Soap Box

Allow me to get up on a soap box for a minute.  The dialog between David Weinberger and Andrew Keen ignited a fire in me as it touched on a couple of things that really get my goat. 

I take issue with the reference and description of the lay web user as opposed to the almighty and wise journalists:

Yes, the people have finally spoken. And spoken. And spoken.

Now they won’t shut up. The problem is that YOU! have forgotten how to listen, how to read, how to watch.”

OK – while Keen’s overall opinion is quite distasteful to me, he has a point here.  In fact, I just watched 60 Minutes in which Mike Wallace narrated a piece that looked at our cultural climate during this election.  One person interviewed said, “We don’t listen.  We blast our opinions out on Facebook and we don’t pay attention to see what comes back.”  In other words – where’s the dialog.  No one can have a respectful conversation because all we do is throw out opinions and ignore anything that didn’t come out of our own mouths.  The piece went on to blame social media for the cultural climate during this election.  But they added that it is not just the fault of social media – that people also blame mainstream media, being the gatekeeper of our information, for feeding us all of the negativity and controversy.

While I, for the most part, agree with David Weinberger, I’m not pleased with how he describes us in his response.

“People chatter endlessly. They believe the most appalling things. They express prejudices that would peel the paint off a park bench. They waste their time watching endless hours of TV, wear jerseys as if they were members of the local sports team, are fooled by politicians who don’t even lie convincingly, can’t find Mexico on a map, and don’t believe humans once ran with the dinosaurs.”

Ouch!  Really?  I’d like a little clarification of exactly which people he means…all people?  Some people?

But Keen is quick with another blow to “ordinary people.”

“You see, to use this chaotic media efficaciously, we need to invent our own taxonomies — which isn’t realistic for the majority of ordinary people (seeking to understand the world) who think a “taxonomy” is something that drives us to the airport.”

For the record, I know exactly what taxonomy is.

Of course, Keen and Weinberger are intellectuals.  What you will see in this next Keen quote, is evidence that the web is changing things and Mr. Keen is not adjusting well to change.

“My concern is that this scarcity, the scarcity of the intellectual authority able to help people understand the world, is indeed endangered — particularly if the physical book goes the way of the physical CD and the physical newspaper. Are you convinced that Web 2.0 is of benefit to traditional intellectuals like yourself? Are you confident that, in a flattened media in which authors give away their books for free and collect their revenue on the back-end, the David Weinberger 2.0 of the future will flourish (or even survive)?”

Weinberger gets it.  He understands that we can gain from the knowledge of others.  He gets that no one person has to be an expert in everything or have a singing voice that appeals to everyone.  Instead he knows that even an ordinary person may have a an area of expertise or a voice that appeals to someone:

“With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find others who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect…..

Knowledge is generally not a game for one. It is and always has been a collaborative process…..

Consider how much more we know about the world because we have bloggers everywhere. They may not be journalists, but they are sources, and sometimes they are witnesses in the best sense. We know and understand more because of these voices than we did when we had to rely on a single professional reporting live at 7.”

He goes on to describe some people who give him great conversations, incorporate new ideas, reveal his own biases to him, and produce valuable content.  He later reveals who these people are…ordinary people.

Keen’s response? 

“The comments sections of most major website are littered with this trash. As is the blogosphere. So, yes, the Internet is great for experts to discover one another and conduct responsible conversation. It’s the monkey chorus on the democratized web that bother me.”

Ummm?  Did he just call us “monkey chorus?”

So Keen wants the riff raff off the web as it should be reserved only for those intellectuals who have been enlightened.  Content should be controlled and no one can make any comments.  He sees the Web as a threat to himself and other intellectuals and does not like that everyone can have a voice.  After all, people either have talent or not.

Weinberger, on the other hand sees the value of the Web.  He sees the conversations and the benefit of gaining insight from ordinary people.  Just because one does not have a platform, that doesn’t me he has nothing to contribute.

monkey holding cell phone clipart

Photo Credit: ClassroomClipArt.com

The Gatekeepers

That brings me to the second thing that caught my attention.  Keen calls for gatekeepers.  Gatekeepers are necessary to determine what is newsworthy, what should be reported and written about.  Gatekeepers determine who can do the writing, who has talent, who can get published, or get a recording contract, or get to record an album. These gatekeepers determine if a person has talent or not. They have it or they don’t. Keen says,

“But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s disintermediated 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.”

