All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Web 2.0: The decline of society?

Andrew Keen was recently on a TVO interview, "Do we all now worship at the cult of the amateur? Andrew Keen on how Web 2.0 is undermining professionalism, knowledge, and authority" that my friend Tony had forwarded to me.

Andrew explained his view on the dark side of the Internet and web 2.0. He is not against the Internet but believes web 2.0 is leading to the decay of culture through it's narcissistic ideals that allow anyone to publish content without concern for the depth or prioritization of the content. He used Wikipedia as an example, and to his credit, he conceded that the quality relative to Britannica was not the concern here but prioritization (or lack thereof) of content within Wikipedia was the real issue.

Keen argues that Britannica's value is through it's central editorial body which prioritizes the work of scientists such as Marie Curie ahead of pop icons like Pamela Anderson and therefore helps us realize what is truly important to society as a whole. He went on to say, the impact on today's youth, this lack of prioritization from seemingly "reliable" sources of information, is the decay in culture and prioritization. We are failing an entire generation by not providing them a prioritized way to understand the world around them. Without the ability to distinguish "well written" and "well researched" content, our youth will forget the past, mis-prioritize content and be ill equipped to further contribute and refine our society.

I didn't find his argument particularly persuasive. Let's assume, that Wikipedia did not exist. In fact, let's assume "Web 2.0" doesn't exist. According to Keen, we should be better off right? Mass media which is centrally edited would prioritize content for us. Well, let's look at that. Think about the ridiculous amount of time, "respected" authorities of content such as CNN, spent on trivial but salacious "news". Do you recall how many times we were forced to hear about Anna Nicole Smith? How about Britney Spears? I can guarantee that if it weren't for mass media, my awareness of these things would be almost nil, in fact those "young impressionable" minds are being taught by mass media that this is "important" and that lines between news and entertainment do not matter. How many "entertainment" shows do we need on TV? If we could count on editorial prioritization to evolve culture then why do we see a story about what a pop icon is wearing to an awards show, right beside a story on a high-school shooting on an "Entertainment" show?!?! Where is the "improved" editorial prioritization?

But at least Britannica would hold the truth right? Possibly true. But the truth is only as valuable as those who read it and understand it. We can't blame web 2.0 for why Marie Curie isn't the most sought after article in Britannica or Wikipedia.

The discussion had similar elements to a Mesh session I had attended earlier this year. I also know several "web 2.0" evangelists have already criticized Keen's work. I do think there are some underlying truths however. For example, I like his points around "anonymity". This mask unfortunately let's people publish content with no accountability. Perhaps anonymity is a topic for a different day. The interview did make me consider another point, the need for critical thinking. Something that needs to be taught and emphasized. And something I believe is at risk. Information is "too easy" to come by and there is so much of it out there. You will be able to find support for anything you wish to argue on the Internet. The challenge is to know how to evaluate those arguments, and seek counter arguments for a complete understanding and informed decision making.

That's one of the reasons, I am very proud to have recently been invited to join the advisers for TakingITGlobal. This non-profit organization provides youth with an opportunity to be informed, become inspired, inspire others and to get involved in causes that they can learn about. It's not about any one specific "cause". It's about empowering our youth to drive positive change and evolve society and to think. It's an opportunity that, outside of web 2.0, would have been extremely difficult to do. It provides youth with a global voice and an opportunity to be part of the conversation not just consumers of pre-determined content.

To think web 2.0 will solve the worlds' problems is overly idealistic, but so is the notion that web 2.0 is the beginning of the decline of our global society. The answer is somewhere in between. What I do know is that regardless of where you get your content or who provides it, you need to think critically about it. Is it more important now? I'd suggest it's always been important.

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