What is Beginner's Mind

Having 'Beginners mind' is to approach a subject enthusiastically, with openness and without preconceptions, even if you are an expert. It represents a willingness to ask questions and challenge assumptions; both essential to the scientific process.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Andrew Keen's polemic on Web 2.0

I have been reading Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is killing the Culture. His main point is that anyone, irrespective of talent, truth or taste, can publish anything on the web with little or no ramifications. This causes:

  1. the replacement of professionals by mostly untalented amateurs with no responsibility for integrity
  2. the demise of legitimate sources of information and culture i.e., closing of newspapers, independent record and book stores.
  3. so much internet noise because of all the untrue, untalented and tasteless items that it isn't worth sorting through it
This made me think quite deeply about the value of user provided content. First, Keen seems to believe that the work of the amateur is worthless. I think that this is a grave overstatement. What is the definition of amateur? Is is simply that they do not get paid for their work? I do not believe that it follows that just because a market economy does not value a piece of work, that it is worthless. Van Gogh's paintings were worthless during his life. Does this make him an amateur?

The explosion of creative expression on the internet is partly due to the consolidation of market driven outlets for it. During the early 60's it was much easier for bands with unusual sounds to land a record contract. Now, if the bandmembers don't conform to a specific physical and auditory ideal, they can forget about a wider audience through the traditional record label. But the internet changes all that. Same for publishing and art.

What about social discourse? It has always been difficult to get your thoughts out into the ether, especially if your opinions do not mesh with the prevailing ones. This is more and more true as newspaper and media owners want journalists to reflect their own bias (or at least the bias of the people who buy the advertising.) Cutting edge social discourse has often started outside of traditional journalist channels, whether from a soapbox in Hyde Park or through self-publishing. For example, Thomas Paine self-published his pamphlet "Common Sense"--yet another amateur according to Keen's definition.

Amateurs throughout history have made significant contributions to art, science and philosophy and this is no less true today. And Web 2.0 is not only a haven for the tasteless and untrue, but also of the creative talent that is not YET recognized by the public at large.

It is true that it is difficult to sort through the true versus untrue, the valuable from the tasteless. Perhaps here lies a role for librarians. Sites like the Librarians Internet Index may be a good start but we also need to address the blogosphere in our vetting efforts.

I will be discussing Keens remaining points in upcoming blogs. Stay tuned!

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