Sunday, March 18, 2012

Comment on Ilona’s Assignment 2 – Lawrence Lessig blog

Lawrence Lessig’s (2007) rebuttal to Andrew Keen's book (2007), The Cult of the Amateur” was entertaining and enlightening. I have to agree with Lessig that Keen's book contained too many factual errors that took away from his credibility and when I reviewed his current website, the errors remained (2012). 

As David Silver writes in his article, Looking Backwards, Looking Forward: Cyberculture Studies 1990-2000, writing about the impact of the Internet often takes one of two sides: “dystopian rants or utopian raves” (2000). Keen’s work does the ranting, Lessig covers the raving.

Faulty argument
In my opinion, this book and Keen have received more attention than they deserved because he is one of the few people who are openly advocating against amateur publishing. While other people share his opinion, the majority of people who think blogs are a waste of space don’t bother to write about them – they simply ignore them.

From the single chapter I read from Keen’s book, his argument that amateur writers and publishers are hurting the world of professional journalism is simply not true (2007). Journalism is not a regulated profession – there is no entrance exam, no required educational training and no clubs to join prior to obtaining employment. Although I am a communications professional who holds a bachelor of journalism, I will be the first person to say that education does not make someone a professional journalist. A paycheque turns an amateur into a professional -that's it. There are poor professionals in every profession and just because someone earns a living performing work, does not mean that an amateur could not do better.

First step is awareness
Keen’s quote (2007), “the YouTubification of politics is a threat to civic culture. It infantilizes the political process, silencing public discourse and leaving the future of government up to thirty-second video clips shot by camcorder-wielding amateurs with political agendas" (p. 68) ignores the benefits of awareness. The first step toward change is learning about the problem. Our class is now talking about Joseph Kony, Invisible Children and the welfare of children in Uganda. Kim’s post highlights the need to actively challenge the ideas that are presented to us, both in the past and in the future.

Although the facts in the video have been disputed, the main essence of the video was - if Americans and the rest of the world were aware of the atrocities, citizens would convince their local politicians to send money and support to stop Kony and his forces. As of Sunday, March 18, there were over 83 million views of the video on YouTube.
From 2007 until now
While reading Lessig’s blog, I realized that Keen released the book in 2007, and I was curious to see if he has a newfound appreciation for amateur publishing. He hasn’t. According to his website, his new book, called Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing and Disorienting Us” comes out in May 2012 and Keen hasn’t changed. Here’s the text from the back cover

Using one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films – Vertigo – as his starting point, [Keen] argues that social media, with its generation of massive amounts of personal data, is encouraging us to fall in love with something that is too good to be true – a radically transparent 21st century society in which we can all supposedly realize our authentic identities on the Internet (2012).

His website goes on to say, “Digital Vertigo is the first substantial critique of Web 3.0” (2012). If you take the time to peruse the rest of his site, you’ll see his YouTube video, photographs from Flckr, tweets from his Twitter account, his podcasts and his blog. I was surprised to see the number of collaborative Web 2.0 tools being used, because as Marshall McLuhan (1964) said, “the medium is the message” (p. 7). I was even more surprised to find spelling mistakes in the links on the site. They make the site seem amateurish.


Keen, A. (2007). The cult of the amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture. New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man (Critical ed.). Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press.

Lessig, L. (2007, May 31). "Keen's "the Cult of the Amateur": Brilliant!" [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Silver, D. (2000). Looking backwards, looking forward: Cyberculture studies 1990-2000.
Web.studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital Age, 19-30. Retrieved from

Vandivort, K., Longerbeam, H., Clendinen, C., Jouglet, N. (Producers), & Russell, J. (Director). (2012). Kony 2012 [YouTube video]. United States: Invisible Children Inc. Retrieved March 18, 2012 from

1 comment:

  1. Hi Hillary,

    Thank you for responding to my review of Lawrence Lessig’s review of Andrew Keen’s book The Cult of the Amateur. It is a great validation for me as I hesitated to use this particular piece but I wanted to review a text that provided opposition to pieces by authorities like Rheingold and Shirky.

    I did have a look at Andrew Keen’s website and found it interesting that his blog posts and videos didn’t look that much different (and in some cases much more amateurish) from the ‘amateurs’ he is so disapproving of. Regarding your comment,” I was even more surprised to find spelling mistakes in the links on the site.” I referred back to Rheingold’s interview with Adora Svitak where she mentions that spelling mistakes might be a tip that the website is not valid.

    I think Keen’s point of view is flawed and his online activity is hypocritical of the point of view he promotes in his writings and recordings. In retrospect I wish I had written this review first, giving me more time to comprehend and develop a fuller, meatier review.

    Thanks again for your input.

    Rheingold, Howard. (2010)“Adora Svitak: A 12 Year Old on Digital Literacy." [Video file]. Retrieved from: