Andrew Keen is currently the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast. He is also the host of a long-running show on TechCrunch, a columnist for CNN, and a regular commentator on all things digital. He is the author of the international sensation The Cult of the Amateur, which has been published in seventeen languages.
He will be discussing the subject of his recently released book The Internet Is Not the Answer with bestselling author Robin Sloan at City Lights Bookstore on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 7:00 P.M. Our event coordinator, Peter Maravelis, posed a few questions to him recently.
City Lights: I am often struck by the degree of orthodoxy that comes through the rhetoric Internet pundits and tech industry spokespeople use these days. For a self-professed forward-looking industry, pummeling us with claims of innovation, the program more closely resembles an unholy marriage between the Borg and Werner Erhrdt’s EST. Was it difficult not to laugh at the structural hypocrisy ingrained in Internet culture while doing your research?
Andrew Keen: “Structural hypocrisy”? Not sure exactly what that means. There’s nothing inevitable or unavoidable about the hypocrisy of many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They’ve simply been seduced into thinking that one can do good and get rich at the same time. Indeed, there are many successful entrepreneurs, like Peter Thiel, who seem to believe that success is, by definition, virtuous. This is laughably wrong, of course – but it isn’t funny. And it’s this delusion, I explain in The Internet Is Not the Answer, that is at the root of much of what’s gone wrong with the Internet economy. That said, however, some investors and entrepreneurs – like Marc Andreessen, Marc Benioff and Michael Moritz – have recognized the need for a moral clean-up of Silicon Valley. So there’s still hope for a moral renaissance of the tech industry.
CL: Your book makes a pretty thorough argument exploring the down-side of the Internet, but I am curious, since finishing it, have you come to any additional conclusions (possibly future book fodder) about the road we are taking? Especially in regards to “the Internet of things”. The French theorist Paul Virilio makes reference to the “accident of all accidents”. An accident that is “non-local” that is to say, because of our interconnectedness we may experience – simultaneously, around the world – a catastrophe that effects all aspects of life. Might you have any thoughts about this?
AK: I like the idea of an “accidents of all accidents”. No, not “like” as in Facebook, or “like” as in “hope it will happen”. Rather, I like it in the sense that it is a good warning about what is imminent if we continue to support the so-called “free economy” of big data companies like Facebook or Google. We are still awaiting the Chernobyl or Exon Valdez disaster when it comes to the data economy (think of data as the pollution of the digital age). And it’s this “accident of accidents”, a global Internet outage/outrage when our most personal data will be hacked, that will change everything in the way in which most people see the digital revolution. I fear that we will only recognize the real dangers of a networked society in the wake of such a disaster. So while I don’t celebrate this meta-accident, I am hopeful that it will trigger a more comprehensive critique of Silicon Valley.
CL: If you had to lay out the basic questions a responsible Internet user should be asking themselves while navigating the virtual, what would those be? My feelings are that it’s a healthy response to be a contrarian when considering the place where technology and the Internet intersect our lives.
AK: Question everything – especially those things which appear too good to be true. And that’s because, of course, they are too good to be true. Take, for example, the supposedly free economy of most dominant Internet companies. The problem is that, to a responsible Internet user, “free” isn’t really free. Instead, what we are seeing is the Internet’s dominant business model being that of surveillance and us, you and I – the Internet user – who is packaged up by the Googles and Facebooks of the world and sold to advertisers. So my advice to Internet users is not to trust the principles of Internet economics. They are mostly bogus and result in exploitation rather than emancipation.
Andrew will continue this discussion offline at City Lights Books on Tuesday, January 27 with the author Robin Sloan. For more about Andrew Keen on the Internet, head to his website. For more info on this event and the others happening at City Lights this Winter, check out our event page.