Sunday, September 02, 2007

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Looking at my calendar, I notice that I've got nothing to do on Tuesday night. So I thought I'd go and see a tragic comedy, Andrew Keen's talk "The Great Digital Seduction" at the RSA.

I blogged about Andrew some time ago, and since then I've decided to ignore the man whom I believe is the greatest digital hyprocrite of our time. However, seeing that he is going to the trouble of speaking, and even more that I'm going to the trouble of attending - I thought I'd say a few words.

Andrew's thesis is basically that the internet is robbing us of our culture, that art is something you pay for (making Damien Hurst surely the greatest artist of all time?) and that talking is best left to those self selected elite whilst the rest of us pig farmers should keep quiet - a sort of "Stop all that chattering! I'm talking" approach. Watch the video.

A cynic would probably describe his approach as inflammatory and pointlessly controversial designed to promote sales of his book. A real cynic would be expecting a further book about "How to make a mint out of controversy".

You can add me to the real cynic camp.

Comedic? Well, in my view it's laughable as the discussion is pointless. He is the King Canute of the Internet world asking the mass of bloggers and other producers to stop producing. I don't disagree that there is a lot of noise on the Internet, and a need for reputation-based networks to help filter this for the individual. But the choice should be with the consumer, not some censor or self-elected quango. The crowd will choose their own gatekeepers, their own filters - they are doing so already.

Does anyone really think that people are going to stop expressing themselves? You'd need to abolish the principles of democracy and establish a fascist state to achieve that. Ah, I note he invokes Godwin's Law in reverse and asks whether he is a Nazi. Shame on you Andrew, shame on you.

Never the less, despite his views Andrew has the right to express this - as we all do, it is the basis of a democratic system. He has the right to use the same mechanisms that we all do - which he does. Hypocritical? Well of course, he uses the same mechanisms to lambast them - blogging is wrong, stop blogging and read my blog instead ... yada yada yada.

The questions we should be asking as we move from elitist producers to a more open Stentorocracy, is how do we create relevance in all the noise? How do we push further and create that elusive Meritocracy?

Tragic? Well I'm sure he has made a handsome return on his book, when there are so many more deserving causes. Still, freedom is about people being able to express their opinions and choices even when such choices support individuals who would happily take away your freedoms.

Economies progress, new means of distribution appear and societies adapt.

"Oyez, Oyez! who are these upstarts taking away my job?" as many a Town Crier must have cried as so called journalists started to publish "news" papers. Bloody amateurs.

How many wandering minstrels lost valuable income when any Tom, Dick or Harry could buy sheet music and thump out a tune on an old piano? Bloody amateurs.

How about the Telegraph? According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the first message received by a commercial telegraph line in the United States was "Why don't you write, you rascals?". Bloody amateurs.

I'm sure history is littered with those "keen" to keep it the same. However things change - businesses and society move on - no matter how many Keens you have. Yes, I'm sure that some artists will suffer from the opening up of the means of expression, they will not adapt but then I'm sure many will benefit. The crowd will be the arbiter, not Keen and his fellow "old guard". Unless, of course, the crowd choose them to be so.

One advantage of any future reputation based networks for searching information, will be the madame guilotine of the Internet. As any World of Warcraft player well knows, it is the /Ignore function.

However, in this case the /Ignore function is dangerous, as the feebleminded concepts of TINA (there is no alternative) promote a view that it is simply a choice between authority or anarchy. TINA promotes FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about the Internet. Well there is an alternative - it's called participatory democracy.

Vive la revolution - liberty, equality, fraternity - and keep on blogging.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who shall guard the guardians?)

We shall. It's our society after all.