Monday, September 13, 2010

Cult of the Amateur

Before I delve into this horrible book, I want to mention that I couldn't finish another awful book. David Silver's book Smart Start-ups is dated despite being written only five years ago. Silver is an angel investor who funds entrepreneurial ventures. He says in the beginning that he is not an entrepreneur himself. Despite this, he spent most of the part I read throwing out different business ideas for people to launch using social media. Silver also makes it a point that these businesses can be started with just a little bit of capital. They can be successfully launched with as little as five million dollars in funds. Good to know.

Returning to The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen has written a gigantic whinefest. Keen is a journalist who bemoans the changes that have taken place in the world because of technology. Most of the critics of this book consider Keen a Luddite or technophobe. i don't get that sense. My take on Keen and that the book is that Keen is an arrogant man who has spent a great part of his life employed as journalist and now it's harder for his work to be appreciated and paid for. He complains that the internet has created a society where amateurs can take the place of experts and write or talk about whatever they want.

Keen's book evoked anger from me. Upon completion of the book, I closed it and said "What an awful book that was". Here's a professional journalist, an "expert" in his parlance, who does not do a good job of reporting. His citations are haphazard, he only presents his side of the argument, and he will say one thing and then criticize opponents who do the same. For instance, he berates Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine for comparing intellectual property to razors ("books aren't razors") one page after he makes a comparison of the same property to automobiles. Keen cites specific examples and extrapolates them into generalizations. If one person has a problem with gambling addiction, then online gambling must be addictive.

Perhaps the thing that angered me the most about the book is that Keen thinks the majority of people in the world are idiots who can't think for themselves. There are certainly those folks. In the final chapter, which was added for the re-release of the book, Keen calls these people hedgehogs because they have one-track minds. The opposite of the hedgehog is a fox which Keen labels himself, despite not being able to accept viewpoints other than his own. A fox, Keen is not.

I like to think I am. I'm a critical thinker. I thank Robert Williams of Guilford College for leading me down that path in college. He was the first person I can recall who really stressed to me that there are biases everywhere. He had us read about the same current event in multiple newspapers to see how the newspapers differed in their perceptions and biases.

Keen suggests that all that matters is that the media are experts and we should only accept their word because they are the pros. People who keep blogs or post videos cannot possibly know as much as those who appear on television or write for newspapers and only those who have been anointed as such by their respective agencies can merit expert status.

So Keen would have me only read news about the Milwaukee Brewers from Milwaukee newspapers or perhaps national organizations like ESPN. The guys at Brew Crew Ball cannot possibly offer me anything.

As a matter of fact, this book review is garbage. I am not in the paid employ of any newspaper. My opinion of Keen's book is moot. Likewise my thoughts on baseball, cooking, wine, music, or really anything. According to Keen, I probably can write about libraries. Since no one is paying me to do statistics right now, I probably can't write anything worth reading about that topic.

That's why I mentioned my blog statistics a couple of posts ago. People read this blog. They read it for a variety of reasons. Some people might view me as an expert on certain matters. Some might find their tastes aligned with mine. Some people might find my writing entertaining. Some people might just like me and read my writings as an extension of that. There's lots of reasons to read this blog and reasons not to as well. It's up to the individual to make that decision.

Ultimately, that's what angers me the most about Keen. Expertise is all that matters to him. Quality doesn't. Taste doesn't. There are doctors, "experts" in the field of medicine, who diagnose things improperly or miss diagnoses altogether. Look at how the "experts" in the field of finance gave us Enron and the bank bailouts. "Experts" in entertainment give us schlock. Experts publish James Patterson's book of the month while good literature and/or research goes unpublished because it is not viable economically.

I really could go on and on. I would doubt that there was a page in this book about which I did not have an issue. It was truly horrible and could well be my least favorite non-fiction book ever (Don't worry, Audrey Niffenegger, your expert novel debut still has a stranglehold on worst book I've read). Perhaps if experts weren't so arrogant and full of themselves as Keen, he wouldn't have to worry as much.

Next on the reading agenda are two books which have not commanded attention. The one is a novel I had wanted to read that we were considering withdrawing from our collection because no one has read it. The other is the first novel of my friend Jason McClain. His novel has not been submitted for publication as of yet. I'm looking forward to it and hope that the experts in publishing find it worthy of their expertise.


Anonymous said...

Can I get an amen! That was a fantastic review.

Mark said...


jtorrey13 said...

Thank you again Jon for reading.

If I ever ship you a book, I'm going to start a new trend called "Niffing." Yes, I will pack your book for shipment to make sure it is safe with copies of "The Time Traveler's Wife." If possible, autographed.