Reading Andrew Keen

I’m about three-quarters of the way through Andrew Keen’s diatribe The Cult of the Amateur and felt like I had to get a few thoughts into the ether before I finish.

I came into Keen’s book with the knowledge that I wasn’t going to like what he had to say about the Web, especially Web 2.0. I could tell that from his subtitle, “How today’s Internet is killing our culture.” I don’t agree, but I thought it would be healthy for me to read a book by someone who I don’t agree with to understand the opposition.

I wish Keen had done the same.

Throughout the 166 pages of ranting I have read so far, I have found very little in the way of an “academic argument” in the book. For all the value he places on the editorial process and traditional scholarship, Keen offers very little in the way of a structured argument.

Let me digress. In teaching composition to college freshmen, one of the things I stress is examining and considering one’s opposition in your writing. By taking on the best argument your opponents can offer, you strengthen your prose and your own points; basic rhetorical strategy.

Keen doesn’t do this. He is so hell-bent on making his point about the foulness of Web 2.0 and the modern Internet that he ignores evidence that doesn’t jive with his point, cites only sources that support his view, and looks at only the examples that support his argument. No counter-examples or -argument. Only a tear against electronic media and collaborative authorship.

His research, that he actually uses and cites, is top-notch. I wonder if most of it came from the Web, though, considering its breadth, though few of the bibliography entries are cited as Web sources… That aside, it’s hard to disagree with the numbers he presents. It’s the numbers he omits that get me wondering.

Apart from that, Keen quotes others out of context, misinterprets quotations, puts words in his sources’ mouths, dramatizes unnecessarily and ineffectively, and, for all his reverence of traditional scholarship and writing, comes across more like an angry blogger with an agenda than a vetted academic researcher. Objectivity and fairness disappear in favor of extremism and name-calling.

More on Keen to come…


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