was going to write a post about some of my latest work with online desktops. However, I came across a post by Tim Stahmer over at Assorted Stuff that was very interesting. Now, I had to take some time to listen to the podcast that Tim refers to in his post so that I could better write this post.

I listened to Jon Gordon’s interview of Andrew Keen about his book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and was, well, bewildered. Now, Tim highlights the following quotes from the interview.

Former Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen says web 2.0, which is shorthand for user-generated content like blogs, internet video, wikis and podcasts, is a mass of poorly produced, uninformed materials that’s eroding the pillars of society by replacing professional media.

In his new book Andrew Keen compares internet users who make blogs, wikis, and internet video to monkeys banging away on a keyboard.

“The problems that the music business is having, the problems that the newspaper business is having is intimately, profoundly connected with the rise of user generated content media.”

“One of the problems is that the internet allows people to steal things.”

“I would be thrilled if people were reading mainstream, reliable newspapers and then wandering around the blogosphere to supplement their reading. What concerns me is when blogs become the primary source of information. The problem with that is it’s so unreliable. They’re so vulnerable to corruption. They’re often written anonymously. They often have interests, economically, politically or ideologically behind them that we’re not able to acknowledge.

Now, some of the things that Keen says are true. There are many things being stolen and used by others on th net and it is a problem. We are also seeing that there are those who are using the anonymity of the internet as a way to do things that they would be unable to do in a face-to-face situation. And, the music industry has taken a hit with the proliferation of mp3 downloading. However, what really struck me was the comparison of

internet users who make blogs, wikis, and internet video to monkeys banging away on a keyboard.

Right off, it struck me because I write a blog and don’t consider myself a monkey (although I know there are people out there who would agree with this comparison or probably worse :) ) I then began to think about all the blogs I read and the information that is hosted in these blogs. Now, I may be a monkey but I surely don’t consider the likes of Stephen Downes, Chris Long, Christopher Sessums, Vicki Davis or Scott McLeod to be monkeys. They are very educated and knowledgeable people whose ideas and thoughts are not just bangings on a keyboard.

I find this to be another case of someone, in this case Keen, who is struggling with the incredible changes that are taking place in our ability to access information and desperately trying to maintain that there is a truth and that the professional newsreporters are the ones who have it.

They’re so vulnerable to corruption. They’re often written anonymously. They often have interests, economically, politically or ideologically behind them that we’re not able to acknowledge.

Sorry, that quote is describing the bloggers not the reporters but, in my experience, this can be said of some of the information that one gets in the newspaper and on tv. I know that reporters are suppose to deliver unbiased information. However, the unbiased opinion depends on what one believes about the subject. Take this whole post. I am biased towards blogs and therefore am ready to defend my use of them and my using them to gather information for myself. Why? Because I consider myself able to read through information and detect bias and then, depending on the level that I see, either accept that it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the information or disregard the information because the bias too heavily interferes with the information. And that is what really bothers me about this whole idea.

Yes, there are things on the blogosphere with which I don’t agree but then I need to determine whether I just let it pass or I do some more looking to see if it is my understanding that needs to change in some way. This is where our schools and what we do there is so critical. With the changes taking place in information access, information exchange and how people view “truth”, we need to help our students determine fact from fiction and develop the critical thinking skills that will question things that do not seem to be right. This will mean questioning the major news providers, seeking to determine if in fact they are providing us with unbiased reporting. Learning to exchange ideas and create new understanding from old is an essential skill that our young people will need. Relying on “experts” to continue to tell us how to think and what to do may not be the saving grace that Keen suggests. In fact, I would say that many of our problems as a society, stem not from individual questioning of what is presented to us but, instead, a mass of people who do not critically question what they are presented. Could this not be the reason we are facing an obesity crisis in North America and, if the “experts” are to be believed, a future diabetes and heart problem crisis in the near future.

I don’t think that people are suddenly running amok, banging on keyboards just to contradict what is being presented in the newspapers or on television. In fact, much of what I read is really discussion and reflection of a book or an article. I would suggest to Mr. Keen that the take some more time to look at what is on the web a bit more closely. Yes, you run across many self-indulgent egoists that really know nothing of what they are writing about but use the shock value to get press. But, I find that in the papers in some of the columnists. I just have to be more selective in what I read. And more discerning. And more critical. It makes me think in new ways and imagine possibilities that were not there before.

As for Keen, I really see someone who is seeing a way of life slip through his clenched fists and this is his way of railing against the injustices he observes. Quite frankly, it brings the elite in contact with the general public, something they have never been happy about. Only this time, it may be that climbing back up to the elite status may mean something totally different and that really scares people like Keen. For us monkeys, such a book that is so doomsdayish can only mean that the shift is happening, albeit slowly. We still have many things to do and there are plenty of others who will continue to malign what is happening on the internet and point out only the negative. But, as I have seen and been part of, there is so much good that is also going on that we continue. The negative factors have always been there and the net just gives them a place to gather more quickly but, if we realize this, positive pressures can be brought to bare on them. In much the same manner that we have had to streetproof our children because of the changes that society has seen, well now we must netproof our children and part of that will be to help them discover how to distinguish the good from the garbage. It’s the least we can do!

For a more indepth look at the book (Can you tell what the author thinks?) see here. Also, see Andrw Keen’s site where he’s promoting his book. A blog no less!

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