Debating The Cult of the Amateur Author Andrew Keen on Newstalk

The heading is a little misleading. I may be appearing with Andrew Keen on the Right Hook (currently being hosted by Damien Kiberd) at some point in the next few days.

Nonetheless, if you have anything you wished you were able to say to Mr. Keen on reading his book, or any points you long to hear made leave a comment.

Did you know Einstein was a professional patent clerk and an amateur physicist when he did his best work?


  • copernicus says:

    Well, where to start really.

    At any rate, he’s basically had to concede that he’s wrong about everything but persists in arguing that his global thesis is correct – I suspect for what must be contractual, marketing reasons.

    Anyway – he obviously doesn’t understand the creative impulse as he conflates it with the commercial impulse. He says we wouldn’t have Mozart without copyright, yet Mozart lived in the pre-copyright era.

    He says copyright guarantees creativity but of course it was originally created to provide publishers with perpetual commercial rights with nothing for the creators. The ludicrous post-mortem copyright extensions are designed to provide high incomes to record company executives not to recompense artists.

    Record companies have stifled creativity and refused to use their resources to nurture artists, preferring, increasingly, to make a fast, easy buck by systematically dumbing down the audience for music.

    And of course, Keen’s argument is profoundly undemocratic, characterising democracy as the right simply to vote twice a decade on the basis of what bought and paid for “gatekeepers” have to say.

    And ultimately, he creates a strawman by averring that bloggers are seeking to replace newspapers and the television media. I don’t remember that meeting. What is demanded, surely, is higher standards and a reasonable contribution to public information and democracy – as set out by the courts.

    What does Keen say to the Judiciary dictating the role and limits of media? Are they riotous amateurs too?

  • copernicus says:

    For the effect of copyright on public discourse and creativity, one need look no further than Stephen Joyce, by the way.

    It might be useful to point out that the art that endures is never the mass-produced, mass-consumed pap the gatekeepers of book and record deem most commercially viable. It’s increasingly the case that thoughtful, sedulous artists are finding it harder to get their work to an audience through mass-market corporate channels.

    There was an interesting article in the Guardian about a guy who sent Pride and Prejudice to numerous mainstream publishers all of whom rejected it, only one because it was plagiarised. The others didn’t recognise what it was or that it was, you know, quite good actually.

  • copernicus says:

    And finally, if they bring up the vandalism of his wikipedia entry to read “Andrew Keen is a dumb motherfucker”, the only possibly reply is “I thought you said it was inaccurate”.

  • Andrew Keen might do well to read a book called
    Open Innovation
    by Henry Chessborough.

    In this book Chessborough argues that the traditional views of Intellectual property have lead to inefficiencies in innovation and stifled progress. He highlights the approaches of firms such as Proctor & Gamble and IBM to opening up their patents to innovators which is helping to reduce their product development costs and timescales and, in IBM’s case, fundamentally changing their business model.

    There is an interesting quote on page 29 (of the edition linked to via google books above) about the relative merits of ‘tinkerers’ versus ‘real scientists’ from 1883. The tinkerers in question included Thomas Edison and his frippery ‘the electric light’ and the ‘telegraph’. Where is he now ehh? What good did he do ehh?

    Verily the wheel has come full circle.

  • Niall says:

    Einstein, Edison and Mozart so far have been used to debunk Keen’s polemic. I’m not aware of any of them having access to the internet.

  • copernicus says:

    Not only does Niall miss the point; he whizzes past it on a Ducati 1100 in hot pursuit of the sound barrier.

  • Niall says:

    If you say so, Copernicus…

  • Niall

    The point is that Einstein was not a professional physicist when he first started putting together the General Theory of Relativity. This background lead to Einstein having some difficulty getting his initial theories accepted. For details see the Wikipedia entry for Einstein. Most scientists weren’t aware of his work and those that were dismissed it. What might have happened if Einstein had had a blog to discuss and debate his ideas?

    Edison was not a professional scientist but a ‘tinkerer’. In the quote that I referenced from Open Innovation, Henry Rowland bemoaned the ‘fame’ of tinkerers such as Edison and he disputed whether the electric light, telegraphs and other such “contrivances” were worthy of being called ‘science’.

    The point is that throughout human history there have been innovative tinkerers on the periphery who (albeit occasionally) happen to produce something that is significant enough to change the world.

    For example, if Edison hadn’t invented the ticker tape machine what would the world’s economies be like today – given that the ticker tape and telegraph allowed for more rapid transfer of information from one market to another – early snows in California… buy orange juice and pork bellies!

    What might Edison have achieved if he had had access to the Internet to pool ideas with peers on the far side of the globe?

    What would Mozart have made of peer to peer downloading, napster and IRMA’s prosecution of filesharers?

    Or perhaps we should just take the gosh darned internet back off all of our computers, revert to the ticker tape and telegraph and see where things go.

