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Comment on David Weinberger and Andrew Keen’s debate

January 31, 2010

In truth, these are just notes taken while listening to David Weinberger and Andrew Keen debating Weinberger’s thesis in “All Things Miscellaneous”

D. Weinberger???s argument:
The fundamental web challenge is how to organize information, how to find what matters to us.
He contrasts physical order with digital order:

Andrew Keen???s criticism
The main issue at stake: the value of authority in a connected world.
He views digital change as a threat:
Modernity provided mass society with mass access to culture, information, education, literacy.
The digital revolution might return us to the Middle Ages: increasing hierarchy, increasing division between rich and poor, between media literates and those who are not. He foresees the emergence of a digital aristocracy – the elite of the Middle Ages who lost touch of their physical community- resulting in more boundaries, more fragmentation and less conversation, in oligarchy rather than democracy.
He worries about scarceness of talent, information and education on the grounds that when you do away with the gatekeepers of mainstream media, you???re doing away with the access to information and education for the masses.

My impression:
I don???t see much point in Keen???s arguments:
He talks about declining standards of content in the web as if this were not also a problem in mainstream media, denying the presence of talent among the multiplicity of voices emerging in the web. Maybe is this what he fears? These days, as never before, ordinary people as well as experts can find a channel of expression. Whether what they say is valuable or not, is for people themselves to decide. And this seems to be another issue with Keen: the undermining of authority and power. His position strikes me as paternalistic and authoritarian: only those in power can decide what and how much people should have access to.


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  1. Hanaa Khamis permalink

    I couldn’t agree more Maria. Very well articulated. Trouble it’s very hard to tell if Keen is serious about his argument. He plays the devil’s advocate all the time.

  2. Michael Shade permalink

    Maria – I love the mind map! I came to <a rel="nofollow" href="; target="_blank">very similar conclusions</a> when I saw this during last year’s Multiliteracies course.<br><br>Here in the UK the BBC has just started a TV series on <a rel="nofollow" href="; target="_blank">The Virtual Revolution</a>, and they have made the original interview rushes available online, including <a rel="nofollow" href="; target="_blank">one with Keen</a> – worth 8 minutes of your time, if you’re interested.<br><br>Unfortunately the BBC doesn’t allow anyone outside the UK to watch their finished programmes online – but the interviews they have released, like this Keen one, are good stuff. There’s also <a rel="nofollow" href="; target="_blank">one with Weinberger</a> which is very relevant to our discussions here.

  3. Nina Liakos permalink

    I still haven’t watched the original debate…. but I did watch the two interview clips (thanks Michael). I noted that Keen’s idea that the web is countercultural is exactly what Pegrum says in From Blogs to Bombs in Chapter 1: "The roots of today’s personal, networked computing are planted firmly in the soil of the late 60s…. The outlook of many early designers and programmers was shaped by the hippie counterculture in whose heartland the ‘mother of all demos’ took place in 1968, when Doug Engelbart publicly demonstrated networked compyting….." Could Andrew Keen have read Mark Pegrum?

  4. Nina Liakos permalink

    I still haven’t found time to watch the debate, so your thoughtful post and the related comments have whetted my appetite to listen to it.

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