Sunday, August 26, 2007

Internets: Serious Business

Another long delay. Did you miss me? Let's pretend. Project 27 Days is coming along well, the first draft nearly completed. Once again, my excuse for not blogging with the kind of regularity I should be. Once said draft is completed, look forward to my posting more regularly - with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation if you must.

After my last post undoubtedly caused malignant tumors in some individuals (Sorry about that, it just happens sometimes, nothing intentional.), this one is going to focus on a more serious matter. Particularly, that of author Andrew Keen's recent attacks on the internet. (Known alternatively as the internets, intarwebs, and The Lawnmower Man 3: It's High Time We Did Some Yard Work!. Don't ask where the last one came from.) I first became acquainted with the man (By which I mean I saw him on the Colbert Report a couple of weeks ago and found myself repeatedly musing on to what degree he came across as a corporate tool.) through an interview in which he promoted his new book, The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture. (Because the more words you can cram into your book title, the more important it must be! Bonus points if it can't be pronounced in a single breath - heavy smokers don't count.) Now, the accusation of the internet committing genocide upon culture these days is not one to be taken lightly. In fact, one could turn right around and accuse that claim of being sensationalistic - gotta sell those books, after all - and overly defensive of corporate interests. And frankly, that's exactly what it is.

One of his claims is a matter of undermining professionals, in attacking bloggers, YouTube, and virtually everywhere anyone can freely post something of their own accord and express themselves - the internet is often one of the greatest bastions of freedom of speech in the world, after all. (Both to its benefit and detriment.) Looking first at this claim, you have to ask, "What is professional? Does investigative journalism have to involve news programs screwing something up themselves and investigating it? Does it have to involve sensationalizing entrapment?" The bottom line is, these days, we can't count on the news networks to give us the important stories anymore. It's all about ratings, and in turn, advertising profits, while we continue to distract ourselves from the real issues at stake. The death of Anna Nicole Smith? Paris Hilton in prison? Even the Harry Potter phenomenon I discussed in all its importance here not too long ago? These things are utterly irrelevant (And it says something about the state of our newsmedia - and our culture here in America - when these things are big news stories. Though granted, I suppose any series of books getting kids here to read at all is an accomplishment well worth applauding.), and our supposed serious news networks have lost whatever credibility they once had when they began reporting stories about celebrities and matters of pop culture over things that actually matter.

These networks actually wonder why The Daily Show and Colbert Report are so popular these days. They may be satire, but despite that, they're still far more legitimate as actual news programs than much of what airs on the networks these days. While they tell jokes, they also bring the criticism and ask the serious questions that supposedly serious news no longer does. Of course, this is is all in the name of fighting this so-called "liberal bias" that conservatives insist has been present in serious reporting for so long - a bias that wasn't really there before. It was simply that the newsmedia was reporting things for what they were, rather than spinning them into things the right wants to hear. Reality doesn't reflect what they want, so they bully the newsmedia into becoming even more of a right-leaning over-sensationalized joke that the people can neither trust nor rely on, and with that trust lost, the American people seek alternative sources for their news and commentary fixes.

You'd think they might've been happy enough with Fox News, being as that it's more a mouthpiece for the right than it is a legitimate news network, but apparently it's not enough until all the major news networks present the alternate reality the far right wants to displace actual reality with. And of course, the reality of that is, while we aren't exactly a nation of those darned bleeding heart liberals they hate so much on the right, we sure as hell aren't anywhere near as conservative as they insist, either. Overall, politically, we're a nation of moderates, and there was a time when - through objectivity - the newsmedia used to reflect that. That time has passed.

