Question Forum 4

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The questions and responses in this forum refer to the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2 (1-63) in Keen's The Cult of the Amateur. For reference, the Dialogue Sequence assignment. Discussion leaders will post their commentaries — Team 4 commentary — within a week after the class presentation on October 20.

Question 1 (Introduction)
On page 7, Keen argues, “As traditional mainstream media is replaced by a personalized one, the Internet has become a mirror to ourselves. Rather than using it to seek news, information, or culture, we use it to actually BE the news, the information, the culture. Do you agree with this statement? Assuming that you use a social networking site (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), do you believe that you use them solely to get attention? If not, what really is your reason for being connected? Do you think you could you abstain from using these sites?

Question 2 (Introduction)
Keen argues that “the radically new business models based on user-generated material suck the economic value out of traditional media and cultural content,” (Keen, 16). Do you think that the rise of online media through sites such as YouTube is the sole cause of this problem and “encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft and stifling creativity?” (Keen 17). If not, how have you seen these sites benefit artists and creative thinkers? Do you think that without the internet they would be so successful?

Question 3 (Chapter 1)

On page 27, Keen claims that, "perhaps the biggest casualites of the Web 2.0 revolution are real buisinesses with real products, real employees, and real shareholders." In the face of diminishing revenue for legitimate buisinesses such as Encyclopedias, newspapers, record stores, etc., and less of a demand for experts in various fields, do you see a coorelation, as Keen would, between free services on the internet and the current state of the economy?

Question 4 (Chapter 2)

On page 35 Keen refers to the idea of the "noble amateur," and how these people would democratize what his friend called "the dictatorship of expertise." Having just finshed Surowieki's text in which he advocates the wisdom of crowds above that of experts, do you believe in Surowieki's theory and support amateur collaboration on sites such as Wikipedia or find them as dangerous and as usless as Keen? How would a conversation between the two authors proceed and where would you allign your thoughts on the argument?

Question 5 (Chapter 2):
Keen quotes Matt Drudges saying, “the Net gives as much voice to a thirteen-year-old computer geek like me as to a CEO or speaker of the House. We all become equal.” (Page 47). On pages 49-51, Keen presents portions of two conversations, one with Al Saracevic and the other with Dan Gillmor. Keen asks Saracevic to explain the difference between bloggers and professionals (Page 49). He later asks a similar question of Gillmor; he asks him to explain the benefits of citizen journalism that the traditional media cannon provide (Page 51). Keen writes, “professional journalists can go to jail for telling the truth; amateurs talk to each other about their cars.” (Page 51). Where does the difference between amateur and professional fall? Does the Internet dissolve these differences as Drudges suggests?

Question 6 (Chapter 2):
In his section “The Liquid Library,” Keen introduces Kevin Kelly’s hopes of digitalizing books into hypertext—“like a huge literary Wikipedia.” (Page 57). Keen writes, “In his [Kelly’s] version of the future, individual writing will be freely distributed online. Writers will no longer receive royalties from their creative work, but will have to rely on speeches and selling add-ons to make a living.” (Page 58). Do you think that readers would ever accept Kelly’s idea? If so would it be as devastating as Keen likes to argue?

Alex Orchard-Hays
Response to Question 1

Keen’s statement on page 7 is problematic because it ignores the distinction between “we”/”ourselves” as individuals within the collective and the collective itself. I assume that it is obvious to anyone who has ever posted or manipulated content on the Internet that the Internet is indeed a direct reflection of those who use it. However, the Internet in its entirety is reflecting us as a group, not us as individuals. Overall, the Internet’s content has very little to do with me and my interests, but it is a representation of the wired community I am a part of. Keen ignores this distinction on page 6 as well, where he says that, given the functionality of Google’s algorithm, the search engine “just tells us what we already know.” This is true collectively, but not individually. So calling the Internet “personalized” is true in the sense that it is a personification of the collective, but not of the individual. In this regard, I agree that we as Internet users do more than seek news, information and culture. Our opinions, perspectives and interests have fused with this collection of content, creating a system where both entities directly affect each others' transformation.

