Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who is Andrew Keen?

I believe it was through confused of calcutta that I discovered Andrew Keen's Great Seduction blog, and I continue to believe it was a good find. If there are times when I feel like accusing JP Rangaswami of "irrational exuberance" over Web 2.0 and related trends in thinking about cyberspace, I can almost always count on Andrew to find ways to level the balance. My only regret is that I have not built a bridge between the ideas behind Andrew's book, The Cult of the Amateur, and his presence as a performer in front of a live audience. (Some would argue that the blogosphere provides a middle ground between these two extremes; but, since Andrew used Great Seduction to develop the proposition that blogs are boring, I suspect he would not think much of that middle ground!)

This morning Book TV came to my rescue, broadcasting a video recording they made of an event at the Strand Bookstore in New York on June 6. The organizers of the event called it a "debate;" but, if much of what Andrew argues has to do with how, in the words of his book's subtitle, "the Internet is killing our culture," then this event demonstrated that the concept of debate itself is just one of the many corpses piled up on the battlefield of an ongoing culture war. This is not to say that the event was lacking in content but that just about all of that content was familiar to those of us who have tried to think out the consequences of current activities in cyberspace.

So, without replaying the issues one more time, I just want to write about how sorry I feel for Andrew. Not only does he understand the nature of debate, but his writing skills are matched by an ability to speak in coherent paragraphs when challenged on one of his issues. The problem is that those skills just do not hold up very well when confronted by opponents who can rarely string their words together into a coherent sentence and never seem to miss an opportunity to invoke a clever cliché (that great bête noir for Harold Bloom), whether or not it has anything to the point being discussed. This was exactly the situation Andrew confronted with (if I may be so bold as to name names, since this is all now part of the video record) moderator Jeff Howell, of Wired, and "opponent" Lev Grossman, Book Review editor for Time and, more relevant to the event, responsible for the issue of Time that selected "you" as Person of the Year. I must say that Andrew exerted some noble efforts towards serious discourse on many of my favorite topics (consequences being at the top of my personal list); but, to invoke his own phraseology, the seduction of performance was just too great.

While I am venting, I should also note that, having spent many of my best years on the East Coast, I have fond memories of the Strand Bookstore; and I believe that, given the attrition of independent bookstores, sponsoring events like these is a good way to remind the general public how important these places are. Now I keep myself on the mailing list for events at City Lights. My schedule is such that I have to be very selective in what I attend, but I have never attended an event at City Lights that was introduced by someone delivering a thoroughly inept reading of a prepared text. Book TV had the good taste to conceal this person's identity, but it was sad to see such sloppiness at an institution I used to admire.

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