Keen complains that bloggers - those dastardly amateurs - are replacing the newsmedia, bit by bit. But when we can no longer trust the media, who else do we have to turn to but our fellow man and woman? All amateurs, as Keen simply writes them off, have to start somewhere. But going by that interview, he doesn't really define amateurs, so much as that they simply aren't professional journalists, as though that completely discounts anything they have to say. But that's hardly the case. Anyone can have anything to say, or provide their own meaningful commentary on the news and events of today, so long as they know how to carry themselves and present what they have to say in the proper context. (For instance, people are more likely to read and take seriously a well written, well thought out essay of sorts on politics today, than a simple rant that largely boils down to "FUCK THE PRESIDENT!!!") It isn't that the internet is hurting our culture - and our newsmedia - so much as that they have failed us, and as such, we seek to overcome that deficiency by our own means.

Any attentive, informed citizen (Or perhaps even immigrant, I'd wager.) can write about and report on the news, whether or not they've a journalism degree. When politics is twisting apart the objectivity of the media, we're left with little recourse but to take up arms, so to speak, and fight a war against dishonesty and media misleading with our pens and our keyboards - still mightier than the sword. Are amateurs replacing professionals? You betcha. And we've now a reliable alternative for it.

Now, to address his big screaming claim head-on - is the internet destroying culture? No. But modern media's having a hell of a hard time adapting to the internet. Largely because we're criminals, they say, unless everything we do is a means of putting money in their pockets. (What a greedy greedy world this is.) And even hurting culture? Hardly. It allows people from all over the globe connect with the greatest of ease. I myself wouldn't have had the good fortune to have made the friends I have around the world if not for the internet. If anything, the internet allows cultural cross-communication, and even further sharing of our cultures. Likewise, it allows the common people to come together like anyone else, despite their distances, and seek information - to seek the truth. It's a place that, while it has plenty of misinformation, can also facilitate the falling of the scales from one's eyes. It's an effective means of stripping power away from authorities - both governmental and corporate - and placing it back in the hands of the people, where it belongs first and foremost, especially in this day and age where the interests of government and business are no longer to serve the people, but in many regards to rule and oppress them.

Ultimately, the internet is exposing the problems that those in power - especially in the corporate and governmental sectors - would prefer to keep hidden, out of sight and out of mind of the people. But they can't anymore, with the internet around. (Of course, with their problems exposed, it's only natural they'd attack the internet itself.) Until the media can once more win over the people's trust by actually serving them, then they can stop worrying about the internet becoming far more relevant. Until then, they're in a hole they dug themselves.

Bottom line, whether Keen's rather obvious conservative biases have led to him finding the internet - fraught with outspoken liberal individuals that people listen to as it is, a common source of nightmares amongst many conservatives - to be such a horrible, horrible place for giving people a voice, or he's simply on some corporate payroll, defending their interests staunchly as he does, he's dead wrong here.

Certainly, the internet CAN be a horrible place, and used for horrible means, but the criticisms Keen levies absolutely are not amongst them. In this day and age, we need to promote a healthy social and political discourse more than ever, and the internet - and blogging in particular - are amongst the most effective ways to give voice to your thoughts with at least some chance of being noticed and listened to. This democratization of information and thoughts is exactly what the internet should be doing when at its best, particularly when we live in an age when the media's "high quality news reporting" he so staunchly defends is often no longer trustworthy. We live in a different era, and the increasingly archaic media is failing to catch up - that's a failing on their part, not on that of the internet, nor bloggers. If anything, the internet acts as a gateway to far more culture than the average person - let alone the average American - could and would ever be exposed to otherwise. And if it's one thing Americans can use more of, it's culture.

1 comment:

Josh K. Singh said...

It seems the entire book can be dismissed thusly: learn how to think critically. Traditional media, like the Internet, is full of mediocre, biased crap (never mind that the Internet by its open nature is as facilitating to quality material as it is to crap), so what we need to do is learn how to sift through it, separating the wheat from the chaff. Here in the West, we're supposed to be better educated and more thoughtful than this.

But I suppose we need more books enabling and glorifying the flocks of mindless sheeple that dominate our society and submit readily to the demands of the corporations that own their souls. Keen's opposition to self-publishing of any fashion is downright ignorant and essentially serves to support the accelerated stagnation of the culture he laments.

It's a tad ironic he uses his own blog for pretty much the same sort of thing any "amateur" does.