Revisiting “The Cult of the Amateur”

Almost a decade ago (perhaps, even longer) I read with great interest “The Cult of the Amateur” by Andrew Keen. The subtitle was quite interesting to me: “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values ”
At the time I was blogging regularly (right here at and doing podcasts, so I was curious what the general “take” would be. As expected he bemoaned the perceived shift from professional media, to a more “amateur” one (hence the title.) And that with that shift we see a shift away from discipline and structured thought and towards an “irrationality of the crowds.”

Going back and reviewing the book, and seeing a few select points from that book, I am struck how far we have come. The book (whether he would agree with me or not is unclear) supports the general notion that we are seeing a collapse of thought–and explains the irrational “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (and the Obama Derangement and Bush Derangement Syndromes that preceded it.)

First, there’s the “echo chambers” where one only reads those who support their view, discount the views of others, and then happily live in their “chamber.” As Keen points out, this leads to a dangerous distortion. From the book:

“When our individual intentions are left to the wisdom of the crowd, our access to information becomes narrowed, and as a result, our view of the world and our perception of truth becomes dangerously distorted.”

(loc 1093 in the Kindle)

Keen also wrote:

“In 1841, a Scottish journalist called Charles Mackay wrote a classic critique of the irrational crowd called Extraordinary Popular Delusions.19 Mackay used the Dutch Tulipmania fiasco and the South Sea Bubble to show that “whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit.” If Mackay were around today, he would add Web 2.0 to the list of extraordinary popular delusions that have gripped the crowd. There is a twist, however, to today’s grand digital delusion. With Web 2.0, the madness is about the crowd falling in love with itself. Is that really the wisdom of the crowd?”

(loc 1111)

I am going to “proof text” here, and pull out one sentence where he quotes Mackay “‘whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit.’”

This is what is happening today–the irrational left (similar to the irrational right, and before that, left, when it was Obama and Bush respectively) have become so fixated on the words and actions of the sitting President, and the interpretations of those words as seen ONLY through the lens of their echo chamber, that they are for all intents and purposes going “mad in its pursuit.”

The language. The defense of Antifa’s indiscriminate violence. The willingness to circumvent the Constitution (packing the court, etc.) The incessant name calling (mango Mussolini, Cheeto President, etc). These are all symptoms of their irrationality.

Today’s MSM (M5M to those that know–and “in the morning” to you) has become just as irrational. Cheerleaders for one side, and has lost all semblance of objectivity. in fact, even the one place where I could count on the media at least hiding a bias, NPR, has been over the past two years showing their hand with exasperated sighs, and tone of voice, when interviewing Trump administration officials. But of course, Keen saw this happening as well. He missed the mark–but only in how he saw it unfold. Rather than the amateurs driving the “professional media” out of the market, the professionals fought back by learning the tools, and hiring their own “amateurs.” They fought against the constant bloviating of the amateur opinion purveyors by hiring them. By shifting their reporting to a more “opinionated” style. So when Keen wrote:

“We need to reform rather than revolutionize an information and entertainment economy that, over the last two hundred years, has reinforced American values and made our culture the envy of the world. Once dismantled, I fear that this professional media—with its rich ecosystem of writers, editors, agents, talent scouts, journalists, publishers, musicians, reporters, and actors—can never again be put back together. ”

(loc 2357)

He saw this coming–but rather than reform that holds to the highest standards we seem to have reformed by conforming to the lowest common denominator–the echo chambers.

Let’s once again fight for civility. For rational discourse. For assessing the issues, and the outcomes, rather than making enemies from the strawmen that we assume about our adversaries.

Let’s all take a breath–and grow up.


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