The Foolishness of Andrew Keen

by on March 20, 2008 · 40 comments

Back in December, I wrote about a good article in Democracy by Beth Simone Noveck, director of the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School. Her article highlighted the Peer-to-Patent experiment being conducted with the Patent and Trademark Office.

A response has now been published by Andrew Keen, a critic of all things 2.0 heretofore unknown to me – and for good reason. Keen’s response is drivel.

He alternately overreads and nitpicks Noveck’s article. Nowhere in her argument for infusing administrative processes with more information, for example, did she argue for changing the republican form of our government or diminishing constititional rights. But Keen’s careening response says:

The critical issue, to which Noveck and the digital populists don’t face up, is that more political participation neither means better democracy, nor does it guarantee more efficient government. In fact, it often results in the reverse: Mob rule is mob rule, whether it is electromagnetically broadcasted on the wireless or digitally streamed from the Web.

Sure, Andy, drawing the knowledge of the interested public together for government officials to use begets mob rule.

Here’s Keen reaching, reaching to make a criticism:

[Noveck] says [YouTube] has generated “brilliant art films,” but she fails to name the digital auteurs behind these masterpieces. This is because much of YouTube’s content is posted anonymously. Without a traditional editorial staff, nobody knows who is authoring much of its content. Not surprisingly, often the most “brilliant” amateur work turns out to be the professional production of advertising companies, political parties, or corporations . . . .

Here’s the sentence from which he plucked the scare-quote: “For every brilliant art film or newsworthy clip, there are thousands of pieces of video junk on YouTube.” Noveck wasn’t extolling YouTube. Keen’s attack on her fair reporting comes from an odd tangent indeed. He evidently didn’t get the point. Or he brought in the specter of corporate influence for another purpose. The audience for this magazine and article is evidently “progressive,” and appealing to corporate influence on culture is a prominent bugbear in this community.

Playing to progressives, Keen uses the word “libertarian” in an attempt to tar things as self-evidently wrong.

Nobody is in charge of determining who can and can’t author a wiki, anyone can become a contributor, anyone can edit the work of another writer, and anyone can come along and (re)edit the original edit. This is, of course, technology created by and designed for libertarians.

“Libertarians.” Shudder . . . Or maybe wiki technology was created by and designed for true liberals.

Thrice he equates the users of Web 2.0 technology with the belief that government is a “self-evident racket, the ultimate conspiracy.” This is more transparent pandering. Progressives don’t believe that government is so venal, thus they must agree with him on his other points. (I doubt it.)

I hasten to add, as a libertarian, that Keen is wrong to call government a “self-evident racket.” It’s not self-evident at all! What is evident from reading this piece is that Keen’s reaction against using information technology to inform government decisionmaking is essentially conservative.

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