New book warns of the shrill, foolish on the Web
The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen (240 pages, $15).
Andrew Keen is not a right-wing voice of conservatism, nor is he an anti-technology alarmist. And yet, he is deeply troubled by the effects Web 2.0 technology is having on culture and civic discourse.
Having been on the inside of both waves of the Internet revolution, he makes a compelling case that the seemingly amoral nature of the new Internet, with its’ promise of radical democratization of information – specifically through blogs, wikis, social networking, and the digital world – are assaulting our economy, culture, and values.
He says, “The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more people- more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of 100 million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.”
While Keen addresses the evils of online addictions (gambling and pornography), the most insightful commentary comes through his discussion of how all the “free information” comes with the eventual loss of established media – newspapers, magazines, professional recording studios, and book publishers.
With little or no regard for copyright infringement, the Web 2.0 allows for easy piracy of music and video, and even easier cutting and pasting of legitimate news stories written by journalists who must be paid by someone. The Web 2.0 gives everything away “free”, with the result being that everyone is an artist, writer, journalist, and movie producer – no matter how pathetic or untrue the resulting product is.
Many of Keen’s observations hit close to home as I considered the advent of blogging within the Southern Baptist Convention. Rather than blogs being primarily used for new content written by pastors for their own congregations, the typical SBC blog is patterned after the work of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, except that they were actually trained investigative journalists.
The voice of the countless many, however inexperienced and amateur they may be, often gets heard above the wise and the learned on account of the shrill voice and shocking language of the blog posting. Keen says, “Today, on a Web where everyone has an equal voice, the words of the wise man count for no more than the mutterings of a fool.”
In the blogosphere, the life experience and education and countless hours of study from someone like Dr. Al Mohler can be shouted down by a 2nd year seminary student with access to a keyboard, or a pastor who insists that such leaders are inherently deceptive because of the very agency position they hold. Many receive much notoriety for nothing.
Keen says, “These 4 million wannabe Drudges revel in their amateurism with all the moral self-righteousness of religious warriors. They flaunt their lack of training and formal qualifications as evidence of their calling, their passion, and of their selfless pursuit of the truth, claiming that their amateur status allows them to give us a less-biased, less-filtered picture of the world than we get from traditional news. In reality this is not so.”
“In the cult of the amateur, those who know most can be persecuted by those who know the least,” says Keen. “The most popular blogs are those that offer the seductive conspiracy theories and sensationalist antiestablishment platitudes that readers crave.”
I wish it were not so on Baptist blogs. However, recent events coming out of San Antonio provide evidence that Keen is right. In one blog post discussing the controversial BF&M motion, two hundred loud and lengthy comments revealed nary a shred of truth regarding what had actually taken place on the floor of the convention. Lots of rhetoric. Lots of flame and heat. But very little understanding, wisdom, or truth.
The confusion could be cleared up in a series of articles written by people who have the ability to think and write clearly, and to lead us with vision. But will the Baptist blogosphere, under the banner of democratization, even allow for such an authoritative word to be spoken? Will this be the YouTube-generation of the SBC, where any Baptist blogger with broadband and a well-worn copy of Robert’s Rules of Order can take the convention down any path they wish? (Scott Lamb pastors Providence Baptist Church in St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepages.com.)