He says that like it’s a bad thing.  May I respond that that?  Bologna (yes, I had to sing it to spell it).

For every person who got a recording contract, there are at least 10 who can sing better.  The adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true.  Why do some people “make it” and others don’t?  There are many answers: luck, passion, people, coincidence, destiny……  I take issue with these so-called gatekeepers. Who are they?  And by what authority can they decide what I like?  Are they the ones who fired Oprah Winfrey because she was “unfit for TV?”  Or how about the MGM director that said Fred Astaire “Can’t act.  Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”  Lucille Ball’s drama instructors told her to find another profession.  Elvis was told by the Grand Ole Opry that he should go back to Memphis and be a truck driver. Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, and many more were told by gatekeepers to hang it up, give up, or move on because they don’t have talent.  I wonder how many were told the same thing and actually took that advice, gave up their dream, and kept their talent to themselves. Check this out to see who else was told they don’t have talent:  50 Famous People

My Final Beef

One last “issue” I would like to resolve here is my response to Keen’s need to have intellectuals explain the news to ordinary people.  Nothing gets me more than after a presidential debate when the news media take it upon themselves to tell us what we just heard.  Excuse me?  That’s why I watched it.  I know English.  Similarly, when they try to draw a news worthy event out and discuss at length everything we are watching.  I hate that the media thinks it is their job to tell me what I heard, what I saw, what to think, what to wear, what to eat…….. Keen says, 

“My concern is that this scarcity, the scarcity of the intellectual authority able to help people understand the world, is indeed endangered — particularly if the physical book goes the way of the physical CD and the physical newspaper. Are you convinced that Web 2.0 is of benefit to traditional intellectuals like yourself? Are you confident that, in a flattened media in which authors give away their books for free and collect their revenue on the back-end, the David Weinberger 2.0 of the future will flourish (or even survive)?”

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to pronounce David Weinberger the winner of this debate.  I would also like to echo his words to Keen:

“Andrew, the mud you throw obscures the issues you raise. Porn sites, silly posts, monkeys, cockroaches, toilet seats. This rhetoric isn’t helpful.”

Ah hem.  Thank you. (Steps off of soap box.)


Reference

Keen, A & Weinberger, D. (2007). Keen Vs. Weinberger. The Wall Street Journal.  Dow Jones & Company. http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677

Posted on November 6, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I totally agree with this response! This wasn’t on the course reading list for some time, but I read it when it came out in 2007 and, because of the impact it made on me, I always recommended it to students around final paper time. Eventually, I realized it needed a space on the syllabus.

    When blogs first began making the news, it was all about how they differed from journalists. See http://archive.pressthink.org/2005/01/21/berk_essy.html for more on how this debate was supposedly over in 2005, but then there’s more from the same author in 2011: http://pressthink.org/2011/03/monsters-of-the-newsroom-id-why-bloggers-vs-journalists-is-still-with-us/

    So I guess my point is there will always been critics like Keen who don’t really get it and others who are more open to it. I’m hoping there won’t always be the media pundits who do those recaps like you mention, but the impact of social media upon journalism is still in the works. Have you read this about Dan Rather’s resurgence http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/08/dan-rather-reporting-for-facebook/495431/ and http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/24/how-dan-rather-became-the-only-good-newsman-on-facebook.html? It’s actually led to this endeavor, which people need to pay for: https://www.udemy.com/danrather/?couponCode=FINDINGTRUTH

  2. I’m not sure if Keen is overly confident in the skills and superior knowledge of the “elite” or if he is way too hard on the ignorance of the “masses” — probably some of both. Regardless, I agree with your point about how Keen is unnecessarily sounding an alarm that traces back to his flawed perception of the world instead of what we’ve actually seen play out.

    However, I will give Keen some credit in that the vast quantity of a democratized Internet can be overwhelming. There is a lot of trash out there, but the solution is developing methods to navigate it, not block it. I’d be curious how Keen’s opinions have changed in the last seven years and if he “gets it” by now.

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