I do believe that because we (the collective) are personally so integrated into the Internet’s content that interacting on the Internet is motivated primarily by attention-seeking tendencies. The key feature of social networking sites that makes them so popular is that they are conductive to interaction with others in an environment that you control (to a degree). But this opens avenues for networking and knowledge seeking, not just narcissism. So not only can your friends comment on how adorable your new haircut looks on MySpace, but you can pick the brains of potential employers on LinkedIn and of seemingly random users on Yahoo Answers. So yes, we mainly seek attention on the Internet, but not all of this behavior is fueled by narcissism.

I, however, am not connected solely for attention. I find posting personal thoughts and updates on my blog therapeutic, not because I think anyone is reading them, but because the idea that anyone with Internet access could read them gives me a sense of release. Also, I enjoy being part of social networking sites and online communities for experimental reasons. I - in no formal way - analyze how people interact and present themselves on the web. I also tend to post content not to get attention, but to see what gains attention and make judgments accordingly. Given my emotional and philosophical interest in being connected, I would have great difficulty abstaining unless I was literally cut off and had something of greater interest to ponder than how Internet users behave and interact.

Kara Williams
Response to Question 1

I do not agree with Keen; I think he is being too small minded about how we use the Internet. Yes we like to blog and give information about ourselves but we also seek to find information/ news. Hasn’t he ever heard of Google?! Of! Constantly we use it has a tool to find information for various reasons—information on the weather, news on sports, research reports, random facts, or the latest gossip on celebrities. Just because the information may not always use it to see what is going on in the Middle East but as we talked previously in class, libraries have even notice how much we do not need to walk into their doors to gain access to information, because we have the Internet. We seek information on the Internet just as much as we give it on the Internet. We just might be giving it more than people because of the revolutions with Facebook, MySpace, etc.

To answer the second part of the question, I do not use social networks to solely get attention, but more so to gain information about others. “Facebook stocking” is the phrase everyone is using to explain this and whenever one of my friends say they are on Facebook it is usually because they are looking at someone else’s information (i.e updated status and newly posted photos). When I began my Facebook account is when I gave the most attention to myself, filling in my personal information. The only information usually given on these networks is an updated status of what one is doing, here is where Keen may be right about us being the news, our news.

To answer the final part of the question, I do think I could abstain from using these sites because most the people I’m friends with on Facebook (my only social network), can only give me so much information about themselves until I become bored with them and turn my attention back to the outside world of cultural events. You can’t always burden yourself with the troubles of the world (which is what the news is usually all about anyways), that’s what Facebook is for—a break from all the news that is being thrown at us of the town, city, county, region, country, and world.

Kristen Walker
Response to Question 4

Although I don’t agree wholeheartedly with either, I will acknowledge that Keen and Surowieki both make intriguing points about the role of a crowd in modern society. I would love to witness a debate between these two authors, but I genuinely don’t believe either would budge from his extreme stance on the issue. Personally, I have found arguments on both sides that I agree with, but both authors tend to exaggerate their theories or include highly biased opinions, so I pick and choose what to believe.

In the case of the “noble amateur,” I believe that amateur collaboration is useful for certain settings but it should be consulted with a note of caution. For example, if I were debating with friends about the age of a celebrity or some trivial fact, my first step would be to consult Wikipedia. As Surowieki suggests in The Wisdom of Crowds, when you ask a large number of diverse people for the answer, you’ll get a much better estimate than if you ask one person. However, if I needed sources for a research paper or specific instructions for conducting a medical procedure, I would stay far away from Wikipedia because I would not trust a group of amateurs to know such specialized facts, especially when I needed the information for a more serious situation.

