A pointed stick

A recognised tool in the 'spiritual growth' parlance, and in commonsense too, is the 'pointed stick' – where you willingly take on something that makes you uncomfortable. Mine this morning was to buy a book called 'The Cult of the Amateur: how today's internet is killing our culture …etc'.  I picked it up, leafed through it, put it down, came back to it and realised I was looking for a read that would support my assumptions rather than challenge them. Hesitantly I came back to it, decided I needed the pointed stick, and bought it.

Having read most of it (a lot of airport time today) I'm glad I did, although I can't agree with everything he says. It's hard to argue with his contention that not only the music industry but journalism, professional writing and media are being decimated by the 'anybody can do it' culture of YouTube and blogging. This much is fact. What's harder to accept is (a) that this is all bad and (b) there's any way back or that such a regression would be preferable. The genie's out the bottle and it'll take a cultural swing (or  a collapse of the technical structure of the internet) to cage it. What really struck me personally, though, was having to remember what we did before Google, before Amazon etc.  The author presents a rosy picture of the local 'hip' record shop, but those were never more than a handful, at least where I came from.

I do have some sympathy for his criticism of the 'democratisation' of everything – discourse, news, music, writing etc. I've never been completely sold on egalitarianism at all costs. I used to agree with those who argued in favour of natural hierarchies i.e. the idea that some people are better at some things than others and deserve respect and authority for that. But in the circles I used to move in you couldn't say that without being branded 'right-wing'. But certainly terms like 'non-heirarchical' and 'egalitarian' don't hold purely positive connotations for me. Coming back to the web, the question would be whether the explosion of the blogosphere in, say, reporting, is having only a positive effect – allowing talented and writers to have a voice and a platform – or a negative one, by putting trained, educated professional journalists out of a job as newspaper circulations contract. As for music, that's another story for another day.

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