September 04, 2007

The cult of the amateur and how internet changes our culture

Radio_4_2 Last week I helped the You and Yours team at BBC Radio 4 with some background to the other side of Andrew Keen's take on the participative web. Mick Fealty will be reveling in giving the positive angle of how the web has empowered the citizen in a show live today at midday on whether internet is changing our culture (for the better? for the worse?), which can also be heard again any time from 3pm for one week.

If you've not heard of Keen's Cult of the Amateur book, or seen Dave Weinberger's superb riposte of it, well, you've probably heard it all before anyway. It's the typical argument of a certain type of schools administrator or teacher who just doesn't think that mere mortals should be given the opportunity to say what they think, unvetted, not quality controlled and verified by 'them', the powers that be. It is that terrifyingly regular assumption that Joe-Who-Blogs is incapable of realising that there are some sources more reputable than others, and to take everything with a pinch of salt.

What this raft of unvetted material of variable quality has brought me is priceless: tips on changing my baby quicker, the alternative view of my politicians, new friends with whom I've ended up doing significant business, new friends with whom I've shared a pint and a philosophy. It's made my face-to-face encounters worth even more, freed up my working day to have more time to play, made connections with my family closer than they could otherwise have been. It's allowed relatives who can't see their grand daughter, niece, or great niece a chance the see and hear her every day.

Heck, as an absolute amateur in everything I do I've noticed that, in this day and age, being expert is not about getting more and more knowledgeable about a narrower and narrower field. It's all about being as clued up on the reasoning behind a wider and wider range of fields. Expertise has been redefined. It's just that academics like Keen have trouble swallowing it. There, folks, is the real digital divide.

(Oh, sod it. Go and read Dave Weinberger for a much more, well, expert argument around the Cult Of The Amateur.)


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The whole argument smacks of the reformation.
The secret knowledge kept by the 'experts' and passed to the common people.
The translation into local languages and printing makes the knowledge accessible to more people.
The High Priests of knowledge want to keep their power.

Oh Ewan, what will Granny Blethers say! I assume you meant riposte rather than repost.

I reckon Ian Stuart raises a valid point. What was the reaction when the printing press put the Bible into the hands of the layman? What was the response when mass was said in English so that the dirt-under-the-nails congregation could understand it? What is the ongoing attitude towards wikipedia, where you and I collaborate on a resource that was set to knock that sacred cow, the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, off its lofty pedestal? Knowledge is still power, and, even in this politically democratic age, society seems not to be ready for information and knowledge democracy.

Tried to give of my best Ewan. Difficult to get in at times when you are in a remote studio.

Strangest thing is that everyone he talks seems to be a media expert and the dangerously media illiterate he refers to in his book are always somewhere or someone else.

The most troubling part of the programme was on education. There seems no recognition of the fact often the kids know more than the teachers. In fact IT teachers are putting kids through the far end functionality of the Word programme and given too little time talking/thinking about the net.

Some adults really do think all kids are thick!

I wrote something in my blog that deals with this. I hope you don't mind a bit of copy and paste.

"I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when the last time such a huge sea change in communications hit the planet.

Time: Late in the fifteen century.
Place: A monastery in northern Italy

Monk A: I don't what's going on in the world. I mean ever since that guy, Gottenbach, Gutenberg, started up that print thingy the whole publishing business has gone down the tubes.

Monk B: I know, I know. I mean have you seen these new books? Cheap, nasty tomes, with no art or brains. I mean they push them out like sausages, without a thought to how they look.

Monk A: Yeah, I mean we spill blood producing a work worthy of the name and some guy comes along and knocks off these dodgy copies which sell for a fraction of the price.

Monk B: An have you seen what they're bringing out these days? I mean there we are reproducing Aristotle, St Augustus and Plato and what do they print? Books on farming!!! Pig husbandry!!! I even saw one on cooking.

I mean what is the world coming to?

Monk A: Any old idiot with a quill and an idea can just publish nowadays."

I just had to blog about Keen and Weinberger myself after reading this:

"Here's some news for you: our economy (as you know it), our culture (as you know it), and our values (as you know many of them) are being destroyed by a new global, connected ecosystem, as Weinberger calls it. Just face it. The world is changing at a pace largely suitable for those under the age of twenty. But economy, culture, and values do not just disappear. They will be replaced, and it is the responsibility of those over twenty to understand the processes of change in order to skillfully help shape the new world economy, culture, and the formation of new values.

Reject the change, and you will be run over. But those who do understand change know: listen to your dissenters. Dave Weinberger knows this well."

I have just finished reading Keen and I am really afraid. I'm actually trembling as I type this and venture back into the world of the Web. Things are lurking in here that can hurt me!

I like to make connections to understand things. I moved from Australia to New Zealand six years ago. In NZ there is a lot of talk about all the things that can kill you in Australia: crocodiles, spiders, and especially snakes. The funny thing is, the longer I live in NZ the more afraid of snakes I become, but I lived in Australia for 30 years without ever confronting a snake. Why am I afraid of something I know not to be a problem? Because of scare mongering. And that is what I think Keen's book is.

There is a lot of positive in being connected and sharing your thoughts. There are many positives about the Internet. If we are going to be frightened of the potential evil in things, we will have to burn books, turn off the television and even stop our children listening to music.

I for one refuse to be frightened. I will not be silly, I will educate children to navigate the waters safely, but I will teach them to not be afraid and face the world with a fierce attitude and willingness to share their opinions. Long live the cult of the amateur.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

Recent Posts