I also believe that, despite Keen’s belief that the mere existence of amateur work on the Internet discounts experts’ contributions, the general public still does make a distinction between a reliable source and a personal blog or YouTube video. When I look up a news story, I still search under a reputable newspaper’s site. And although I enjoy watching YouTube videos as much as the next college student, I don’t use those videos as a replacement for true art or films with high cinematic value. I would argue that amateur collaboration is a viable addition to the general wealth of knowledge, but I don’t believe it should be a substitution for expert opinion.

Caitlin Laverdiere
Question 4

Both Surowiecki and Keen are extremists. They are on opposite ends the spectrum regarding the roles of amateurs on the Internet and how reliable and innovative these “noble amateurs” really are. I can’t take either side seriously. Both of them make some interesting points, and I think Keen has some legitimate concerns regarding the possible erosion of our culture and disregard of classic literature, true musical genius, and thoroughly researched and reported news and information on the Web. However, he radicalizes his position. He claims that the noble amateur is going to “democratize the ‘dictatorship of the elite’” (35). This democratization, he believes, will transform our “dictatorship of experts” to a “dictatorship of idiots” (35).

I find myself somewhere in the middle of Surowiecki and Keen. Surowiecki had some strong arguments for the “wisdom of the crowds.” I think it’s worthwhile for people to collaborate on initiatives and engage diverse and varied voices in the conversations that result in major business, political, educational, or social decisions. However, I don’t agree with Surowiecki that the experts should be totally disregarded. I think there will always – and should always – be a regard for the university, for the classic poets and novelists that poetically documented culture and history, and for the scientists and engineers who have left their mark on science and technology. In many of these cases collaboration does take place and results in revolutionary ideas, but that doesn’t mean we should discredit the talent experts possess. I think experts, talent, and higher education should always be revered, but those who fall within one of those categories should demonstrate some level of humility and acknowledge the ideas and opinions of the other voices around them. Crowds can certainly make well-informed decisions, and members of these crowds may be the “noble amateurs” that Keen refers to. I don’t believe amateurs are always going to be dangerous and useless, but when sites like Wikipedia completely disregard experts like William Connolley, it raises some questions about where our priorities really are in regards to who we want our information to come from and how much we trust in the validity of the information that is being presented.

I think a conversation between Surowiecki and Keen would be pretty heated. Neither authors seems like the type to waver on their position when confronted with critics and antagonism from the opposite side. I think I would remain on the middle ground, but it would certainly shed light on some interesting points. I think both authors somewhat alienate themselves with their extreme positions, but sometimes it’s necessary to appear extreme in order to get your point across. By inciting their readership, they are definitely making people think about issues that they may not have previously considered.

Kaitlin Cannavo
Question 2

Keen’s standpoints regarding user-generated material, although extreme, hold some truths. Rather than refer to reliable sources such as journalists, encyclopedias, and renowned news outlets, the Internet has become the new medium of choice for the truth. Keen argues efficiently the value of these experts hold no value economically or intellectually in the eyes of society over the quick, easy, and free access of the opinions of the ignorant flooding the millions of pages on the Internet. Not to say that every person who posts online is an untalented fool, but how do we distinguish between the truth and rubbish? At one time experts filled this role, but with the overabundance of useless information consuming the results pages of even top search engines such as Google, we must now rely on the wisdom of the crowd to sort out the facts. This collective wisdom values the most easily accessible and cheapest means of information over the intellectual value of information. As a result, the trained, talented experts and the outlets in which they share their knowledge can no longer afford to expend information.

While user-generated media sites such as YouTube, blogs, and Wikipedia contribute to this phenomenon, I do not believe they are the sole cause. Although these sites are bombarded with thousands of what Keen views as untalented artists, every individual has the right to express him or herself creatively and be heard, despite one person’s opinion of his/her skill. Sites such as MySpace and YouTube have allowed tons of amateur artists to be discovered who may have otherwise been completely overlooked by popular record labels or big-time publishers. I know personally, I love finding new, undiscovered music of amateur artists or writers and I would think Keen, being the music activist he claims to be, would support this happening. These outlets do anything but stifle creativity and rather promote the sharing of creative work.

