22 05 2009
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Andrew Keen
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Am I one? Are you one? TMI, as in Too Much Introspection. Couldn’t help it. On Thursday afternoon, I attended a talk by Andrew Keen, author of Cult of the Amateur. Keen will do that to you.

Recently I saw a really funny New Yorker cartoon showing a man and a woman at a table in a restaurant. The man says to the woman, “Enough about me, but nothing about you just yet.”

That’s sort of how Keen views Web 2.0: give everyone a megaphone, and let them go on living just as isolated an existence under the illusion that they are connecting with others.

He’s developed a reputation as a curmudgeon (it’s near impossible for him not to sound snarky with that lovely English accent). Reading his book, it becomes clear why he’s viewed as such a cynic, especially by social media gurus. He slams Wikipedia, along with the hordes who have squeezed into the blogosphere as self-proclaimed “experts” and “journalists”, all the while spreading lies and misinformation.

Before Keen’s talk, one person said he was beyond curmudgeon. “He’s a dick,” this person told me.

I’d watched a video of him on the Colbert Report, and figured that assessment couldn’t be too far off the mark.

But hearing Keen talk about Web 2.0 as a playground for narcissists made sense. One person suggested that social media was about communication and collaboration. Keen disagreed, arguing that much of it is about getting people to hear ones own views (or in the case of Facebook, which Keen characterized as a “farce”, having people see your photos, your status updates, your links). I agree. I mean, how else does something like the 25 Random Things become such an instant sensation? (Here’s Joel Stein’s clever take on Facebook’s ’25 Things’ in the Los Angeles Times)

He said the Internet is a great marketing tool, nothing more. Those looking to start a venture ought to think physical, not digital. There isn’t much money to be made in the virtual world, Keen said.

So how is it that Keen likes Twitter? It’s the 140 characters rule–it forces one to write short. After all, Keen pointed out, even Nietzsche’s writing suffered when he started using a typewriter.