Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Birth of Mediocrity

It happens almost everyday around 7:45am. I sit in front of the TV and watch CNN and scarf down my bran flakes in a vain attempt to be healthy. Inevitably some insane commentary comes on and I drive off to work with a bee in my bonnet. Usually I have calmed down by the time I get to work and forget about it . . . but not today.

This morning CNN featured an interview with Andrew Keen, author of the new book "The Cult of the Amateur." In his book, Mr. Keen criticizes the onslaught of amateur bloggers, which he argues is destroying the Internet and blurring the lines between reliable news and facts.

Quoting from BBC:

He claims that Wikipedia perpetuates a cycle of misinformation and ignorance, and labels YouTube inane and absurd, “showing poor fools dancing, singing, eating, washing, shopping, driving, cleaning, sleeping, or just staring at their computers.”
He warns that old media is facing extinction – “say goodbye to experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.”

(source: BBC Newsnight)

Wow. I must admit, that I was a little offended by these comments. I certainly do not view my world as inane and absurd (boring perhaps, but not absurd). In fact, there are several reasons that many expats choose to blog.

First, for many expat bloggers, the Internet is a key way for us to stay in touch with our families. It is cheap and fast and you can report from anywhere in the world. Second, blogging opens up a virtual community, which helps us exchange information and support each other. Happily, this virtual community has become a real one, and many expat bloggers in Germany meet each other. Perhaps, our stories of culture shock and observations on human behavior are "inane," but if you do not like it, you do not have to read it.

My second bone to pick with Mr. Keen was his comment about saying, "goodbye to experts and cultural gatekeepers." Is this such a bad thing? When I was teaching politics at university, my students and I had many enthusiastic discussions about the Internet. We talked about blogging as a way of expanding the voices heard in a democracy.

The Internet provides an alternative to traditional forms of political participation. Although having your own computer is expensive, for only a few dollars you can go into an Internet cafe and within a few minutes share your political views with the world. Furthermore, there are many stories that the mainstream media simply will not carry. The Internet provides a platform for those individuals who might not other wise be heard.

As far as the claims of inane amateurs, it is not as if the main stream media is not full of its own buffoons. If you want to see mediocrity, turn on Fox News. Also, main stream media has OFTEN reported something falsely (and perhaps even started wars). Hence the corrections section of the editorial page.

Finally, I certainly agree that there is a lot of bad writing out on the Internet, but who am I to judge. There are many gifted writers who have found their start on a blog or website. Should we through out everything because of a few bad apples? Also, who would identify the bad apples? That certainly does not seem very democratic to me and I don't even think that blogging is to blame for the "slump" in our culture. If there is one (which I doubt), you could probably trace it back to the first season of the Real World on MTV, which was much earlier than than blogging. Hell, some people would probably go back even further and blame Andy Warhol or Punk Rock. Wait, I think that Mr. Keen would consider that "real" culture.

Now, I might be an amateur, but I am something of an expert (a PhD in politics from a respected university does that; I tried to figure our what makes Mr. Keen an expert, but came up with nothing). However, I do not report objective facts on this website. As Jen would say, "This isn't CNN." My writing may not win a Pulitzer, but it does not mean I am going to stop. I am sorry to say Mr. Keen, but I (and many in my virtual community) are here to stay. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Anonymous said...

If the cult of the amateurs helps rid the world of our Bill O'Reilly's, our Al Frankens, etc, etc, then bring it on I say. Our
"experts and cultural gate keepers" tends to be every bit as agenda driven and economic with the truth as any amateur blogger. The people with the least to fear from this are the genuine experts, high quality, truthful reportage cannot be easily undermined. Later! Brendan

Christina G said...

I agree with you. I also don't see that "experts" are going to disappear. They might just come out of different places. Heck, the internet allows for a random Iraqi to report on the war. I gotta think that s/he would know more about what's going on on the ground than some "expert" sitting in a studio in New York.

Anonymous said...

I"ve just GOT to comment on this one.
1st: who has TV on at that time of the morning? Besides retired people, that is.

2nd: in a way, I agree with this tv guy. I don't subscribe to my local paper, but read it on-line, and the jerks that comment on almost every article are unbelievable in thier stupidity. Sometimes I almost feel like joining them. But that would be stooping too low!

However, I do also agree with you concerning your usage of the blog.
After if it weren't for your blog, I wouldn't even know if you were still alive or not.

Love, Grandpa

vailian said...

"He warns that old media is facing extinction – “say goodbye to experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios."

Well la-di-da!! I personally would not be in the least unhappy to be rid of all of these!

Is it any coincidence, I ask, that I am reading your blog rather than watching Spiderman 16?

Carrie said...

well said

(i don't have time to write more, but you know me well enough to know what I would say)