In regards to plagiarism, the Internet has completely transformed the concept. Keen shares a survey of Britain’s Oxford University students where a shocking 54 percents have admitted to plagiarizing from the Internet. Although plagiarizing before the world wide web existed, Web 2.0 only makes this stealing of intellectual property that much easier and as a result, much more prominent. Today’s generation does not comprehend the value of intellectual property and as a result demeans the value of individual creativity. Much of the younger generation has no concept of individual authorship, instead borrowing the ideas of others they find on the Internet and turning authorship into a collaboration of the ideas of others.

Nichole Uiterwijk
Response to Question 5

Keen is right about his difference between professional journalists and bloggers: that professionals can go to jail for telling the truth, such as for libel. As far as I can remember, there have not been many court cases ruling against a blogger for “internet libel.” Saracevic’s assessment that “only mainstream journalists and newspapers who have the organization, financial muscle, and credibility to gain access to sources and report the truth” (50) has a lot to offer as an explanation for this. Despite being distrusting of media in general, the public does trust that journalists will meet a certain standard in their work and double check their facts; however, bloggers are viewed more as stating their opinions and experiences rather who don’t have to put in the time and effort involved in “getting the story” or double checking their facts. They are the story.

Another difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional gets paid. It is usually an actual full- or part-time job in which they receive compensation for their work. They are also managed by their company or organization and have to answer to higher-ups for the work they do. There is a certain level of professionalism they must achieve in their work because they are representing both themselves and their organization. Even if the journalist’s name does not appear on the work itself, the company’s name does. Blogging, however, is a much more open, free-styled, and anonymous form of reporting. Bloggers do not get paid for their blogs (or if they do, it is not usually a formal job feature), and they do not have to answer to other people’s opinions and expectations unless they want to.

I do not personally believe the Internet completely dissolves the differences between a professional and amateur; however, I do think it mitigates these differences. Anyone can write a blog, from a ten-year-old to a senior citizen, and if they gather enough of a following, then their following could develop a trust in them that could rival the higher expectations they have in professional journalists. While bloggers can rename completely anonymous by developing a pen name, professional journalists stake their livelihoods on their work, which is why the line between professional and amateur can never be dissolved completely. Even if a professional does not have to sign their name, their work is a representation of their company.

Sarah Tavernaris
Questions 1 and 2

In response to Question 1, I am certainly not using social networking sites solely for attention—I’ve been on Facebook (the only digital social network I am part of) since I came to Virginia Tech and since the initial joy upon initiation, my participation has severely dwindled. My social networking skills are awful in the real world; why should they be any different in the digital world? Facebook was a way for me to keep in touch with high school friends and people I’ve known my whole life. Yes, it’s fun to personalize your online space and project yourself as trendy and keep tabs on all your friends online, but I fell off the bandwagon. I maintain membership these days mostly so I can look at the photo albums people post. Social networking sites take advantage of our natural curiosity, voyeuristic habits (for example, everyone slows down to gawk at the wreck on the other side of the interstate), and, even more so these days, our desire to be different and individualistic. I’m connected because it’s convenient; otherwise, I couldn’t be bothered. (Twitter is unbelievably superficial). As far as connection to the whole Internet (and the whole world) goes, I’d wither in days because that’s the way society has wired my life for me.

“…radically new business models based on user-generated material suck the economic value out of traditional media and cultural content:” True. When future generations look back at the beginning of the digital era, what will reign as the highest example of art and culture? Who and where are the famous artists, writers, poets, songwriters, critics, theorists? Our means of cultural expression are becoming lost and re-implementing themselves in mass availability and appeal—there’s simply too much stuff available online (mostly junk), and it distracts us from discerning the diamonds from the rough. Sure, good cultural artifacts of the past—literature, art, music, etc.—have often been reserved for the elite because of cost, exclusivity, availability, and the stigma against lower classes, and it’s important that everyone be allowed to share. The availability to create and display art and culture is a right everyone should have, but that does not make it good art; the online medium is a free and fair place to allow democratic art, but it takes away the value from the stuff that actually has value. Will we ever have a generation again that is inspired and uplifted by the words of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, or Betty Friedan? My guess is probably not. Pop culture has been sensationalized until it’s now out of control, and real culture is becoming lost.

