Le Web 3: Andrew Keen and Emily Bell ask if social media is killing our society?

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The Guardian Unlimited) and controversial author Andrew Keen (most famous for ‘Cult of the Amateur’) have argued this many many times before and seem to have a very easy relationship where they feel comfortable insulting each other like some sort of bickering elderly couple.

I’ve put in some of their key points below, but for a short precis of how the argument went: Andrew makes a point about how the internet is rubbish (in one way or another), Emily calmly points out why he is wrong whilst rolling her eyes and laughing; Andrew says “yeah, I mean, I agree with you, I couldn’t cope without the internet any more than anyone else”, and so on…

The Panel
Andrew Keen thinks the internet is killing our cultural identity.
Emily Bell from the Guardian thinks the internet is giving us more access to culture.

Emily: Andrew has strapped himself to his 50,000 word diatribe against the internet in his love of old media and his belief that the world is becoming a cult of the amateur. It’s my job as a ‘gate keeper’ to change with the times or in five years we won’t have a business and will be irrelevant. He has strapped himself to that viewpoint and now can’t change what he believes even though things keep changing around him.

Andrew: I think Emily wants to have her cake and eat it. She talks about how ordinary people have not been able to be creative because the gate keepers have made their own decisions about what we should have access to but then she works as a very effective gatekeeper herself at the Guardian. I think that the way the Guardian has done something excellent and if that is the future of the internet then I think that’s a good thing.

Emily: This idea that the internet is some kind of receptacle of broken trust is just some kind of nonsense. Your history follows you around on the internet. Your own reputation is much more fragile online than it is in print because you have to be transparent, you have to fess up to mistakes and correct them, and you have to accept that not all news is unchanging, as it is in the printed press (ie, once it’s gone to print it can’t be improved or changed).

Andrew: it’s one thing to give journalism a kick in the bum, but it’s another thing to give it a kick in the crotch. A lot of media companies can’t come to terms with all this new stuff. it’s all very well for people to say that we still haven’t found working business models, but unless we find a way for the music business and media companies to make money out of this new world of online business, then there’s not much future for any of it.

Andrew: What is this obsession with trust? The internet didn’t invent trust.

Emily: I think that’s true, and I think that’s why you very rarely hear Web companies talking about trust – they already know that without trust they don’t have a business model. The difference is, a lot of old media companies can lose the trust of their customers and still have a working business model.

Andrew: All these virtual worlds, they’re not real life. Second Life is not real life.

Emily: Of course it’s not real life. Even my three year old son knows that. It’s not about replicating real life, but the internet is a fantastic tool for inclusivity and getting together people who have the same views and interests. it will never replace a direct face to face conversation, but my god it’s a sight better than not having it at all.

Andrew: Of course, I wouldn’t want to take it away from anyone and I can see that it’s useful.

(Photo via Le Web 3’s Flickr)

Check out our other posts from the show in the Le Web 3 category.

Katie