Andrew Keen is a doomsday crying outlier of the Internet world. Someone who has engaged in entrepreneurial endeavors, he benefited from the services the internet has to offer and turns around, in what can only be considered an elitist manner, to deny millions of others the same opportunity. As someone who had neither connections to mainstream media, nor any god-given right on the possibility of capitalizing off the World Wide Web, he still believes others should be barred from universal access to expressing their opinions. He espouses Hamiltonian fear of the general public but, unlike the political genius, fails to offer any way of preserving the sanctity of the democratic web and preventing the “passions” of the masses.
He begins by over generalizing about past civilizations and their ability to resist temptation, especially the wiles of whim. Hardly an accurate argument, most of his examples derive from peoples that failed because they succumbed to the desires of an overtly opinionated tyrant or autocrat. This drastically opposes our world today, which he acknowledges as one dominated by the opinions of many. Web 2.0, as his friend astutely puts it, “will radically democratize culture, build authentic community, create citizen media.” This brings together the liberal foundations of 60’s ideology, one of “countercultural utopianism,” and the technological boom of the 90s up till today. It uses the latter empirical progress to bring the former’s ideals to fruition. And, much to Keen’s dismay it seems, it has worked.
The dangerous temptation of today’s world is the collective pool of voices, from various backgrounds and schools of thoughts, all able to spread their word on the equalizing playing field of the internet—according to Keen, that is. My two qualms with this belief are that it characterizes the internet as a socialistic utopia, which it is not and it also makes the massive rhetorical leap from democratic discourse to communistic preachings.
The internet, like modern day voting laws, act as societal equalizers so that each person’s voice counts equally. But, as with voting, money is always a tool of leverage. It is undeniable that the opinions of Mark Zuckerberg count more in the world of the internet than the average facebook user because of his scope of influence and the weight of his monetary power. There are crevices of the internet that are truly equalizing, but it has become a commercial domain as well where money can buy visibility and exposure, which is everything in the internet. So it is not true that the world will devolve into the chaos of a multiplicity of voices all drowning each other out. As with all markets, those best able to use the tools at their disposal gain power and can use the power to control the lower hierarchal levels. The internet is no exception.
Further, Keen poses arguments against the very goals of the internet. Pioneers of the internet aimed to create a microcosm of individuals where each were given the same tools and starting place to do with them what they will for whatever purposes they wish. Marx, on the other hand, is not encouraging mere equal access to opportunity but rather redistribution so that everyone has equal means. The internet is too laissez-fair for that sort of goal. Further, Marx’s writing was not as extreme as the principles he encouraged because, like all propaganda, the written arguments for an idea are mild and persuasive. Anyone would want a society where each individual can be “accomplished in any branch he wishes.”
Finally, he claims that everyone being able to publish their own work will overwhelm the true geniuses in society and so we will no longer have people like Mozart and Van Gogh. This is a complete fallacy—we have seen internet celebrities be found by the average person being judged more for their talent rather than their original funds and ability to market themselves commercially. It allows for more Mozarts—unlike these geniuses of the past, they don’t have to worry about being “found,” something that would be near impossible in today’s world.