Reinventing the Luddite: An Interview with Andrew Keen; an Internet Entrepreneur and Web Critic Is Trying to Remake the Internet from Within

By Futurist | The Futurist, March-April 2010 | Go to article overview

Reinventing the Luddite: An Interview with Andrew Keen; an Internet Entrepreneur and Web Critic Is Trying to Remake the Internet from Within


Futurist, The Futurist


THE FUTURIST: You're perhaps the most outspoken critic of Web 2.0 and Internet culture to participate in Internet culture. You've railed against Twitter and Face-book even though you subscribe to both. What do you see as your mission?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Andrew Keen: I'm ambivalent about Facebook and Twitter and almost all of these things. But as a speaker and a social critic, I have an economic incentive in finding an audience. As mainstream media cracks up, the only way to build a brand successfully is to use a service like Twitter. That's not to say that tweets in themselves have intrinsic value or will ever have intrinsic value. You'll never be able to sell a tweet, no matter how beautifully crafted. I don't have to admire or improve what's happening, but I can't be a Luddite, either. The people in the nineteenth century who refused to acknowledge the significance of the Industrial Revolution were swept away.

THE FUTURIST: You've been very vocal about how today's Internet culture erodes privacy. Do you envision a future in which privacy neither exists nor is particularly missed? If so, what does someone with no conception of privacy behave like? What is the culture like?

Keen: I do envision such a possibility. In a culture with no concept of privacy, there wouldn't be an inner life. Nothing would be kept to ourselves. We would lifestream 24 hours a day. The John Stuart Mill idea of the good life, with a clear delineation between inner and outer life, is turned on its head. I hope we never see it.

But you can already sense the way the Internet and artificial intelligence are tearing down the notion that we should have a distinction between public and private. I'm terribly hesitant about terminology like "transparency," which suggests that businesses, institutions, even professionals, should try to put as much of themselves online as they can to reassure the public about their activities. This portrays that shift as something good, as more evolved. What does this lead to? Perhaps a culture of constant self-arrest, where we're afraid to do anything because of how it may appear to others. Perhaps we'll live vicariously through our AI entities.

THE FUTURIST: You've compared the Internet revolution to rock 'n' roll, but it seems that the Internet revolution has the potential to be more hopeful. After all, rock 'n' roll coincided with the rise of Jacques Derida and the deconstructionist philosophical movement. Many argue that the appeal of rock 'n' roll was the way it presented a violent teardown of prior musical forms. The Internet, by definition, is about construction, building the future. How exactly is the Internet like rock 'n' roll?

Keen: The Internet is more closely related to the rock 'n' roll culture of the Sixties rather than of the Fifties. Richard Florida, who wrote Rise of the Creative Class, has talked about this. He makes a good point that the Internet, technologically, rose from the military-industrial complex of the Fifties, but the culture of it is better represented by the counterculture of the Sixties. It's not that the Internet is like the Sixties; it is the Sixties.

The primary difference is that rock 'n' roll generated a lot of money for certain types of people--namely, record companies and artists. The heroes of the Sixties were the rock stars and the counterculturalists. …

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