Megan Quigley
Question 6

I think general readership would accept Kelly’s idea of a “huge literary Wikipedia” because they would be the ones benefiting from online, digitized books, since, from what Kelly suggests it would be free (57). However, I don’t think publishers and authors would let this happen any time soon if they can help it. If individual writing is freely distributed online, without its owners receiving royalties for their creative work, I think that less creative and great works will be produced. Although writers usually enjoy what they do, their high level of work will be diminished if it becomes the “digital equivalent of tearing out the pages of all the books in the world, shredding them line by line, and pasting them back together in infinite combinations” (57). If digitizing books reaches that extreme, I think Kelly’s idea could be as devastating as Keen argues, but not to the extreme of “the death of culture” (57). However, Kelly’s fear of “amateur writers and amateur content” is viable considering what is published on the web today, and, although you don’t have to read it, if amateur work becomes the only type of work published on the web, then we don’t have a choice.

Digitizing books and libraries is a hot topic right now and The New York Times publishes articles weekly about this issue, especially in relation to Google’s case for an online library. I think that online books and libraries could be beneficial to the public because works would become more readily accessible to those who might not of had access to them before, therefore encouraging reading and education in that sense. However, I think that the authors and publishers of these books should still be given some royalties; otherwise I would fear that they would not be motivated to make their works available to the public. Just like the music industry that charges for downloads from iTunes and requires payment or subscriptions to other music websites, libraries and books still need some type of subscription service. If books and libraries go completely digital, is there a certain number of downloads for each book that is allowed? Does the reader get to keep the downloaded book forever, or does it expire after a certain amount of time, just like an actual library book would have a return date? For instance, if an actual library had five copies of Crime and Punishment, could only five digital copies be downloaded, and then a waiting list starts for when books are “returned,” if they have an expiration or return date? These are the type of questions that need to be considered when turning books into hypertext; but, if everything becomes free as Kelly suggests, I guess these questions wouldn’t need to be considered, but the quality of new work should be.

Rachel Burch
Question 5

More recently the line between amateur and professional on the Internet is becoming more blurry, but that line is most certainly still there. To call someone who spends many hours in the day blogging about this consumer item or the score in the Phillies game last night, is far removed from someone who got a master’s in Journalism from New York University and spent three years traveling abroad on assignment. The journalist with the educational background is going to know how to report on the issue and bring back the important knowledge to the people. But I think the question asked here is not about discrediting those “real” journalists, but instead allowing anyone to report on their experiences. What the Internet allows is for an open communication, one that is anonymous and equal. Your average Joe can speak his mind, or his knowledge on whatever he so pleases. I think what is great about amateur reporters is that while we must take their information with a grain of salt; it can be quite another look at a matter. Yes the professional is going to get the facts correct and format them in a standard way, while the amateur is going to include opinion. The reader can take this opinion as more of laymen’s fact. You get a comforting, equality-based answer from someone that is just like you. I think that is the best part about being to speak whatever you please on the Internet. Someone out there will appreciate what you have written and it may even inspire him or her. In the introduction to this section titled Citizen Journalists Nicholas Lemann describes it well calling them, "people who are not employed by a news organization but perform a similar function. Their goal is to get information out there, to keep it flowing. The discrepancy lies with the validity of the information. However, taking this type of personal knowledge as the true hard fact is simply ignorant.

The notion of professional journalists being the only ones that get punished for their actions as opposed to the amateur journalists may seem unfair; however, it wouldn't be any other way. It is way too hard, costs too much money, and is too time laboring to go after every single person that slams the government or a company. Real journalists have credibility, and credibility allows for fault. They have an education to back their professional, and should thus be held accountable when something goes awry.

