Falling through the net

The internet has not been the force for good that tech companies claimed and many people hoped it would be, author Andrew Keen tells Jo Bowman

By Jo Bowman

Ask most people what the greatest invention of the past century has been and, up there with antibiotics and the jet engine, a significant number will say the internet. It has levelled playing fields, lowered barriers to entry across a whole swathe of industries, allowed human interaction like never before and revolutionised the world of business. So, that’s all good.

Except that it’s not, says Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, Digital Vertigo and, most recently, The Internet is Not the Answer. Yes, he concedes, it has brought people closer together and it’s made many aspects of life more convenient. Yes, he agrees, he couldn’t function without e-mail. But, he thinks, the internet has done a great deal of harm – while at the same time peddling a message of openness and equality that doesn’t reflect reality.

“Yes, there’s convenience. Yes, there’s been new technology and innovation, and wealth and opportunity for some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. But, for the most part, the revolution between 2005 and 2015 has been a complete failure,” he says.

A decade ago, Keen recalls, there was much excitement about what the rise of Web 2.0 would achieve. There was tremendous hope that access to information would bring about greater access to justice and education, that the world would be a fairer, friendlier place with equality of opportunity brought about through a self-publishing revolution. Aspiring bands would no longer have to wait to be spotted by a giant of the music-publishing world to be loved by a global audience. Authors could let their work stand on its merits, without having to wait for a book deal to come along.

Chris Anderson published The Long Tail in 2006, predicting that, by helping creative people reach global audiences, however niche, the web would enable many more artists and writers to make a living from their craft. In 2008, Clay Shirky talked about the power of social media as a political tool in Here Comes Everyone. The Arab Spring and Occupy movements appeared to reflect that power.

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