I heard an interview yesterday with Andrew Keen, the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. Keen’s thesis is that if you’re a blogger, or a YouTube videophile, or someone who’s cooked up an Internet radio station blasting out vintage Def Leppard, you are in part responsible for the decline of the West, or at least the Web-using world. There’s more on the book here.
I haven’t read Keen’s book yet, but two of the points he made in the interview strike me as reasonable. The first is almost common sense: The existence of a new technology does not by itself make anyone smarter, wittier or more worth reading. If someone can’t reason correctly or write clearly, then a computer, a high-speed Internet connection, a MySpace page and a podcast are not going to improve the product. Trash is trash whether written with a quill pen or a keyboard.
The second point is a bit more subtle. Keen believes, and he’s not alone or original here, that anonymity is to blame for much of the name-calling, obscenity and general meanness that pervade the blogosphere. We’ve all seen it all over the Web. So many responses from readers are little more than F-bombs and personal insults. Such venom is easier to dish out if the writer knows he’s under the cloak of anonymity, using a monicker like Buddha327, barbquecowboy, dazzledame or blzebub, to name a few I saw in the last few minutes.
This takes me back to my days in the semi-organized media as an editor of a city magazine. Like most print outlets, we had a policy forbidding unsigned letters or letters signed with pseudonyms. Often, I would talk with a letter-writer who offered very good reasons for not signing his or her name, but we held firm on the policy, believing that while we might lose a good letter now and then, we’d invite all kinds of insults and score-settling if we allowed unsigned letters. We didn’t want politicians praising themselves or restaurant owners smearing their rivals from the darkness. Attaching a name to what you’ve written helps ensure some measure of civility and regard for truth.
For the record, my name, rank and serial number can be found in the “About This Blog” section above.