Jessica Razumich
Response to Question #1

“As traditional mainstream media is replaced by a personalized one, the Internet has become a mirror to ourselves. Rather than using it to seek news, information, or culture, we use it to actually BE the news, the information, the culture.”
Personally, I believe that it depends on the person. I do not agree or disagree with this statement, but in response to his next statement on the page: “…but in reality they exist so that we can advertise ourselves: everything from our favorite books and movies, to photos from our summer vacations, to ‘testimonials’ praising our more winsome qualities or recapping our last drunken exploits.” I feel that it is all up to the individual person.
Out of the social networking sites, I use facebook the most. I use it for persona reasons such as keeping in touch with my friends and family. I am an out of state person, going to college five hours from home. I mainly use to talk to friends and family who I have not seen, or who I don’t talk to on a regular basis. I do post pictures, but to let people see what I have been up to since I have been out of state. I do not post my drunken adventures on my page, nor do I attempt to draw attention to myself. I do not update my status hourly, nor do I leave 100 comments on people’s pages. I am cautious to what people post on my page or my pictures because even if it may be innocent, others might not take it that way. Future employers are now aware of facebook, and even though everyone has a private/personal life, that is what it should be PRIVATE. Not everyone needs to see you passed out on the sofa with writing all over you.
I guess the point I am trying to get across is that, I do not use facebook for attention, but rather as a way to keep in touch with friends and family. ALSO, some classes are asking that I have a facebook as a way to contact members of the class for group projects, or as a way to hold class discussions! However, there are people out there who do use it solely as a way to get attention and promote themselves, people who need the attention and who seek to "be known". These individuals, I believe, are using the social networking sites for the wrong purpose.
But, promoting ones self is not always a bad thing, for example… A band wants to get their name out and promote their music, they will befriend whom ever they can, and post what ever information they have about themselves so others can learn who they are. In a sense they become the news, and the information. The one thing to remember is that we, individuals, have the ability to give or take that power/attention away from them.

Jenny Milne
Question One
Question 1 (Introduction)
On page 7, Keen argues, “As traditional mainstream media is replaced by a personalized one, the Internet has become a mirror to ourselves. Rather than using it to seek news, information, or culture, we use it to actually BE the news, the information, the culture. Do you agree with this statement? Assuming that you use a social networking site (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), do you believe that you use them solely to get attention? If not, what really is your reason for being connected? Do you think you could you abstain from using these sites?

I wouldn't say I use these sites solely to get attention. However, on my personal facebook page, I do have information about me, not someone else. I do like it when people comment onf my status update, or write on my wall. Its the same as when you receive a text message or phone call. Someone was thinking of you. My main reason for using and enjoying these websites is to help stay in touch with friends and my sisters. Or another resource for staying close. Especially since my sisters live in different time zones from me. Its nice to send them a facebook message, or post on their wall occasionally, especially if something makes me think of them. For friends, especially if they go to different colleges, its nice to be able to put a face to their friends. Through the photo application on facebook, when my friend talks about her roommates, I can pick them out in pictures. It helps me still feel close to them, even though they are far away having their own college and life experiences.

The negative aspect of how we use these websites though, is that it is an advertisement of ourselves. And someone else, even people we don't know, can find the information and use it. That information makes me feel dirty and vulnerable. I recently temporarily deactivated my account because I was applying to jobs. I know that if the company really wanted to see if I had a facebook, deactivating it wouldn't have made a difference, but it made me feel better. I figured if they were just going to search facebook for me, and not find one, they'd stop. It was better than nothing. However the idea of that is frustrating, that to work in the real world, I can't use a connective website that I love, that it's not good PR for myself. I guess thats why they say that work and pleasure don't mix. The office doesn't want to know, and doesn't want anyone else to know what you're doing outside of the job.

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