For those of us closely interested in the future of internet and culture in general, the book The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen is riveting reading most of the way through. Keen tackles how the democratization of the Net is producing tons of crap on a daily basis and slowly killing off the production of meaningful art. He cites digital piracy, the production of meaningless “noise” instead of art, and the corruption of values such as respect for intellectual property rights, as culprits in this age of the amateur cut-n-paste videographer and mash-up remixer.
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I’ve seen and heard it myself, having been an avid MP3 downloader since 1999, how the levelling of the playing field and the easy availability of every digital tool ever made (via piracy) has ended up making mediocre media producers out of all of us consumers. In fact, the term consumers almost loses meaning, because all participants in ‘the Great Conversation of the Internet’ are consumers and simultaneously content producers — whether you’re commenting on a blog, micro-blogging on Plurk, leaving video responses on YouTube, or posting photos on Zooomr.
One of my major areas of interest is electronic music. I’ve been producing electronic music and releasing it freely on the web via my netlabel QED Records since 2004. And I’ve seen the community of netlabels grow a hundredfold in only a few years.
Just looking at the number of extant netlabels today (July 2 2008) there are 925 free netlabels who house their music files on Archive.org. And each of these netlabels releases something at least once a month, if not more. Some of that output is extraordinary and exquisite stuff you’d never hear over the radio, however the majority is mediocre mush, simply taking up space.
In general, we now all have the tools at our disposal and so we are all now producing much more mediocrity than if those tools were more difficult to avail of. Don’t believe me? Look at YouTube.
And the ease with which digital media can be copied and shared is bringing intellectual property to a dangerous impasse. Old school media producers aren’t making much from their intellectual property rights, so less truly talented people are making meaningful art as full-time jobs. End result? A dangerous slowdown of culture. A slowdown that may one day become a standstill.
Keen asks the poignant question in his book: who makes the decision that something is art or not? In the end, if no one is making any art anyway and simply engaging in the frivolous production of noise in the form of inane mash-ups and blog commentary, then the question is rendered moot.
Something to think about.