Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Keen and Weinberger on Web2.0

July 20th, 2007 by Seb Chan

The Wall St Journal has published the full text of a debate between Andrew Keen (Cult of the Amateur) and David Weinberger. It is well worth reading.

Keen’s argument that a more accessible, user-driven web is effectively undermining our institutions, values and culture comes up against Weinberger’s defense of the Web.

Keen:

The issue of talent is the heart of the matter. How do we traditionally constitute/nurture/sell talent and how is Web 2.0 altering this? My biggest concern with Web 2.0 is the critique of mainstream media that, implicitly or otherwise, drives its agenda. It’s the idea that mainstream media is a racket run by gatekeepers protecting the interests of a small, privileged group of people. Thus, by flattening media, by doing away with the gatekeepers, Web 2.0 is righting cultural injustice and offering people like your friends Joe and Maria an opportunity to monetize their talent. But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s distintermediated media unstitches the ecosystem that has historically nurtured talent. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content. No, if Joe and Maria want to be professional musicians paid for their work, they need a label to make an either/or call about their talent. That’s the binary logic that informs any market decision — from music to any other consumer product. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs. If they can produce commercially viable music, Joe and Maria need the management of professionals trained in the development of musical talent.

Weinberger makes a solid argument against this logic but most importantly concludes with a list of benefits that amateurs might bring to the institutions – benefits that are very applicable to the cultural sector.

Weinberger:

(1) Some amateurs are uncredentialed experts from whom we can learn.
(2) Amateurs often bring points of view to the table that the orthodoxy has missed, sometimes even challenging the authority of institutions whose belief systems have been corrupted by power.
(3) Professional and expert ideas are often refined by being brought into conversation with amateurs.
(4) There can be value in amateur work despite its lack of professionalism: A local blogger’s description of a news story happening around her may lack grammar but provide facts and feelings that add to — or reveal — the truth.
(5) The rise of amateurism creates a new ecology in which personal relationships can add value to the experience: That a sister-in-law is singing in the local chorus may make the performance thoroughly enjoyable, and that I’ve gotten to know a blogger through her blog makes her posts more meaningful to me.
(6) Collections of amateurs can do things that professionals cannot. Jay Rosen, for example, has amateur citizens out gathering distributed data beyond the scope of any professional news organization.
(7) Amateur work helps us get over the alienation built into the mainstream media. The mainstream is theirs. The Web is ours.
(8) That amateur work is refreshingly human — flawed and fallible — can inspire us, and not just seduce us into braying like chimps.

Tags: 1 Comment

  • thanks for posting this Seb, an interesting read. I’m with Weinberger on this one. some people like the human talent – it doesn’t always have to be the polished output of a team of ‘talent engineers’. & that’s not to say that grass roots cannot be polished either – as most diy people seem to be very particular about the quality of their work. web2.0 & web in general (as it’s been happening prior to ‘web2.0’ terminology became popular) allow us to be our own gatekeepers.

    also, I’m constantly amazed at how US-centric Americans are too.