation of the man’s words. The Daily Background — the site on which I found the video — obviously doesn’t see him as much more than a big, ugly jerk (excuse the paraphrasing, Arlen.) However, one brave soul has decided to stick up for Keen over at How Good is This.

It sends shivers up my spine when a battle of this nature breaks out! This is classic Web 2.0 vs. Traditionalists material, right here!

My thoughts on the issue are threefold. First of all, I want to pick up his book. One person on Digg asked who would go to buy his book after that interview. I would, simply because I thought that interview gave very little edge-wise to Keen. Perhaps the author has some revolutionary points in the book that didn’t come out in that awkward five-minute segment, and so I would rather like to read it to find out exactly how well-structured the arguments against today’s “Cult of the Amateur” are.

Which brings me to the second point, which is that I have to agree with Arlen on the fact that this is one of the most infuriating interviews I have ever seen. However, it is not because Keen himself is all that frustrating. Rather, I thought Colbert should have been made to shut up for a second, so the person being interviewed could actually get a word in, edge-wise. The brief seconds Keen has to speak are turned into ridicule by Colbert, despite the fact that the latter really doesn’t contribute much in the way of intellectual content. “The parts that I cancel on my clear history?” That’s canon fodder if there ever was any! Not only does it demonstrate that he has very little knowledge of the financial end of the iIternet (since, for example, the pornography industry is one of the areas where large companies are hurting the most because of amateur contributions), but it also shows that he is unwilling to listen to the counterarguments, since in all likelihood it is a ridiculous claim that he knows more than Keen about the Internet. After all, Keen probably clears his history himself once in a while, if he fits the statistical norm!

Okay. So now that the rant against Colbert is over, I can move on to my actual thoughts on the content of the video.

Both sides have valid points (that being Keen vs. bloggers, not Keen vs. Colbert). It is important to understand that each group comes from a perspective that is generally ignorant of the other side. When Jim Gardner writes that an elite group of bloggers are turning the world against Keen, he is absolutely right. The blogosphere has its leaders, and because of that there is often a fearfully large amount of uninformed agreement over issues that are woefully under-covered. Bloggers who protest against Keen likely haven’t read his book, and neither have they likely engaged with finances in a traditional setting. Rather, most of them are operating on an amateur level and swaying opinions by raging against Keen’s lack of compassion for their art.

Art: that’s just it! The other side, led by Keen, is lacking in knowledge about the Web 2.0ers. Art is diminished, says Keen, diminished or stolen. But then, people who are amateurs have a better ability to propagate their materials, and can at least make marginal sums through programs such as Ad Sense. Yes, it is true that traditional forms of art are going to have more difficulty in bringing in direct revenue for their creators. Make a painting, and one camera phone can cause the image to spread through the Internet at speeds faster than Ben Johnson on ‘roids. So much for the good ol’ copyright protection! But what he misses is the larger perspective: Art is changing because of the Internet. Now those brief images shown by Colbert are Art. Now, home-made videos and cheezy pictures snapped on a phone are our idea of beauty. Amateurism, yes, but content amateurism it is!

It is that which the Traditionalist view fails to accept. Forget the arguments about stealing Art. The truth is that the opportunity is more and more present for people to find innovative ways to make money. Sure-fire, traditionally proven ways are diminishing, but equal opportunity is truly emerging for the first time in history. For many Traditionalists, it means decreased profits for them, but that’s just one casualty, and a reasonably acceptable one, at that. After all, is it really such a shame when pop artists are making only $1 million an album, while people who were formerly making $0 are able to make $100? It’s hardly a perfect system yet, but the Web 2.0 has the potential to shatter the norm of finances — and bring about a positive set of changes right along with it!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Arlen
    Aug 19, 2007 @ 03:53:00

    Paraphrasing excused 🙂

    It’s always interesting to hear another person’s thoughts on this type of thing, so thanks fo sharing yours.


  2. blackberry guy
    Aug 23, 2007 @ 17:58:00

    I thought it was a decent interview. Mr. Elitist has a point, and he managed to convey it in between Colbert doing his standard satirical schtick. Particularly by using Colbert as an example: If you guys like the Colbert Report, you should understand that it’s only available because of the profit margin for the network. Otherwise, Stephen Colbert would have to get a different job.

    What I do on my blog doesn’t constitute journalism. Mostly I’m responding to content provided by real journalists.

    The Globe and Mail did a great series recently: they discovered that Canadian soldiers were turning detainees over to the Afghan government, who were then disappearing into inaccessible prisons, perhaps to be tortured. The Globe and Mail embarrassed the Canadian government sufficiently that they fixed the problem.

    That sort of story doesn’t happen without profits to drive the whole enterprise. I’m no great fan of capitalism, but there are certain things that it does extremely well. Mostly, it provides an incentive for productivity of many kinds: hence the West’s victory in the Cold War.

    I’d rather pay money to listen to a U2 record, recorded in a professional studio, than listen for free to some amateur band who recorded themselves in their garage. I guess everybody doesn’t feel that way.

    File sharing has the potential of denying profits to artists, so that it becomes all amateur hour all the time. So I’m sympathetic to Mr. Elitist’s argument. But maybe I’m just a product of my g-g-g-generation.


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