    Also, in Chessborough’s book he clearly shows how the protection of intellectual property can actually serve to stifle creativity because, while you might have built a better mousetrap, you can’t tell anyone about it because you might infringe on a patent held by someone else.

    Finally, I also mentioned IBM… don’t they have access to the Internet?

  • continue…

    The point is that having mechanisms and tools (such as blogs) to by-pass official ‘gatekeepers’ and established points of distribution for content, writings and ideas enables the hobbyist, the amateur, the (dare I say it) tinkerer to give others access to their ideas and (equally importantly) opens their ideas up to review and critique by their peers rather than off-hand dismissal to the point of being ignored that might arise through ‘traditional’ channels – as happened with David Lassman’s experiment mentioned in the Guardian (and picked up by NewsTalk on Monday).

    If me old mucker Copernicus disagrees with me and thinks my argument stinks, he can argue the point with me in public…

    … and no swearing because this might be read by children.

  • jimkennedy says:

    Just heard this on the radio.

    Reasoned analyis follows: You neatly kicked that guy’s ass. Nice one.

  • I reread Chessborough’s book last night (in advance of hearing Simon on the 6am Newstalk ‘we can’t get out of bed that early’ repeat show). One interesting aside on the whole tinkerer perspective on blogs and the age of invention of the late 19th Century in the context of Keen’s thesis is that today Andrew Keen persists with a notion that bloggers are suspect because they aren’t making any money out of it and therefore are just tinkering and should leave the whole thing to professionals. Back in the 1880s Rowland and the ‘professional’ scientists of the day were bemoaning the fact that these ‘tinkerers’ such as Edison had the gall to be trying to make a few quid out of their inventions rather than pursuing pure science based on their personal interests and for the sake of science alone: to paraphrase “stop trying to make money out of it you amateur tinkerer and leave it to us professionals”.

    Jeez Alice, have we fallen through the looking glass or what!?

  • fústar says:

    Damn and blast! I was having one of my frequent “withdrawing from de world” phases and missed all this.

    Hope you put that total arse in his place, Simon. My response to his completely ill-informed witterings would have been to punch him firmly in the gonads. I’m not a professional boxer of course, but I’m sure it would have hurt.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    Gonad punchings made more difficult by radio phone-interview format.

    Would you have any other, more verbal opinions you’d have liked to put to him?

  • fústar says:

    As I was saying to Copernicus, it’s hard to know where to start with people like this (other than punching them in the gonads of course).

    Being kind, you could say that Keen and his ilk merely betray a deep insecurity about the resilience of “truth??? – coming under attack (as it apparently is) by that nasty multiplicity of voices that is the evil internet. “We’ve got to stand up for it lads???, they possibly shout, “It’s sick to the guts and unable to make its weak (but manly) voice heard above the din???. In this he’s not unlike those “moral guardians??? who fear that morality is getting repeatedly punched in the gonads by the heterogeneity and excesses of modern life.

    I find it maddening that commentators like Keen give “the general public??? so little credit in terms of their ability to digest and process information. Elaine Showalter’s Hystories suffers from similarly OTT anxieties about public gullibility. Much of the book is well-written, well-researched (etc) – but the bits about the internet are priceless. The impression one gets (from Showalter) is that as soon as you turn on the PC, and log on to the net, Pandora’s box is opened – with a vast wave of hysterical unreason spewing from the screen and overcoming your fragile defences.

    This, to me at least, is patently a load of balls (or gonads if you prefer). It’s perfectly possible to consume mountains of contradictory and “controversial??? (etc) info online and not be in any way intellectually, psychologically, or philosophically undermined by it. Millions and millions of people do this every day – and if anything it makes them savvier consumers of media than those who depend solely on papers and d’news on d’telly. The only “truth??? that the net really endangers is the “monolithic??? one that props up and promotes (as it has always done) the status quo.

    I’d probably have raised these and a million other points, before the gonad-punching of course.

  • Let’s start with the basics. Why does he not support free speech rights?

    What would he have to say about Benjamin Franklin, a self-educated young man who used self-publishing to advocate free speech rights for everyone? He was an amatuer afterall.

    How about Mark Twain, shouldn’t this amatuer have been prevented from writing novels?

    His argument that so called ‘professional’ media is more balanced and objective is absolutely absurd at face value. One needs only to watch CNN or Fox news for a couple of hours to put that nonsense to rest.

    The fact of the matter is that you get more ‘real’ news on the comedy and satire programs today than you can get from these so called ‘serious’ news sources.

    As far as being able to make money off of a writers work, isn’t that what bloggers do with AdSense? I make money off of my blog and I’m sure the more popular ones make a considerable amount.

    His entire thesis is flawed top to bottom and is nothing but a series of insults towards those who are inspired to write and express their rights to free speech in a broad arena.


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