The Cult of the Amateur

Matt Cooney, editor of Idealog asked me to review a couple of books the other day. Wikinomics - How mass collaboration changes everything and The Cult of the Amateur.

The former I found interesting because it confirmed my worldview. The latter I hated - with a passion. It is possibly the most venal book I have ever read. The author Andrew Keen argues that the Internet - and particularly Web 2.0 - is 'killing our culture and assaulting our economy'. It is so bad that, at times I wondered if it was a joke.

But the problem with criticism is that there will always be bias. As I said, my worldview is that open communication is more illuminating than the dark ages of the 20th Century when mass audiences sat mutely in front of the tele while advertisers did the talking. So, naturally, I am going to take issue with the idea that because I'm a blogger I am a mouth breathing fool who is either uninformed or simply repeating without consideration what I am told or read of another slack jawed moron's ramblings.

The medium is not the message. Matters reported in mainstream media are not necessarily of more value than ideas discussed on a special interest blog. Value, as anyone who has attended an auction will attest, is in the eyes of the bidder. The market will decide.

A wholesale onslaught on amateurism means Van Gogh may be considered a genius now but at the time he would have given his left ear to have sold a painting. he was an amateur. When Gottlieb Daimler first started tinkering with motor carriages he wasn't a professional - he couldn't be - there was no such thing as the motor profession. The inventions of amateurs can be as valid or as ridiculous as those of large institutions.

Amateurs are simple people who do things for the love of it. It does not refer necessarily to the quality of the artifacts they contribute to the culture. There are plenty of people who are paid to do things and still do an exceptionally bad job - watch broadcast TV on any night of the week.

The caveat of any criticism - professional or otherwise is that it should always be taken with a grain of salt. What suits my taste may, indeed, be sour on your palate. I encourage you to make up your own mind. Even more I would encourage you to discuss and debate what you read and learn - that is the whole point of exchanging ideas in any media format - not mute acceptance (which is so 20th Century).

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